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University of Style

Kong Wai Yeng & Tan Gim Ean
Kong Wai Yeng & Tan Gim Ean • 9 min read
University of Style
Fashion trends come and go but some things endure, and each iteration adds elements that surprise
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SINGAPORE (Apr 30): Fashion trends come and go but some things endure, and each iteration adds elements that surprise


Fashion is a terrific time-travel machine and one of its paradoxes is the way in which it can remix the past to create visions of the future. The batwing sleeve, also known as Dolman or Magyar, is a style statement spinning gently out of time. The sleeve can be traced back to the Middle Ages, where it was used in a loose cape-like robe — cut wide at the shoulder with deep armholes, as well as tapered wrists that give the silhouette a billowing appearance.

Its popularity might have dwindled during World War I and World War II due to fabric shortage, but the style winged its way back into fashion when Valentino embedded it in graceful eveningwear years later. For women who had always found tight armholes a seam-splitting woe, the Dolman was a welcome freedom.

The influence of war also informed the construction of Raglan, named after the First Baron Raglan, Lord Fitzroy Somerset, who wore coats with these sleeves after he lost an arm during the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The Raglan’s underarm seam is extended to the neckline at the front and the back, lending the wearer much ease in carrying a gym bag, or in ancient times, wielding a sword. The style continues to steal scenes on the runway in the form of the universally flattering bomber jacket.

The 18th century also left us with another significant fashion footprint — the d’Orsay, a closed heel shoe that exposes the arch of one’s foot. The idea of cutting the sides of the shoe to allow better fitting was attributed to the Count d’Orsay, a fashionable dandy and talented amateur artist who was the son of one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s generals. To highlight one’s individuality is to march to thebeat of your own drum, and the count knew precisely how to make one walk and stand apart from everyone else.

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Using two-dimensional fabric to drape a three-dimensional body, Issey Miyake cut a fashion path for himself with his famous knife pleats that deserve their very own museum pedestal. These are narrow pleats that have been sharply creased to one direction, allowing the garment to expand and relax — like an accordion — when it swishes and sways. You would see the wearer from afar, which was exactly Beyoncé’s intention when the hitmaker donned a monogrammed knife-pleated skirt by Gucci in the opening of her Formation music video.

Like pleats, stitching hems is also a poetic work of the hand. The Lettuce Hem, which resembles the ruffled, crinkled texture of the vegetable, has found its way from our mother’s old Singer sewing machine to Alberta Ferretti’s part flamenco-part fiesta spring/ summer 2014 collection. The plainness of polo shirts, cardigans and even unfussy skirts have been discreetly relieved by the humble lettuce hem that paves the shoulders or knees with wavy detail.

The limits of fashion were also pushed back when Christopher Kane put up a gutsy show of scalloped dresses with a massive monkey print top. The scalloped technique — a series of convex curves on collars and hems, particularly popular in haute couture — can be used to dial up a saucy number (à la Marc Jacob’s leather skirts) or boudoir loungewear (Dior’s organza shorts).


If clothes communicate our identity, then fashion, woven into the fabric of our daily lives, is a reflection of the times we live in — a zeitgeist. The mandarin collar is the product of a culture that speaks the language of modesty. Worn first by the mandarins in Imperial China, the 3cm to 4cm collar has appeared on garments from the modern qipao in the 1920s (a Westernised take on the traditional Manchu costume) to Josie Natori’s brocade jacket and Alexander McQueen’s crepe de chine shirt in contemporary times.

The profound influence of “China Chic” has continued to provide numerous cultural fodder for fusion creations of designers such as Coco Chanel, Christian Dior and Anna Sui. It is impossible to talk about broadening cultural horizons without mentioning Japan, or specifically Kyoto, home of the kimono. The classic Japanese robe has staged a comeback after a tumultuous 400-year history as 20th-century fashion designers such as Hiroko Takahashi (whose style is reminiscent of Chanel), Duro Olowu, Thom Browne and Jean Paul Gaultier take it to the future by freeing the female form and throwing attention on loud motifsnd even waist-defining obi.

Kimono is not the only look that is enjoying a renaissance. The babushka hood — a woman’s scarf tied under the chin — has been trending on the Instagram since A$AP Rocky, Frank Ocean and Kendall Jenner reignited it at award shows and on the streets. Gucci cleverly turned this old lady swag (the babushka is traditionally worn by Russian grandmothers) into a dramatic styling move with vibrant all-over prints as well as a drawstring at the collar. If you need more convincing, Marc Jacobs was seen in one, paired with a pink sequinned blazer by Comme des Garçons, no less.


Clothes travel on the backs of visitors to the countries where they originate, into high streets and, if they catch the creative eye, onto the runway. From there, trends fan out. The Hawaiian shirt has made the leap from fuddy-duddy to cool dude after winning favour with luxury brands and fashion royalty. Piped seams, frilly pockets, tie waists, belts and stripes set against fronds (Stella McCartney) provide fresh looks for this staple from the Land of Aloha.

Malia Obama was spotted having brunch with a beau in a blue shirt paired with jeans last July. Louis Vuitton’s snarling panthers give it street cred while Dries Van Noten’s leopard spots find favour with gals and guys. Another island favourite, capri pants, comes from Italy’s Capri, an emerging holiday destination in the 1950s. Created by Prussian-born Sonja de Lennart in 1948 and cropped at a “ladylike length” between knee and ankle, these pants offered women the ease and freedom they craved.

After Grace Kelly cavorted in them in Capri, Audrey Hepburn on screen and Mary Tyler Moore on TV, they made their way into wardrobes and have had a place there since. When Hollywood twirls a skirt, designers watch and ideas take shape. In The Sound of Music (1965), Julie Andrews à la Maria von Trapp jaunted through the hills of Salzburg, Austria, in the dirndl, a folk dress popular in Bavaria (southern Germany) and the Alps region. In 2013, Karl Lagerfeld paraded a capsule collection of Bavarian-punk dirndls inspired by Oktoberfest.

Young designers cut the threepiece outfit (bodice, blouse and full skirt) from fabrics woven in their own countries while stars — such as Salma Hayek, Emma Watson, Katy Perry and Kim Kardashian — added glitter and glam to the dirndl as they raised a pint. It is said that art influences fashion and fashion impacts art. There is no separating the two when it comes to garments adorned with dégradé, trompe l’oeil and jouy prints. Dégradé (pronounced duh-grahday) is a technique of colouring fabrics such that the colours gradually fade or blend into each other. At Oscar de la Renta’s spring 2018 RTW show, co-creative directors Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia layered frills in shades of red, blue and orange that flowed from light to dark or vice versa.

Chanel’s quilted dégradé handbags are a subtle style statement in soft blue and pink. At Métiers d’Art 2020, creative director Virginie Viard, who took over from Karl Lagerfeld last year, brought out a leather coat with a rainbow metallic dégradé print. Trompe l’oeil (French for “deceive the eye”) outfits give the illusion of 3D details that are actually painted on the fabric. Hermès’ black cotton scarf shifts from four decades ago are indelible, as are Moschino’s chain and necklace dresses.

From Gucci’s cruise collection carryall that looks like two bags in one to fake bows and knots and imaginary scenes that would do landscape artists proud, trompe l’oeil has the effect of making one do a double take — an aim of art. Jouy prints — named for the French city Jouy-en-Josas, which began producing printed cotton and linen known as Toille De Jouy, or canvas of Jouy in the 18th century — depict pastoral scenes using one colour (mainly red or blue). Initially used around the home for upholsteries and drapes, Jouy prints meandered onto shirts, trousers, dresses, sneakers and ties, with vivid scenesof flora and fauna that stay timeless whatever the season. If fashion has rolled with the times, fabrics have taken leaps in new directions, charged by technology and science.

Take herringbone, also known as broken twill weave, which produces an inverted V pattern like the herring’s skeleton. Light, durable and camouflaged in green, it replaced the US army’s denim and khaki cotton uniforms at the start of World War II. Today, herringbone stitches on coats, skirts, shawls, pants, caps and blazers add a dapper touch that is hard to resist — remember Daniel Craig’s James Bond flaunting Brioni’s navy herringbone suit in Skyfall?

Origami, the ancient Japanese art of paper folding, anchors Issey Miyake’s 3D steam stretch designs, which use a piece of cloth (A-POC — the acronym for the technology behind his 1990s’ pleat collection) that can be folded back into two dimensions and worn in five ways — thus 132 5, the name of his sustainable fashion line. Light, wrinkle-proof, versatile and comfortable, the brand’s Pleats Please garments for spring/summer 2020 embody its philosophy of designing for life. Couturier Pierre Cardin, 97, who fuses fashion and science seamlessly, held Future Fashion at Brooklyn Museum (from July 20, 2019, to Jan 5, 2020), his first retrospective in New York in four decades. It coincided with the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Apollo moon landing.

Cardin, who looks to the stars for inspiration and brought out a genderless Cosmocorps line in 1964, said: “In 2069, we will all walk on the moon or Mars wearing my Cosmocorps ensembles. Women will wear Plexiglass cloche hats and tube clothing, men will be wearing elliptical pants and kinetic tunics.” Words from a pro that may yet come to pass. — The Edge Malaysia

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