Cover story

Soft Power


Birgit Kos

This season, luxe pieces with a lingerie feel add a whole new attitude to sensual dressing. Styled, perhaps unexpectedly, with daytime stalwarts such as leather and suiting, they highlight a femininity that is both confident and empowering. The key to making slip dresses, bralets and sheer fabrics work beyond the boudoir? It’s all in a hi-low mix, as GILLIAN BRETT explains

Photography Stas KomarovskiStyling Natasha Royt
Cover Stories

The FW19 collections mark the final trends of the 2010s. And while this decade’s outgoing ‘big moods’ spoke enthusiastically to strong suiting, extravagant gowns and the retro ’70s bourgeois trend, they also whispered of a return to the soft-power look. At its heart was romance, rooted in minimalism and refined femininity. Defined by tactile velvet, fine lace and transparent fabrics, in an uncomplicated black-and-white palette and silhouettes that skimmed the body with a fluidity that celebrates beauty and levity, it played out like an epic love story. In Paris, Loewe’s Jonathan Anderson revealed his “significations of desire” to be poetic blouson-sleeved shirting and a billowing sheer lace dress that pooled into silky black trims. While in London, Erdem spoke of “garments that insinuate a kind of intimacy” in his darkly romantic fall offering, and Christopher Kane’s signature brand of potent femininity espoused “opulence and defiance”.

In New York, power came via Khaite’s supple leather trench coats and extravagantly puff-sleeved cotton blouses that were directional but not overwrought, especially when dialed down on the runway with low-slung, ripped jeans. “I wanted my first show to be a nod to the women before me, who have inspired me to take my own path; to not look back and to question everything,” Catherine Holstein said of her debut runway show, called The New Frontier, in dedication to the suffragette movement. Hers is certainly a brand that responds to contemporary women’s call for a daily uniform that exudes strength but doesn’t constrict or rely on robust masculine dress codes. Even her languid satin tunics and light-as-air-looking tulle evening dresses cut a confident figure.

“I wanted my first show to be a nod to the WOMEN before me, who have INSPIRED me to take my own path; to not look back and to QUESTION everything”

Catherine Holstein of Khaite

“The CUPCAKE dresses give me so much JOY. The contrast of the puritan white satin against the black lingerie lace is STRIKING”

Christopher Kane

A master of high-low, grown-up glamour, Holstein’s cult Beth dress (pictured below, with a Dion Lee bra) recasts the prom-queen sweetheart neckline into something much cooler, with its softly sculpted, scooped décolletage and elongated, finger-grazing sleeves. “I am first a painter,” she explains. “Composition and color are of the utmost importance to my painting – I am very particular about linear proportions to enhance form.” It’s important to note that this neckline is set to be a defining silhouette for next season, too, so look out for silhouettes that frame the collarbone and slightly expose the shoulders. If this feels a little too bare, take your cues from stylist Natasha Royt, who layered the said lace bra underneath Khaite’s dress on set for PORTER and added a diamond choker to draw the eye upwards. Or, for a ’90s-inflected take on boudoir dressing by night, wear a silk, lace-trimmed slip dress (look for mid to longer lengths) under a long leather trench coat (Khaite’s is lined with silk for an ultra-smooth fit, and its robe-like sash cinches its loose silhouette just so) with a pair of mid-heel, square-toed sandals or ankle boots.

Christopher Kane once said, “I like the women in my shows to get stronger towards the end,” and when French model Aurore Franche finally stomped out on to his FW19 runway in look 52 – a romantic duchesse satin, theatrically puffed minidress with a V-shaped lace bodice, styled with chunky black boots – she perfectly epitomized his all-powerful, enduring muse. “The cupcake dresses give me so much joy,” says Kane. “The contrast of the puritan white satin against the black lingerie lace is striking. All the cupcakes are finished with a black leather tab secured with a silver popper that brings a touch of harshness.” By adding incongruous details and unexpected styling twists, Kane isn’t setting out to dilute their saccharine or coquettish undertones – he’s revelling in the many different sides of femininity. He credits his right-hand woman – his sister and the house’s co-founder, Tammy – for his deep understanding of how women really want to dress: “I’m very fortunate to work with Tammy on all of this, so I have a constant female voice in everything I do.”

“We always like to DECONSTRUCT traditional elements, so we hand-placed the lace patches in a very organic way… to make this idea of SENSUALITY something CONFIDENT and empowering”

Marques’ Almeida
Bra, Stella McCartney; skirt, Erdem; earring, Ana Khouri; bracelet, Repossi

Each season, history-obsessed designer Erdem Moralioglu tells the story of his strong, single-minded muses through ultra-luxurious and highly decorative collections. For FW19, it was the late Italian princess Orietta Doria Pamphilj who caught his attention. On a trip to Rome he was “traipsing through the thousand-room palazzo on Via del Corso” owned by her family (which holds one of the world’s greatest art collections) and ended up interviewing her adoptive son, Jonathan, about her life. After discovering she couldn’t conceive, she was expected to become a nun, but instead traveled to London in the 1960s and adopted Jonathan and his sister, Gesine. “She was quite extraordinary,” says the designer. “She was completely responsible for preserving and ensuring the survival of the palazzo [after her father passed away], and I found that really inspiring.”

With pictures of Orietta wearing “cardigans over her shoulders and these pencil-y silhouettes” pinned up on his mood board, Erdem created a richly embellished collection that blended patrician splendor with a playful ’60s youthquake sensibility. Look 26 features a black, high-waisted satin pencil skirt, spliced with panels of sheer lace and sequins that creep up the thigh, and trimmed with velvet bows that seem to unravel towards the hem. On the runway, the skirt is styled with a neat cardigan, buttoned at the top, then left to hang loose over a black lace blouse – it’s evocative, but elegantly so. “I think the idea of the delicateness of the lace, or the way satin falls, or this idea of something that you wouldn’t normally show being seen, is tremendously powerful,” says Erdem.

In order to translate slip dresses, bralets and sheer fabrics beyond the boudoir by day, this balance of opposing elements seen at Khaite, Erdem and Christopher Kane is key. “There’s something really modern about that idea of combining a cashmere jumper with a slip dress,” says Erdem. “There’s an ease to it.” The same can be said of a sheer blouse over a silk bralet, a lace cami top tucked into a pair of jeans, or a slip dress with flat biker boots. Portuguese design duo Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida have built their brand on this sense of ’90s simplicity and off-duty luxe in dressing.

Known for their distressed denim and elevated streetwear, when designing a simple black-and-white slip dress for FW19, they wanted it to exude effortless elegance: “We always like to deconstruct traditional elements, so we hand-placed the lace patches in a very organic way – it’s a super-feminine piece but with something defiant and effortless about it.” The pair, who are also romantic partners, like to imagine the dress styled unexpectedly and out of context – “with baggy jeans or an oversized, unisex jumper” – and see this play on contrast as emboldening, “to make this idea of sensuality something confident and empowering”.

The beauty of this look is that it will never go out of fashion. Undergarments are obviously an all-round essential, but the ones you want to show off are a true investment. Luxe pieces with a lingerie feel have endless layering potential – making them seasonless, too – and you can dial up the drama as much or as little as you like. Looking ahead to SS20, this sense of romance and sensuality is set to endure with swirled crystal bras layered over dresses at JW Anderson, and long lace skirts with bra tops at Loewe. To wear this look now, why try not a bralet with a demure ankle-skimming skirt, such as Alaïa’s velvet number, which is softly pleated to create a little volume and balance the silhouette? With fall’s love story set to continue into the 2020s, these are clothes to cherish now and for seasons to come.

“I think the idea of the delicateness of the LACE, or the way SATIN falls, or this idea of something that you wouldn’t normally show being seen, is tremendously POWERFUL”

Erdem Moralioglu

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The model featured in this story is not associated with NET-A-PORTER and does not endorse it or the products shown