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Fashion Trends 2004

Part 4 - Fashion Designer Influences

By Pauline Weston Thomas for



Some Designer Influences for 2004


In New York

In the New York fashion shows for spring summer 2004 with few designers shining or showing much creative innovation or inspiration, no new talent emerged.  Fashion designer Donna Karan's DKNY shows off her traditional signature jersey mixed with bronzed and coppered leathers was aimed deliberately to satisfy department stores throughout the USA.  Her sexy fashion line will appeal to many consumers.

Tommy Hilfiger used bright candy pinks with white and orange to create fresh fashions of bomber jackets and extra wide pants, all highly suited to warm sunny days at the coast.

Ralph Lauren also used strong pastels of the citrus yellow family.  The colour combinations with lilac appeared fresh, new and young whilst maintaining the elegance and sophistication of the New England well bred woman.

Marc Jacobs looked to the 1920s and 1970s for inspiration.  His designs included fine linen pants, ethereal patterned chiffon tea dresses in pastels or muted tea tones, house on the prairie velvet skirts, cropped panne velvet or satin jackets and petticoats with ruffles. Cocktail dresses stopped well clear of the knee.

Caroline Herrera used masculine pinstriped cottons for sundresses with ribbon straps.  Her evening dresses had a lets dance feel to them.  Yellow featured prominently in tango dresses and there were some lady in red satin full length evening gowns.

Proenza Schouler showed cropped jackets, swing coats, piped bustier tops and concentrated on using stripes to good effect.  Bright yellow patent leather jackets added a zeitgeist feel. 

Zac Posen continued the ladylike theme with sophisticated movie star 1940s tailored jackets.  The simple bias cut satin dresses and tops in expensive tones of blush peachy pink and oyster were as suitable for the bedroom as the prom.

So too did Narciso Rodriguez, but his designs were more carefully done concentrating on highlighting bodylines with the geometry of the stripes.  He favoured soft cream and fawn with lilac and pink bursts of colour, as well as tomato red, violet and brushed gold. As usual he presented many bandage tight styles already familiar to fans.

Michael Kors also opted for striped fabrics with his sea faring inspired striped nautical dresses with cutaway armholes ideal for Italian summer holidays.  Cover ups for these sundresses were suede bombers in sharp orange.  Halter neck Grecian style aqua blue gowns that swept the floor took the collection from casual playtime clothes to dress up and be grown up evening garb that was elegant whilst understated.


In Milan

Dolce and Gabbana produced limited edition 1930s inspired beaded and pleated floor length goddess dresses in sweet pea colours which draped and flowed with the grace once seen in the dresses of old movies.  The detailing on them was so intricate that mass reproduction would be difficult.  But no doubt some manufacturer with ability will feel inspired enough to make an adapted version at a more affordable price for the masses.  Floral prints blossomed on both dresses and tights.

At Versace prints were back blossoming over silken chiffon fabrics.  Bright tropical fruit colours and hot greenhouse florals were seen on everything from day suits to halter evening dresses.  Primary coloured halter tops reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe looked grown up and worth a further look.

Gucci showed 35 bags.  Their latest bag is often a must have fashion trend accessory for fashionistas.  The popularity of their bags has waxed and waned over the years, going in and out of favour.  One bag destined as the new power bag of autumn 2003 was Gucci's horse bit style clutch bag with strap, that sent queues around a London store as customers sought the latest must have item. 

The latest Gucci bags feature luxury looks and bejewelled gold chains with flashes of hot colours in materials like snakeskin.  The snakeskin theme continued through to biker jackets in gold amid over the knee skirts featuring fans of pleats over sheer chiffon worn with flesh toned legs. 

Glamorous cut satin cocktail dresses that were ruched or pleated or made from ribbons of silk often had clearly fetish undertones designed to make the clothes as sexy and desirable as ever.

Miuccia Prada revisited the 1950s and using bitter colours often dyeing garments using the ombre shading method she showed sundresses, shirtwaisters, pedal pushers along with crisp knife edge pleating.

Jil Sander re-entered the Milan fashion scene after a 3 year absence.  She worked with a minimal palette of white, tan, putty and mustard using two layers of fabric to create understated beautifully cut classic clothes that were not futuristic, but deemed very desirable by devotees of her look.


In London

In September London Fashion Week showed 50 fashion designer shows officially, with another 30 or so unofficial ones.  Innovative inspiration was less than in some years, but some attractive colourful clothes were in evidence.

However, Ben de Lisi, a master of relaxed glamour dresses, focused on halter neck or strapless evening dresses in soft fluid jerseys and crepes de chines.  Ideal for an Oscar ceremony, the black, aqua and coral stunning colours he used showed these styles at their best.  Picasso paintings inspired his fabric prints of hot deep pink and white or white and black fabrics swirling with geometric shapes and abstract swirls.  Asymmetry and decorative embellishment, use of crystals and ribbon belts added a fresh dimension to many styles and will easily creep into mass produced fashions to give that designer element.

Betty Jackson took her inspiration from a Capri summer scene using fantastic prints that looked freshly brushed from an artist's palette.  She chose to use frothy chiffon in tiers for dresses trimmed with black crossway trim.  The 50's silhouette was strongly defined and all were sharply contrasted with black.  The use of shades of green was a forward looking feature of her collection which mixed and contrasted in a sophisticated, wearable way.  Feminine looks with ruffles on skirts and dresses combined with jackets and wispy chiffon corsages, hinted at both aggressive and feminine tones in a wide range of ensembles.

Jasper Conran based his latest collection on an African theme and produced clothes for grown ups.  He showed lots of geometric patterned and batik printed dresses, likely to be hugely popular this summer, as they fit in with the rustic ethnic themes found in textiles generally.

Ronit Zilkha also showed an African selection in raw earth colours and natural accessories using cane and straw.  Other ideas included an alpine inspired theme with pretty Tyrolean Heidi style cardigans and peasant style trims.  A more exotic theme had a Mardi Gras feel with bright layered chiffons made into pretty appealing envy making dresses with fluttering edges and thigh high splits.  Perfect for dressed up holiday moments.

Clements Ribeiro began his show with a nautical theme showing striped cashmere knitwear trimmed with anchor style motifs and rope belts.  He used traditional colour mixes like red and white as well as newer combinations of stripes in softer pastels enlivened with chocolate or orange.  Peasant dresses in light pink floral prints and trimmed with black ribbons or white piping made for feminine comfortable clothes that looked fresh and modern made to suit hazy summer days.

Elspeth Gibson showed pretty flirty feminine close fitting dresses, sometimes flapper style and unstructured loose, delicately embroidered jackets and coats. She looked to the past for inspiration yet managed to combine frayed edge techniques and raw edges in garments, making them very much of the present.  One interesting point was her use of evening length gloves worn as accessories and a return of brooches and bows as features.

In Paris

Paris couture continues to be about selling the dream to the masses ultimately through more affordable accessories, perfume, cosmetics, lingerie, scarves, jewellery and optical products, rather than actual clothing.  Ideas were sparse in Paris in autumn 2003 and concentrated far too much on the next style of bag, which many more women can afford compared to the dress.  This made for boring fashion shows from a city that thinks of itself as the fashion capitol of the world. 

This hold is dwindling as the global nature of current methods of communication changes outlooks.  Recent hints from the house of Chanel suggest that since 50% of its couture customer base is from the USA, the house  is considering showing in New York in the near future.  This will appeal to the customers that are reluctant to travel to Europe just for a fashion show, when the fashion show could travel to them.  Even so the couture aspect is unlikely to go into profit, but the prestige gained from showing on USA soil will enhance the cachet of Chanel and all the offshoot items.

The problem appears to be in the fact that some of the couture houses now direct their designs with selling on the high street rather than creating new innovative garments that may or may not work or form the gem of a starting pint for a new look.  Feminine and desirable chiffon dresses from Julien MacDonald and Stella McCartney were attractive, but were nothing new style wise.

Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel continued to produce tasteful superbly cut, perfect couture suits, that women from 18 to 80 adored.  Tailoring is fundamental to good couture and Lagerfeld is the current master of it making refinement of his art a luxury statement.

John Galliano at Christian Dior made a sexy modern young couture collection where Latino inspired flamenco flounces were worn with sweat tops and were in complete contrast to the formal couture evident in Lagerfeld's elegant designs.  His raunchy style of underwear as outerwear, whilst sexy, is not very practical as inspiration for an everyday look and although modern and witty is less appealing than when new and shocking.

Jean Paul Gaultier put catwalk models into all in one, skintight figure hugging bodysuits with equally close hugging head helmets.  The suits were cut with couture perfection to fit each model perfectly like a second skin and were accessorized with fur pieces.  This might sound innovative, but Vivienne Westwood did her fig leaf collection along this line years ago.  His classic Grecian evening dresses in hot colours of orange and purple were fabulous in the couture sense.

Tom Ford at Yves St Laurent delivered his last show with satin hip belted jackets, variations on the traditional YSL tuxedo and used cream, white and silver grey to create romantic evening wear.  


Some Final Reminders for Updating Looks

What Fashion Items Should You Discard or Keep?

If you are still wearing that look of little velvet edge trimmed cardigans and matching knee length jacket coats as trouser suits, reassess how passé and somewhat 90s the look has become.  Think twice about buying cargo pants or combats - most designers have ditched them, yet still favour jeans.  If you must still buy those available on the high street, look for the fresher newer twists that many have.

Never confuse dress down with don't care when dressing for work, styles move on and so does casual dress along with what is, or is not acceptable in business situations.

If you buy only 5 items in the sales this winter whilst waiting for warmer days to wear spring and summer fashions, go for classics that you can wear all through 2004. 

Invest in a pair of the sexiest, latest hip hugging denim jeans such as Rogans, but which you can wear now come rain or shine.  Or find your own perfect jeans or black trousers.  We all come in so many shapes and sizes with either big thighs or slender thighs that seeking out the perfect pair of personal jeans or trousers is time well spent. 

Build up some accessories and get a real or mock croc hard framed hand bag like grandma loved or invest in real or mock croc, alligator or snakeskin shoes.  Russell and Bromley do up to date high street versions of these that are far more affordable than designer versions.  Seek out a beautifully cut pencil skirt and team it with a fine polo roll neck or V cashmere top and a pair of knee high boots under the coat you bought in autumn 2003.

If you didn't get a classic 60's inspired coat then, look around for the perfect classic trench coat - opt for a Burberry if you can afford it, otherwise scour the shops for one with an edge.  Ring the changes by alternating the boots for opaque or fancy tights or coloured suede or croc style shoes.  Add interesting gloves such as those from Gap with inspired contrast leather finger detailing or coloured suede ones from Miss Selfridge at £12. 

A few carefully chosen buys like these gleaned from the winter sales will make classic, but worthwhile additions to your wardrobe for 2004 without buying into last year's passing fads as you observe what you really want in your perfect 2004 wardrobe.  Browse the jewellery counters for attractive chandelier style earrings.

Remember upscale designer accessories or lookalikes are a less costly way to buy into a label or trend than clothes.  They are often instantly recognisable as having a now wow factor to those in the know and can offer an instant updating fashion fix to a seasonless outfit.

Take a few hours to reassess your clothes and clear away all items that look past their best.  Chiffon will be everywhere this year so save every chiffon item you have.  Next clear out all items that don't fit you, never fitted you, you hate, you put back in the wardrobe every time you thought to put it on and any which look dull, dowdy, pre millennium or frankly vulgar exposing too much fake tan and should have stayed in the store. 

Ditch the fake tan; you will laugh at how tacky it looks next year in photographs.

You really do know exactly what I mean, but try not to kid yourself that you will slim into an item or grow into it!  If it has languished in your wardrobe since last winter's sales, chances are it will still be there unworn in January 2005.

Finally make a note of the colours and fabrics to look out for and detailed above in these articles. Carry this with you and keep it as a checklist to work around the fine details.  To conclude, 2004 will see a major and welcome return to colour and pattern with plenty of chiffon and textured fabrics. The looks you choose will be looks that suit you.  No two of us will choose to follow the same fashions, but these are some of the trends that may attract or inspire you when shopping. 

Happy shopping on or offline.

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