Saturday, 12 March 2011

Fall-ing in Love: What the AW11 Fashion Weeks mean for Brides

Alexander McQueen
Alexander McQueen AW11

Whilst wedding dresses can be exquisite masterpieces, both beautiful and stylish, they are not always the most fashionable of things.

How do you wear a wedding dress that is distinctive, steeped in tradition and a fulfils a firmament of expectations without donning a Baked Alaska number, or going get-thee-to-a-nunnery (pronto) prim and demure? Answer: you put in some fashion magic. For one day, you can legitimately go achingly high octane, vogueish and decadent: most of us get few opportunities in daily life to indulge ourselves in such beauty as that a wedding dress can be. Fewer still of us are bold or Carrie-ish enough to really wear what we truly want to. Why wouldn't we opt for the spirited, heartbreaking beauty of a almost intangibly embellished silken sheath, or a couture-worthy swathe with a red-carpet swamping train? Yes, we might take out half the congregation with the latter, but a wedding dress should be incredible, and make you feel likewise. It should be, I feel, an unforgettable virtuoso display of our personalities and often unmitigated fashion desires.

With the denouement of the past weeks' raft of autumn 2011 fashion weeks, and a certain nascent Royal's wedding dress just one of the dramas overshadowing what has been a quietly spoken show season, you might be wondering quite what fashion has to do with bridal attire. Among the moodier, crepuscular undertones of the Paris shows in particular there was, however, just as much to ravish and beguile. The restrained sexuality and careful timbre shot through with the shine and lustre of moonlight tones, ash, pewter and pearl sequin pailletes at Donna Karan, and pre-ordained autumnal blankets of pumpkin, forest green, amber, red and russet - might at first seem utterly at odds with notions of what a bride might look to. And it was all sorely lacking in the whirligig exuberence and disco love of the summer shows. But the surprising thing is, perhaps these shows do have legs for a bride marrying this year. Historically, grey and blue were the colours of a bride, with blue the hue of purity and chastity: Queen Victoria's married Prince Albert in 1840 in white silk designed purely so that she could show off some lace she had been given by incorporating it into her dress. It was the wedding dress that changed Western bridal tradition. Ever since, snowy hues of cream, ivory, oyster and ice white are your conventional bride's colour of choice - fittingly, Burberry's fairytale snow shower end to its London catwalk show was the most beguiling and irresistable of them all.

Guillaume Henry, star in the ascendant at Carven remarked in December's Vogue that "Clothes should be uplifting, like Champagne", and the same is no less true for a bridal dress. In among the blouse and pencil skirt combinations of the autumn shows, there were touches fit for any fashionable bride. Some could just lift a dress from anodyne to captivating. With a flash of Dior velvet, chiffon ruffles, the feathers and sparkle of Versace's closing dresses, the smoky rose as at Miu Miu, sheer polka dot tulle at Stella McCartney, heads swaddled in milkiest coffee hued mantels at Donna Karan, or perhaps YSL polished silk floor-sweepers married with gilt gold chains encircling the waist or dripping down golden backs. Arguably the most lovely of the trends was a Julie Christie kind of beauty - as at Chanel and many others - that softly toed the line between ingenue and sex kitten. Wind flushed cheeks, nibbled lips (you know, as when you were too young to wear make-up proper, and gently bit down on your lips to render them flushed and pink) and almost universally softly virginal, clean swept back hair or simple centre parted ripples.

Naturally, the incandescent north star of the shows was that of Sarah Burton, burning a spell at Alexander McQueen with her stately and incredible show of Snow Queens and Elizabethan stomachers. As befits the whispered winner of the feted commission to design Kate Middleton's wedding dress, this was a breathtaking and romantic collection fit for a queen - yet not shy of the borderline roguery (and thus magnificence) of the McQueen legacy. The millefeuille layers of silk tulle, elaborate surface detail and porcelain-bodiced mantua gowns touched with milky fur may have marked these as dresses of boundless beauty, but the staging of the show in the Conciergie from whence Marie Antoinette was taken to the guillotine was a remarkably incisive and naughty statement to make. A death star perhaps? But the fact of all stars, and of all brides who give in to their inner fashion maven, is that they light up the darkness for a very long time to come - radiant and true to themselves. If Kate has plumped for Burton's McQueen, she would be the future queen who speaks to us all in making such a brave, but beautiful choice. Though we will have to fit the silhouette of our dresses to the venue, not having Westminster Abbey to play with after all.

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