Frill-Free Design That Is Seducing Us

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After a summer of ladylike pastels and lace, this autumn it is strong, frill-free design that is seducing us, says Harriet Quick

Anne Valerie Hash Cotton and silk-satin coat, from $2,670, at Dover street market

Description: Cotton and silk-satin coat

In the Céline showroom, located on the rule de Grenelle in Paris, one particular coat was drawing buyers and press like bees to blossom. It was sapphire blue with an off-centre closure, sloping shoulders and an outsize silhouette. The design was irrefutably modern, seriously chic and bold, all in one go. Said coat, a bestseller, acted as a flag-waver for a new school of fashion that’s due to get lift-off right now.

Serious chic is all about strong, frill-free design that appeals to the holy style trinity of mind, body and wardrobe. It speaks of authority (distinguished shoulder lines), innovation (bold color blocking) and confidence (sculpted silhouettes). But unlike the austerity movement of the first crunch-sensitive trend (circa 2008), serious chic is severe without being po-faced.

Description: Setting the tone for the season Vogue, July 2012

Setting the tone for the season Vogue, July 2012

The colors are seductive (serious does not have to be black!); the fabrics luxurious – leather, cashmere, silks. It’s also a timely prompt to keep one’s shoulders straight; shoes polished and smile on in style through this period of economic woe.

As Hussein Chalayan says about his line-up of sheath column dresses, cleverly draped tunics, and trousers in shades of ochre and emerald: “I wanted to look at ways of being chic without being ladylike. I’m interested in the transience of our lives; the flow of occasions we dress for in a day – from meetings to art openings to dinner – there has to be a liquidity of purpose.” Chalayan worked away at stripping down his shapes, distilling them to their essence as he redefined his fashion lexicon. It was a challenge. As he says, paring everything down leaves no frills to hide behind.

Description: Diane Von Furstenberg Suede shoes

Diane Von Furstenberg Suede shoes, $323, at my-wardrobe.com

Such rigor is a common aim in the serious camp – Phoebe Philo at Celine is a luminary in the movement. Alongside that blue coat, other notable pieces included low-belted oxblood leather tunics married with bubblegum-pink trousers and Sixties modernist white patent-leather pointy-toe wedges. At Calvin Klein, Francisco Costa turned his imagination to Berlin and Eighties post-punk electro bands. His models sported sharp side-partings and nude lipstick (be warned: it’s not an easy look to pull off) atop brilliant coral waisted coats, leather tunics and ballooning ivory cropped trousers, clipped in with circular metal band belts. The effect was fierce.

Description: Sophie Hulme leather bag, $372, at Matches

Sophie Hulme leather bag, $372, at Matches

The progenitors of this trend unite established houses and new talents. What they share is a love of great design, exacting proportion and making clothes that really do give us a purposeful image. After a summer of ladylike clothes (all those delicious pastels and lace) this renewed sense of conviction and determination is rather compelling. After all, if we are going to invest in top-ticket clothes, we want them to act – as well as look – the part.

Description: An elegant jacket, slim-cut trouser or graphic top will go a long way this winter

An elegant jacket, slim-cut trouser or graphic top will go a long way this winter

Such purism has been Akris’s mission since 1922, when the family company was set up. The signature is architectural lines but often cut from double-face cashmere. This season, creative director Albert Kriemler, inspired by graphic canvases by abstract artist Franz Kline, developed a collection of refined tailoring (women love Akris’s well-cut trousers) in fern-green wool and camel cashmere with painterly graphic effects. “I design wearable clothes,” says Kriemler, “Not only for special occasions but for comfortable use, every day, at every hour. Only when a dress is worn and feels well on the body can we tell whether it has succeeded or not.”

Description: Acne leather jacket, $2550

Acne leather jacket, $2,550

Yes, serious chic is very much about real clothes - pieces that make sense. New talents to watch include Korean-born Hwan Heo of Heohwan Simulation, who, with his bi-color paneled coats with bold zip details, has a taste for clever, neat urban wear. “My goal was to explore and reflect on the progress of fashion phenomena and history. The topic for this collection stems from Walter Benjamin’s flâneur, where I tried to convey image of the street in an edgy way,” explains Heo, who studied menswear at the RCA and debuted his women swear at Vauxhall Fashion Scout this year. “I like to contemplate what is attractive at any one time and work from that.” He might well be hitting our collective desire with a boxy, Leather-Panelled cashmere coat that took numerous toiles to perfect. Over in the East End, boutique LN-CC is becoming a magnet for the serious chic shopper with its hidden entrance (off a tiny alleyway). Here you’ll find London-based, Chinese-born newcomer Yang Li among a line-up of old favorites, such as Martin Margiela and Ann Demeulemeester. “We have never really bought into the “high heels and handbags” look – our style is very much focused on the more masculine, tailored aesthetic you can easily pick up on from the likes of Jil Sander, Haider Ackermann and Yang Li,” says founder John Skelton, defining his customers’ taste.

Description: Mimi Berry leather laptop case

Mimi Berry leather laptop case, $210. Antonio Berardi sleeveless top, $2,048, miniskirt, $1,395, Both At Harrods

An elegant jacket, a slim-cut trouser, a graphic top or sheath skirt will go a long, long way this autumn/winter. The best way to wear it? Don’t look at the catwalk models – it’s with a lovely smile.

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