Is elegance finally making a comeback to the world of fashion?

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Over the past few years, the fashion pendulum has swung from sensationalism to sweatpants, a result of comfort-first lockdown life. The result: it seemed fashion had lost its finesse.

“I think fashion went too far, going from full athleisure to a lot of posturing,” says designer Tarun Tahiliani, who presented his “luxe pret” collection in Mumbai at the recent edition of Lakme Fashion Week, in collaboration with Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI). “A lot of things became very ugly and were done for shock value. Instagram likes were being put before relevance to the buying customer.”

But as we all know, the only constant in fashion is change. A few fashion critics spotted a move towards a more sophisticated style at the end of last year, and this year nearly every round up of fashion trends for 2023 spoke of a return to elegance. Perhaps the exit from Gucci of the man who heralded the reign of maximalism, Alessandro Michele, and the arrival of Sabato De Sarno from Valentino to the fashion house was a sign that change was coming.

In the past few months, we have seen monochrome colour palettes slowly start to edge out a clashing print aesthetic on European runways. Small wonder then elegance was a recurring trend at the most recent editions of the Paris and Milan fashion weeks. Saint Laurent’s Anthony Vaccarello cemented the fact that elevated everyday wear is what women should be shopping for now. His collection, which included cowl neck silk blouses, shoulders with sharply padded shoulders and sleek pencil skirts, IT was an ode to the power dressing of the 80s. Yves Saint Laurent, the man who said “fashion fades, style is eternal”. would have been proud of the collection. Givenchy, Chloe and Fendi had a feel of quiet luxury. The days of logomania (thankfully) seem numbered.

Fashion trends tend to anticipate change while reacting to the times we live in. At present, while there are no big pandemic-related restrictions, we are seeing a lot of uncertainty. From economics to the environment, things are precarious.

US based journalist Amy Odell, the author of the popular fashion newsletter, Back Row, says, “Attitudes toward wealth are changing. Since the pandemic, people are more likely to view wealth negatively—as the product of an unfair system and as a contributor to global warming. Wealthy people are, therefore, more likely to hide it rather than flaunt it, which we saw reflected in understated runway shows like Prada and Christian Dior.”

This move towards being understated was also reflected at the Oscars—from Michelle Yeoh’s floating white Dior gown to Deepika Padukone’s off-shoulder black velvet Louis Vuitton gown. There was also an increase in the number of celebrities wearing vintage pieces, with Cate Blanchett, famous for repeating dresses on the red carpet, leading the way in a blue Louis Vuitton dress.

Others who dipped into the fashion archives included Rooney Mara, Winnie Harlow, Kerry Washington and Kendall Jenner, who wore a vintage Jean Paul Gaultier gown.

After a bout of “revenge dressing” as a knee-jerk reaction when lockdown restrictions were lifted, fashion has realised that refinement is what is needed in the long term.

Deepika Padukone arrives at the Oscars on Sunday, March 12, 2023, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

There is no question that the pandemic was a watershed moment and as with every other domain, the rules of dressing have been affected by the days of confinement. As Odell points out: “People are emerging from a pandemic when casual clothes ruled, so out-of-the-house dressing is more subdued. It’s easier to transition from sweats to tan trousers than, say, from sweats to an embellished dress.” It explains the rise in popularity of fashion houses like Max Mara and Bottega Veneta, both known more for their quality and sophistication than pushing the fashion envelope.

In India, the elegant memo does not seem to have reached most designers. Perhaps one of the few exceptions is Tahiliani’s “Sheer Drama” collection, a line of occasionwear that shone while being refined.

“It is time there is a return to refinement and elegance,” Tahiliani says. Drape and construction were the focus with surface ornamentation taking a back foot, even though there were some bride-worthy ensembles. He says, “Rather than having a simple ready to wear and heavy bridal collection, this line is a merger of the two.” For a while now Tahiliani has been speaking about the need for Indian contemporary fashion to be more streamlined in its design approach.

Like most other Indian designers he (unfortunately) had a showstopper at his collection. However, his choice of actress Sobhita Dhulipala (a former model) did not detract from his designs. Visual cues rule fashion week in India, as designers are more concerned about a showstopper that will ensure social media chatter than silhouettes and style. “It is fair to say the very refined take on fashion has not made a mark in India, which is tragic,” says the designer.

There is a need for restraint today, even social media knows this. The de-influencing trend on Instagram and the talk of inconspicuous consumption across digital platforms means that social media itself is changing.

“People are gaining clout online with anti-conspicuous consumption content and I don’t see this going anywhere for a long time,” says Odell.

This will, hopefully, leave Indian designers no choice but to take a more elegant approach to their collections and fashion show presentations.

Dress Sense is a monthly fashion column that takes a look at the clothes that we wear every day and what it means to us.

Sujata Assomull is a journalist, author and mindful fashion advocate.

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