Harriet Stewart on the season’s trickiest trends
Our associate fashion editor on how to work PVC for day
PATENT, VINYL, PVC, WET-LOOK LEATHER
– whatever you choose to call it, the slick, wipe-clean look was all over the AW18 runways. And it has one big advantage: it’s waterproof. It couldn’t be more practical for us Brits and our unpredictable weather. Taking style notes from the season’s biggest shows – think wader boots (thanks, Prada), water-repellent skirts with ankle socks and biker jackets (as seen at Miu Miu) and lacquered trench coats (Fendi, Chloé, Marni) – dressing for a downpour has never been easier.
But don’t let yourself be fooled. Despite its utilitarianism, this isn’t a trend born out of practicality. Sex, it was clear to see, was a big source of inspiration for designers in their autumn/winter collections, where echoes of fetishism in the form of wipe-clean patent leather took centre stage.
Christopher Kane celebrated sex in all its PVC-clad glory with a collection that featured shots of lace, leather and bare skin, as well as a more literal interpretation, which came in the form of nude dresses printed with drawings from the famous Seventies handbook The Joy of Sex.
Fendi and Versace put their own spin on high-shine dominatrix-style coats, too: Fendi teamed the style with a matching handbag and logoprint boots, although you would be brave to do the same in real life. Even Simone Rocha – doyenne of frothy, feminine dresses – made an unexpected nod to fetishism in her collection via glossy, patent dress coats in khaki and red, tied with bows and adorned with trailing black ribbon.
But these new, glossy finishes don’t have to be kinky, and they definitely don’t have to be black – in fact, for a seasonal update, I would say steer clear of that. Look at Mary Katrantzou and her ice-cream pastels, or Marni’s paintbox brights in the form of a playful flasher mac, where the fun lies in a slick, Yves Klein-blue exterior rather than what lies beneath (those around you might be pleased to hear that). And Victoria Beckham’s plasticised bonded-wool coat in khaki feels current but classic.
So, what to buy for everyday commutes and the office nine-to-five? I find it hard to resist the satisfying squeak of a pair of PVC trousers. You may as well go all out, so go for something skin-tight and high-waisted. Baggy wet-look styles could be unflattering and, I would imagine, difficult to pull off without looking like you work in industrial-waste management.
If wet-look trousers feel like a step too far, you can hardly go wrong with a patent rain mac. It’s the simplest segue into what is quite a tricky trend to pull off and also the easiest way to earn style points without committing to a whole look – go for colour or print here. Finding the right finish is also key: a fabric that’s too thin will look cheap, whereas anything too stiff will look great but you’ll feel like you’ve been strapped to a gurney due to the lack of mobility it affords. And a coat that’s wipe-clean is surely a perk.
Shoes are another easy win. Patent boots, ideally with a block heel and round toe, feel very Chanel. And a patent rain hat (like Eudon Choi’s) will see you through winter frizz-free. Scandinavian outerwear brand Rains also has a great range of hats that err just on the stylish side of sensible.
Consider this a more practical update on last season’s plastics, which came with one major pitfall: try running for a bus in a transparent coat and things will get a little steamy. One ELLE colleague actually complained of condensation forming on the inside of her Miu Miu coat. Imagine. Or perhaps don’t. With that in mind, here are five things to consider: 1. Do not walk too close to a fellow-plastic-wearing friend. You will more than likely end up sticking to each other, and nobody wants that.
2. It’s probably best to avoid a bum-grazing, patent micro-mini skirt, unless you’re wild about your legs. But if you’re going to do it, take your style cue from Miu Miu.
3. If this is your first foray into the trend, maybe don’t wear spray-on PVC trousers to work. Unless you work at ELLE, of course, in which case come on in and collect £200 as you pass Go.
4. Invest in the best-quality piece you can afford. When it comes to fabric, cheap vinyl will always look cheap; there’s no way around it.
5. Finally: never go head-to-toe wet-look. One piece is enough here.