The new sheer: dreamy, not steamy

The Weekend Australian - Life - - STYLE - KIM­BERLY CHRIS­MAN-CAMP­BELL

In the story of the em­peror’s new clothes, two weavers trick a vain ruler into parad­ing through his king­dom wear­ing a suit they claim is in­vis­i­ble to the un­wor­thy — un­til a child points out that the em­peror is ac­tu­ally naked. I can’t help won­der­ing what Hans Chris­tian An­der­sen would have made of Diane Kruger and Gwen Stefani, who at­tended last month’s Van­ity Fair Os­car party in barely there gowns that made it clear they’d given their un­der­wear the night off.

Such “naked dresses” — lit­tle more than mesh, filmy geor­gette or silk chif­fon sprin­kled with bead­ing or em­broi­dery — have given the sheer trend a racy rep­u­ta­tion. But de­sign­ers such as Mi­uc­cia Prada, Raf Si­mons, Dries Van Noten, Tory Burch and Re­becca Tay­lor have come up with an en­tirely new way to do peek­a­boo that doesn’t re­quire buns (or nerves) of steel: sheer gos­samer pieces — a top, skirt or dress — in white or pas­tel shades are lay­ered over cloth­ing you’re meant to see, al­beit in­dis­tinctly, for a soft­fo­cus glimpse at colours, pat­terns and tex­tures.

Sheers have al­ways mes­merised the fash­ion faith­ful, con­ceal­ing and re­veal­ing at the same time. Marie An­toinette wore ma­chine-made net, an eco­nom­i­cal al­ter­na­tive to hand­made lace. In the ro­man­tic era, long, bil­low­ing over-sleeves of aero­plane — a translu­cent silk — added grace and mys­tery to short-sleeved gowns. The lin­gerie dresses of the Ed­war­dian age had lace in­serts, trans­par­ent sleeves and tis­sue-thin lay­ers of linen — the same ma­te­ri­als used in un­der­gar­ments. And the “nude” look of the mid-1960s brought strate­gi­cally em­bel­lished dresses with se­quins or bands of rib­bon; many women coped by wear­ing flesh-coloured body-stock­ings.

In the past two years, se­duc­tive styles in­creas­ingly be­came more tit­il­lat­ing, of­fer­ing pruri­ent glimps- es of skin through sheer sleeves, veiled backs and pan­els cir­cling the waist or float­ing at the hem. But de­sign­ers be­gan to tire of the tease: The fleshy ex­po­sure of decol­letage and thighs started to feel Ve­gas strip, not haute-cou­ture house.

So this year sheers have re­claimed their el­e­gance, ro­mance and even mod­esty. Un­like the Vic­to­rian-night­gown-in­spired dresses that also walked the run­ways for the north­ern spring, th­ese new out­fits look mod­ern, even fu­tur­is­tic. At Prada, trans­par­ent jack­ets, shirts, coats and dresses topped bril­liantly coloured and pat­terned gar­ments, soft­en­ing the boxy sil­hou­ettes and car­toon-bright hues. The theme con­tin­ued at Miu Miu, where apron-like see-through wrap tops and neg­ligee-style dresses tem­pered the bold prints and se­vere tai­lor­ing. In his last col­lec­tion for Dior, Si­mons lay­ered a multicoloured sheer fab­ric over gar­ments for a water­colour ef­fect. Sub­tle rather than sexy, the parch­ment-thin veil draws the eye to the shift­ing gra­di­ents of hue, not the body be­neath. Si­mons also did white-on-white lay­ers that looked pretty and pris­tine. Other de­sign­ers like how trans­par­ent tex­tiles give them some artis­tic li­cence to play with strong colours and bold prints. John Pa­trick, the de­signer at Or­ganic, draped gauzy slips over rich, opaque hued dresses for a “dream­like” ef­fect.

De­signer Re­becca Tay­lor did the op­po­site, adding tex­tures like cro­cheted lace, ap­pliqued mo­tifs and Ja­panese shi­bori prints to her silk sheers, then lay­er­ing them over solid pieces to heighten those em­bel­lish­ments.

Just how you pull off the look re­lies on what lies be­neath: the gar­ment below must have di­men­sion and tex­ture. In other words, it should be clear that it’s a piece of cloth­ing, not a slip or lin­gerie you have on. It’s an easy way to re­fresh last sea­son’s dark flo­ral blouse or way-too-vivid top, too: slide a sheer T-shirt from Cos or Zara over them — and revel in the feel­ing that what’s old is now re­newed.

A sheer cre­ation by Dries Van Noten on the Paris run­way, left; the Rochas ready-to-wear show, also in Paris, below

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