Polished but not prissy, feminine but purposeful, and dressed in updated classics, she’s the woman you’ll want to be this season, says MARIE KELLY.


Marie Kelly on the style muse of the season

Far from putting the cat among the pigeons as he did last season with his Saint Laurent-like Celine catwalk show, Hedi Slimane’s AW19 collection for the Parisian fashion house had critics and customers purring with delight – and relief. Slimane has travelled the long road from pariah to prophet in six short months. His last show was not just a stellar edit of covetable clothes, but a pin-sharp picture of the current fashion mood.

Longevity, femininity, wearabilit­y, joy – these are the words women want associated with their wardrobes. From plaid culottes and piecrust blouses to suede bombers and shearling coats, Celine was a celebratio­n of grown-up style for the determined woman. This was forever fashion rather than a one night only affair. Slimane delivered an updated version, not just of the Celine woman, but of modern femininity, and of the woman that I, for one, want to be.

Although the models had that same annihilati­ng stare as his Saint Laurent women (it seared right through those black aviators) and hands stuffed so tightly in their pockets they looked positively p***ed off, there was a softness to this collection that couldn’t be extinguish­ed by posture or demeanour, and it came from the wonderfull­y artful mix of winter’s most tactile textures – tweed, wool, silk, leather, sheepskin – and silhouette­s that were meltingly fluid; pleated skirts, oversized ponchos, flowing midi dresses and extra-long capes had a swashbuckl­ing appeal.

In many instances, these outfits reminded me of my childhood TV style icon, Christine Cagney of the New York-based police show Cagney & Lacey. As a child in the early eighties, she was the woman I wanted to be when I grew up. I envied her fluffy blonde bangs (although, not her hand gun – that was never my style). I soaked up every outfit she wore in each episode and made mental notes of how she mixed up textures, wore effortless­ly styled neck scarves, and bunched up the sleeves of sweaters softly around her elbows.

She could have been Slimane’s muse for this collection, the looks were so similar at times, but then he did draw deeply on the Celine archive, where he found the kinds of stalwart pieces (well-cut blazers, pleated skirts, silk blouses and sturdy boots) French women paid good money for 50 years ago. These were the anchors of Christine Cagney’s closet in the early eighties, and today I find they’re the basis of mine. Women never lose interest in those items that work hardest in their wardrobes.

That old cliché of looking back to move forward has worked a treat for Slimane. Similarly, Natacha Ramsay-Levi is reimaginin­g the traditiona­l codes of the Chloé house for its new customers. The horse motifs and equestrian influences of old are emerging again, but this time around, in different guises: a beautifull­y cut riding jacket in twill, a military topcoat in Prince of Wales check. Again, these are clothes made for women who need serviceabl­e wardrobes but refuse to sacrifice aesthetics to have it.

An Irish heritage brand producing these same staunch pieces, enriched by its past but not defined by it, is Donegal label Magee 1866. Punctuatin­g the traditiona­l fitted blazers in salt and pepper tweeds the brand is known for are newer cuts and softer silhouette­s; for example, a raglan-sleeve coat with blanket-like weave – the kind of oversized throw-on that street style stars are famous for, a check trouser suit that’s cut quite like a man’s but only enough to flatter a woman, and merino knits backed with pretty printed silk.

Brands with a history – and heart – are trusted by women looking for style and substance from their clothes, so it’s wonderful to see future “heritage” brands emerging and thriving in this country, such as Wicklow-based label Four Threads (read our interview with founder Alanagh Clegg on page 34).

There is no brand with a bigger heart than Richard Malone, the eponymous label of the Wexford-born designer who is carving out a successful niche for himself in London as the go-to designer for fashion-forward women with a social conscience. Committed to sustainabl­e practices and to minimal wastage (each dress in this collection was cut from just one metre of fabric), Malone served up a directiona­l display of separates that embraced all of this season’s buzzwords – feminine, wearable, sustainabl­e and fun.

High-waisted midi-length pencil skirts with lengthy side and front splits, which gave the models a lovely freedom of movement, came in shades of claret and oxblood. Paired with Malone’s unconventi­onal tailoring, they painted a very modern picture of this season’s bourgeois woman.

While Slimane and Ramsay-Levi created items that will live in your wardrobe well into the future, Malone’s pieces have a past as well as a future. Recycled organic cotton jersey and dog beds (yes, really; used for the faux fur stoles) reflect his commitment to repurposin­g and reusing, and to showing that beautiful things can be fabricated out of the ordinary and mundane. It’s the antithesis of the stack ’em high, sell ’em cheap mentality. The variety of models on his runway also demonstrat­ed beautifull­y how long these pieces will serve Malone’s customers, as models from 20-odd to 60-odd confidentl­y walked his runway. Buy a Malone dress in your thirties and you’ll still be wearing it in your sixties, such is the “agelessnes­s” of his aesthetic.

It would be impossible to speak about AW19’s fashion mood without acknowledg­ing the impact that Victoria Beckham has had and continues to have on what women wear. Once again this season, her presentati­on was a colourful, beautifull­y tailored mix of interchang­eable separates and easy-to-wear dresses that you’ll pull out year after year. “Proper but not prim” is how the designer described the woman behind this collection. If the Celine edit has too much attitude for you and Malone’s too much edge, then Beckham’s is that perfect marriage of modernity and femininity without any tricks or heists. Just great clothes made by a woman to be worn by women.

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makes the final touches to his AW19 runway show
Irish designer Richard Malone makes the final touches to his AW19 runway show
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