We may be wedded to our jeans and Reeboks when it comes to daywear but, as dusk falls and thoughts turn to dressing for a special party, suddenly we are able to engage in a little fantasy. Fashion trends move in cycles and eveningwear is currently in the mood for romance, beautifully imagined by designers such as Erdem, Giambattista Valli, Rochas, Alice Temperley, Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen and Australian label Zimmerman.
Floral prints, embroideries, lace and airy fabrics abound, many finding inspiration in the past. Sarah Burton and her Alexander McQueen team, for instance, visited the wilds of Cornwall to conjure up their mystical mediaeval beauties, wearing dresses embroidered with naïve meadow flowers.
Erdem similarly draws on the past with demure 1940s-style blouses and pencil skirts in his pre-fall collection. They are lavishly embellished, which gives them an air of decadence but there are subtle references to Edwardiana in those long sleeves, tiny ruffles and coy covered-up necklines. Sharing that romantic nostalgia are Giambattista Valli, Valentino, Rochas, Emila Wickstead and well-priced contemporary designers such as Hannah Coffin’s Needle & Thread and Han Chong, the Malaysian designer whose Self-Portrait label has been such a hit.
Evening wear is experiencing a much more genteel period and, while inspiration may have its roots in history, designers are making it highly approachable for the contemporary customer. Tinselly sequinned fabrics at Erdem and Temperley of London are one example of a ladylike retro look made desirable for the modern woman.
Or there is the use of bold print and craft, such as the maxi dresses decorated with Eastern European folkloric embroideries and crochet — a bohemian mood introduced by Ukrainian and Polish designers Vita Kin and Magda Butrym respectively and influencing others, such as Hannah Coffin. The hours of fine handwork make the dresses feel precious and something to be shown off.
Dark evocative prints are another way of modernising the restrained vintage dress look for evening. House of Hackney is renowned for William Morris-style Arts and Crafts wallpaper prints for interiors but it has spun off the line into fabrics for dresses and blouses. Han Chong similarly makes use of moody floral prints and cautious use of cut-outs for his Self-Portrait dresses.
These wallpaper florals in shades of plum, antique rose, navy, black and teal exude a mysterious glamour when re-imagined in romantic fine fil coupé and fluid silk voile fabrics, jerseys and silk crêpe de chine.
Erdem’s moody painterly florals are a perfect example and are so pretty you may want to wear his maxi dresses both night and day, with velvet platform sandals for parties or dressed down with biker boots or the new sock ankle boots during the day.Fashion newcomers Alice Archer and Alistair James are also exploring this English sensibility with evocative prints and a touch of theatricality. Both Nicholas Alistair Walsh and David James Wise formerly worked at Alexander McQueen, so an inherent drama in their eveningwear is to be anticipated. Alice Archer, meanwhile, having worked with both Dries Van Noten and Tracey Emin, specialises in embroidery and print, producing beautiful magenta blooms scattered in print and embroidery across long dresses, kimono coats and capes.
Whimsical lace dresses with flattering high necklines and long sleeves are another pretty idea for partywear. The genteel look is updated with creamy boots at Zimmerman and a simple pair of earrings. With so much action going on in these new dresses, it is important to keep both hair and accessories simple.
Velvet is a continuing trend this autumn for evening shoes, with the look updated as a Mary Jane pump, trimmed with a wide strap and buckle.
The Mary Jane works beautifully with a droopy-hem floral dress. Prada, Aquazzura, Nicholas Kirkwood, Sam Edelman and Attico have all done versions of this style.
There are also velvet platform sandals at Prada, velvet boots at Aquazzura and Russell & Bromley and classic velvet strappy sandals at Kurt Geiger and Dune. The rich colours and subtle luxury of velvet make a perfect complement the flounced maxi dresses and genteel modesty of autumn’s partywear.