How to repel men with style
“In the last few years, at show after show, I’ve confronted catwalks packed with ensembles outré enough to make a man’s veins run suddenly cold.”
BY| 11 August 2012
Until his retirement in 2007, Valentino Garavani enjoyed a career rich in fame and fortune, all thanks to his near-peerless skill for doing one thing extremely well. That skill, which propelled him to the apex of 20th-century fashion, was in wreathing the world’s most beautiful women in dresses of devastating elegance. Whether it was Grace Kelly, Jackie Kennedy or Sophia Loren, Valentino had an unerring knack for transforming celebrated head-turners into unforgettable heart-stoppers.
Now it has been announced that a 100-strong collection of Valentino’s finest couture gowns is to feature at Somerset House’s blockbuster show this November – and I for one can’t wait to see it. For these days, women’s clothes that are designed to reduce any man who sees them into a jibbering, crush-struck wreck are rare indeed.
In the last few years, at show after show, I’ve confronted catwalks packed with ensembles outré enough to make a man’s veins run suddenly cold. Beautiful (albeit sillily thin and inappropriately young) women dressed in a manner guaranteed to wither the male gaze far more efficiently than a nun’s habit.
This withering is not because they look covered up and chastely tasteful. It’s because the outfits they’re wearing make them look like freshly escaped loonies. A few burned-into-the-retina regrets from the Autumn 2012 collections include camel-toe-flashing body stockings in jester’s diamonds, ruffled tulle pink buttock-skimmers wider than anything in My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, and post-apocalyptic cult robes with frayed yarn face masks and death’s-head make-up… the 21st-century womenswear catwalk is all too often no place for men who relish a little black dress.
Left to right: an ‘inexplicable hip extension’ from David Koma, frayed yarn face masks at Rick Owens and a typewriter dress by Mary Katrantzou PHOTOS: REX/VLADIMIR POTOP
I – off duty – am one of those men, like any other. And yet I’m also employed to attend these fashion shows, then try and make some kind of sense of them. So as my inner bloke baulks and bolts for the door, I stay, sit and watch – and try to work out what on earth the designers are getting at. Furthermore, why on earth would women want to wear some of this stuff?
Take the peplum. This inexplicable hip extension is fashion’s current equivalent to the appendix: entirely useless yet utterly ubiquitous. Or the current ankle sock with high-heel trend: why subvert a sexy shoe with saggy, granny ankles? And what’s going on with the stupid, sadly not-quite-yet-over neon movement? Surely only paramedics and binmen could wish to dress in that saccharinely virulent shade of orange. Over the past few years I have silently asked myself scores of similar questions, adrift in a fragrant sea of rapturously applauding female fashion editors.
The discovery of a blog entitled The Man Repeller helped me start to square womenswear’s circle of aggressively ugly. Written by a young New Yorker named Leandra Medine, it amusingly recounted her flirtation with fashion fripperies that she not only knows but delights in knowing will send most men running to the hills. And then the comment of a female colleague after one particularly to-the-male-eye unattractive show – “you’ll never understand that! It was brilliant!” – cemented the thought: perhaps some fashion appeals to women precisely because of its burka-trumping capacity to confound masculine attention. Fashion has become an arena in which conventional male tastes, whether we like it or not, are an irrelevance. Sometimes, a designer’s freedom to whip up whatever they want – the loopier the better – can produce brilliant results. Mary Katrantzou’s pencil skirt made of pencils and her red Olivetti dress are great recent examples. Too often, however, contemporary fashion is an impenetrable in-joke as inexplicable as the worst type of contemporary art.
Still, now I can watch bunny-boiler collections that everybody else in the room says they adore without perplexedly wondering what it is I’m missing. Because sometimes women’s fashion operates on a frequency that most men simply aren’t supposed to hear.