Fashion used to operate on two seasons a year. Now trends are staying in fashion for years, not months. From now on, fads are out and personal style is in
so there I was, perched on my gilt chair at the Paris haute couture shows one evening in January, waiting for the Givenchy show to start, fiddling with the satin ribbons that cinch the wrists of my favourite new Mother of Pearl sweater, idling the time away with a little light screen-shopping. I zoomed in on a new-season Ellery dress whose sleeves, curled and trailing like a lemon zest twist in a cocktail glass, caught my eye, but then I was distracted by the heavenly black Givenchy blouse being worn by the PRs, with frothy tulle sleeves that look like tremendously chic angel wings.
Sleeves are having a moment. But here’s the weird part: sleeves have been having a moment for five years. Towards the end of last year, we were at fashion week swooning over puff-sleeved gothic blouses on Stella McCartney’s catwalk, while wearing Versace knits with POWER or UNITY emblazoned from elbow to wrist. “The Statement Sleeve – STILL!” proclaimed Vogue in its spring trend report, reporting on the poet sleeves and trumpet flares that abounded a year ago. And the year before that, sleeves made headlines both at London fashion week (virago sleeves at Erdem) and during the presidential campaign, when Melania Trump wore bell-sleeved Roksanda. And two years before that, the Alexis Colby statement sleeve was already being championed by Olivier Rousteing, at the height of Balmania.
This is not, surely, how fashion is supposed to work. Spring comes along and kicks the winter look into touch, as surely as day follows night and with the same ones-and-noughts contrast. Out with the old, in with the new: that’s the whole point. What’s hot, what’s not; what goes up (hemlines) must come down; keep up at the back. This is both the business model and the manifesto of fashion.
Not any more, it seems. The midi-length skirt caused a sensation when it swept across fashion weeks during the spring/summer 2014 shows; four years later, hems haven’t budged an inch. (“Midi skirts make up the largest proportion of our skirt sales and we don’t see that stopping,” says Lisa Aiken of net-a-porter.com.) Trenchcoats have been top sellers for so long now that retailers struggle to remember what they sold before everyone wanted a trench. Outsize earrings have slowly, surely, edged out every other fashion jewellery category. “The trend cycle is diverging down two separate paths,” says trend forecaster Chrissy Hilton-Gee. “We still have high-speed fashion with a short turnaround – but we also have these slow-burning trends that shift very subtly, influenced by consumer lifestyle rather than fashion industry diktats.”