Fashion’s most surprising star is making a serious impact this season. Francesca Fearon rediscovers its versatility
AT THE fashion shows last September it was striking how many fashion editors had taken to wearing a buttoned-up shirt with the tailored collar peeking out from the jacket of a trouser suit or a turtleneck sweater. The look was neat, almost prim, but the injection of some bright colour, a slick of lipstick and a pair of sunglasses made it look modern and glamorous in an androgynous way, rather than seeming dowdy and Miss Brodie-ish.
The return of the trouser suit and now the crisply tailored shirt is yet another example of women aping the timeless elegance of menswear. The perennial appeal of the white shirt is the fact that it is crisp, nononsense and essentially non-girlie, and there is a real mood for nongirlish looks around at the moment. A shirt gives the air of authority, but is also immensely flattering.
The late Italian designer Gianfranco Ferre was a great advocator of white shirts, because he felt the white shirt reflected light so flatteringly on the wearer’s face. He was renowned for his voluminous cotton, silk and organza shirts, which he paired with black leather in his collections.
The American designer Carolina Herrera is similarly enamoured of this classy basic and has made the white shirt a must-have piece in many of her collections over the past 30 years. In fact it is symbolic of her personal style. “They have always been
part of my life. They make me feel secure,” says the designer. “When I don’t know what to wear, I choose a white shirt. I love them and find them fascinating; and they can be worn in many different ways.”
A white shirt makes an impact with or without jewellery; it looks crisp with jeans, or sophisticated worn with a skirt, especially an elegant pencil style; it can also work well for special occasions. Try putting a starched white shirt with a big ball skirt. The effect is fabulous and insouciant, as if you don’t want to try too hard. In her spring CH collection, Herrera has white shirts with bow necklines and collarless styles with slashed sleeves that tie off at the elbow, or a neat pin-tucked dinner shirt style that would look as good with jeans as it does with a tuxedo.
Try a white shirt with a big ball skirt for a fabulously insouciant effect
Such is the versatility of a white shirt that it can also look a bit rock ’n’ roll with torn jeans and a tailored black Spencer jacket. A trawl along the men’s shirtmakers in Jermyn Street will reveal a few that also cut for women, Thomas Pink and Charles Tyrwhitt among them. A women’s cut is shaped and much closer to the body than a man’s style and sometimes incorporates some stretch. Most of the cotton shirts are in the £80 bracket.
Thomas Pink adopts a current styling tip from menswear with the classic double cuff, in plain and pinstripe. There are also colours like electric blue and faded pinks for summer, some polka dots and also silk styles. Bear in mind that a starched shirt can look cool and smart in a heatwave.
Among the new generation of LondonfashiondesignersisPalmer// Harding, whose trademark is statement shirts for men and women. Started by Levi Palmer and Matthew Harding a few seasons ago, the label is building a strong fan base for its shirts, which range from austere to romantic.
“We work a lot on the cutting, creating a looser shoulder, but a slim waist,” says Matthew Harding. The pair have developed tailored vents for cuffs and a number of finishes
for collars. There is an alluring play of sheer and opaque — quite a trend this season — mixing panels of cotton and organza. And they have also introduced colour for the first time, with cinnabar orange.
A modern classic brand is Equipment — popular with the departments stores and online retailers such as Net-à-Porter. Equipment was launched in 1976 by Christian Restoin, partner of uber-stylist and former French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld. His concept was to take a men’s classic and revamp it for women by giving it glam appeal. He drew inspiration from American films of the 1950s and stars such as Katherine Hepburn and Lauren Bacall (who became a client) creating shirts in luxury fabrics that had drape, but were functional — featuring his signature breast pockets.
The company is now part of Serge Azria’s empire — Azria also owns the premium denim brand Current/ Elliott. The new collection offers a profusion of styles that range from £230 to £280 and come in washed silk and crêpe de chine. There is lots of bold colour — yellow, green and monochrome are particularly ontrend at the moment — and some tiny patterns. Whether worn with jeans or a smart skirt, a tailored shirt will definitely add some gravitas to your wardrobe this season.
Seriously smart shirt from CH by Carolina Herrera £180
Thomas Pink Sapphire silk shirt £135
Crisp cut-outs and peplum CH by Caroline Herrera £265
Thomas Pink Annette casual shirt £79