Well it only took 1400 years, but modesty is in! woohoo we did it girls !!!
Right now, covering up seems way sexier and far more modern than baring it all.
From movies to fashion, the stereotype of the Italian woman has wavered between a Madonna and a whore. The first look is about innocence, sweetness and femininity; the other a full-on, sexed-up vision, as seen in scoop-bust, skintight clothes, amply displayed on television by the “protégées” of Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s former prime minister. But out of Italy has come a fashion miracle: a look that suddenly puts “la moda da puttana” (“hooker chic”) right out of vogue.
The new protagonist is Valentino and its design duo, whose modest capes, long-sleeved, calf-length dresses and general gentility has wiped out a decade of slut style on the runways. The cover-up clothes, undulating across the body, revealing flesh only as a lace-covered shadow from the high neck to the wrist, come from Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli, who worked for nearly 10 years in the shadow of Valentino Garavani before budding and flowering on their own.
The word that best describes their clothes is so ancient and out of fashion that it requires a good dust off: modesty. Yet this is not a sackcloth-and-ashes denial of sexuality but rather a fresh take on the female factor. The modern woman is not prudish about her body. She just may not want to put her erogenous zones on display. There has always been an eroticism attached to what is behind the veil — not least in Italian art.
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To grasp the significance of Valentino’s fragile and elegant clothes, the clock has to be turned back to the 1990s. That was when Tom Ford was dishing up smoldering sex at Gucci and John Galliano was showing visible bras and underpants on the runway.
The on-view lingerie seemed unlikely to succeed, since Yves Saint Laurent, Vivienne Westwood and Jean Paul Gaultier had all been there before with bras on parade. But when Galliano did the look with a glint of wit and not a hint of vulgarity, who could have imagined that colorful bras flaunted under sheer tops were about to become an enduring trend?
In fact, transparency is the leitmotif of an entire generation. It has been charming, worn as light layers of fine fabrics; elegant, with the embrace of lace; and slutty, as a sexed-up outfit when flashing flesh has been the purpose.
Revealing the body beautiful has become a fashion cliché. Even those yawn-inducing strapless dresses for the red carpet are designed for exposure — not to mention the side slits offering a show of leg, Angelina Jolie-style.
The return of purity in fashion does not have to be about covering up — although that may well be part of the equation. It is more about bringing a new sensibility to a wardrobe: graceful court shoes and medium-heeled boots taking over from club-sandwich-style soles. (Those platform shoes were, of course, popularized in the 16th century and worn by Venetian prostitutes to elevate themselves above the crowd.)
Sexuality has often been part of dressing the female and the male. (Think of courtiers’ doublets and skintight hose, or the strategically placed Scottish sporran.) But rarely has there been much reasoning behind the rules. Legend has it, for example, that prudish Victorians were so shocked by exposure that they would drape the bare wooden legs of their pianos. However, the rationale for covering up legs for centuries did not often extend to the bosom — daintily displayed, as in the Jane Austen era.
This new modest style is often as much about fabric as cut: Céline’s sleek, sloppy satin pants or the long, slim, pleated and silken columns from the Belgian designer Veronique Branquinho. Most especially there is the innocent elegance of the Row.
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, who are the Row designers, have caught the essence of the look by using fine fabrics from cashmere to silk, allowing the body to undulate beneath the gentle cover-ups. Texture and quality add to the deceptive simplicity of their beautifully made pieces. In every way, the Olsen twins, exposed to the trappings of Hollywood almost from birth, seem to understand the current feel for discretion.
There is a sweet poetry in clothes that are womanly without being sexually provocative. But if the purpose of clothing from Adam and Eve onward has been linked to the idea of attracting the opposite sex, does it really make sense to take sex out of the fashion equation?
Perhaps the question should be asked the other way around: is covering up the body the death of sensuality? The answer, surely, is no!
A lot of designers have swapped daring for decency: there is Guillaume Henry at Carven in Paris, whose mix-and-match separates suggest a youthful simplicity. The entire aesthetic of American designers of Asian descent tends toward politeness and gentility. That could be a coincidence, but Derek Lam and Phillip Lim are just two examples of designers from whom a pared-down simplicity is key.
Similarly, the influx of Belgian and Japanese designers who came to show in Paris in the early 1990s seemed to temper the traditional seductiveness and frivolity of Parisian designs. As the big-name French houses continue to take on designers of other nationalities, fashion gets the streamlined look of Phoebe Philo at Céline and the architectural attitude of Raf Simons at Dior.
Europe, divided between gray north and sunny Mediterranean south, is under different geographical influences and those have often shown up in Italy. The yin and yang between designers with opposing points of view goes back to Gianni Versace’s bravura against Giorgio Armani’s discretion; Prada’s ugly aesthetic facing off with a sexy Gucci; and more recently Valentino challenging Dolce & Gabbana’s hot Sicilian style.
Is grace really going to win against in-your-face fashion?
The truth is that it takes a certain courage and conviction to try simple, covered-up clothes. Whereas baring it all looks increasingly like yesterday’s trend.