Bath in Fashion gives the historic spa city its chance to show, tell and share fashion stories whether historical, bang up to date or revealing what’s coming next. Now in its sixth year, the event attracts some of the biggest fashion players with many talks and events staged in the Georgian Assembly Rooms, where the fashionable set of 18th Century Bath crowded to be seen.
This year the city welcomed designers from established names such as Anna Sui and Roksanda Ilinic to the latest Fashion Week sensation Ed Marler, and fashion commentators including Susie Lau and Grazia’s Suzannah Frankel. Unfortunately I was out of the country for most of the events, but was still lucky enough to be one of the first to hear the Dress of the Year announcement, learn more about the art of embroidery and sit frow at one of the catwalk shows.
Dress of the Year reveal
The Bath in Fashion audience was in for a treat as the Dress of the Year 2014 was revealed. Gareth Pugh’s plastic dress was chosen by editor-in-chief of Love Magazine, Katie Grand. The announcement closed an event charting the making of a fashion book, Dress of the Year, celebrating 50 years of the scheme with author Richard Lester, Bath Fashion Museum manager, Rosemary Harden and publisher, Matthew Freedman.
At the end of the talk, Rosemary Harden unveiled the winner, and we were invited downstairs from the Assembly Rooms tea room to the out of hours Fashion Museum for a sneak peak at the Dress of the Year.
It had to be the Pugh dress for Katie Grand:
“I’m delighted to have been asked to select the Dress of the Year and to me Gareth’s plastic dress sums up 2014. I like the idea of how fancy and complex the dress is in structure, yet made of something so disposable. I had a super time photographing this with David Sims for Love 12; it was so easy as it gives a couture silhouette yet is ‘punk’, it’s Edwardian, forties, seventies and two thousands all at the same time. It is familiar in its historical references yet utterly new in its execution.”
Watch the Dress of the Year in the context of Pugh’s collection:
The sculptural piece comprises a tube dress which has iridescent plastic wrapped around to make a coat tied with a Japanese inspired obi belt. The wedge boots and trousers merge into one twisted around the leg. The everyday material of the dress contrasts with the architectural structure of the design (Rosemary Harden said it was like hanging a Dior).
Plastic is a recurrent material in Pugh’s work, and for the designer:
“I love the fact that is has such industrial connotations. The idea of making something beautiful from something that is generally used in a much more heavy-duty way is very interesting. It’s also an innately modern material and implies a mechanized method of production, which I think provides an interesting counterpoint to the labor-intensive handwork and historicism that is quite often present in my work.”
The idea of using throw-away, unwanted materials to create a beautiful garment swishing down the catwalk is appealing – and even better if recycled plastic. What do you think of Katie Grand’s choice of Dress of the Year?
The Dress of the Year story
Initiated by costume collector, Doris Langley Moore (pictured below), the founder of the Fashion Museum in Bath in 1963, the Dress of the Year scheme is a powerful and astute concept. A leading fashion voice is invited to choose the outfit which encapsulates the year. The scheme works well in PR and marketing terms with a clear story to sell in to the press. But it also adds to Fashion Museum’s collection, as the outfits are donated at no cost ready to delight fashion historians and designers alike.
The selector of the Dress of the Year is almost as important as the designer. Colin McDowell, fashion writer says:
“But it was the Dress of the Year, initiated in 1963, that was the most exciting thing of all because it took account of a new profession in the fashion world: that of the professional fashion journalist who was an expert in her (or, indeed his) field.
“Previously, newspaper editors thought that fashion could be lumped together with cookery, flower arrangement and knitting as subjects that any female journalists could write about. But, by the time swinging London was born, the role of a fashion journalist was as specialist and precisely focussed as that of a theatre, art of music critic, a position it still holds today.”
For the first three years of Dress of the Year, the Fashion Writers’ Association were the pickers but then, marking their increasing power, fashion journalists were granted the honour. Significantly, Susie Lau of top fashion blog, Style Bubble, was the selector last year, showing the influence of style blogs, choosing the Christopher Kane dress below.
Another quirky feature of the Dress of the Year is that each time a mannequin is designed and donated by Adel Rootstein Display Mannequins and styled to match the chosen fashions – and sometimes has a resemblance to the selector or model of the period.
The art of embroidery
Earlier in the afternoon, Rosemary Harden shared her obvious love and knowledge of fashion history and admiration for embroidery, stressing the art of the craft. I was reminded of artist Hannah Höch, who wrote a manifesto on embroidery urging women to take up the form.
“Embroidery is very closely related to painting. It is constantly changing with every new style each epoch brings. It is an art and ought to be treated like one… you, craftswomen, modern women, who feel that your spirit is in your work, who are determined to lay claim to your rights (economic and moral), who believe your feet are firmly planted in reality, at least Y-O-U should know that your embroidery work is a documentation of your own era.”
(Embroidery and Lace, 1918)
The story of embroidery was told from being an ecclesiastic and royal preserve right up to its appearance in the Dress of the Year in the early 21st century. Embroidery features heavily in Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen in 2011 with her snow queen evening dress combining embroidery with symmetrical cutting to the skirt. Embroidery is again brought up to date in Raf Simons for Christian Dior which won in 2012 (below).
Young Jaeger won the Dress of the Year in 1966 with a black and white linen mini dress, worn with a space age visor hat by Simone Mirman and a clear PVC coat by Michèle Rosier. Ernestine Carter from the Sunday Times was the first editor to choose a Dress of the Year replacing the Fashion Writers’ Association. The Young Jaeger label was very much of its time aimed at 20 and 30 somethings with disposable income, who desired to look different from their parents’ generation.
Jaeger, one of the sponsors of Bath in Fashion, had a display mixing vintage with current trends illustrating the fashion conversations which go back and forth in time.
Spring/Summer 2015 Frow
In a spot of mid-week indulgence with my Mum, we headed to Bath in Fashion for a frow seat to view Spring/Summer 2015 designs. The seventies influence was apparent right from the start with high waist trousers, suede skirts and victoriana lace necked blouses, whilst the warm colour palette took us far from chilly Bath. Kimonos, fringing, culottes, head to toe white and bold floral patterns are all wearable versions of the high couture Spring/Summer looks.
A fine vintage
Time to check out your local vintage store for a touch of seventies or invest in pieces which will not date this time next year but still nod to the trends, such as Kitty Ferreira’s colour palette.
After the catwalk show, we headed to Bea’s Vintage Tearoom round the corner for coffee and buttermilk scones. A perfect end to our visit to this fashionable city.
If only I could have caught more of the talks at Bath in Fashion… but I will put it my diary for 2016, and in the meantime enjoy browsing through all 50 Dresses of the Year for vintage influences at my leisure.