“Have a wardrobe that makes people smile.” That was my style dictate in 2012, when I was featured on a Canadian best-dressed list, and it’s still my mantra now. The difference is that this spring, the fashion world agrees with me.
I’ve always felt my love of bright colours and quirky detailing was what set me apart from the style pack, all dressed in black. I don’t have to try very hard to convey that I like having a good time, and I can bring a smile to someone’s face, not only at fashion shows or industry events, but on the subway or in line at a restaurant, all by donning one of my bold, bright signature pieces (a Lulu Guinness for Uniqlo sweatshirt featuring a set of emerald eyeballs peering out from its leopard-print fabric, for example). So I’m excited that designers have turned their attentions toward similarly chipper notions, such as the saturated bright palette of Spanish label Delpozo, and the schoolyard charm of emerging brand Mira Mikati’s doodle-style patterns.
Despite the fashion industry’s default setting of presenting a rather surly and serious version of itself, it appears the business of creating wearable Prozac is actually quite lucrative. Take Anya Hindmarch’s championing of cartoonish motifs. The London-based designer launched a line of leather stickers shaped like fried eggs and happy faces in 2014, and after two seasons the designer told industry website The Business of Fashion that the collection had made over $18.7-million (U.S). Now, Hindmarch has exploded that cheery sensibility, perforating smiling characters onto luxe leather tote bags that retail for £795 (a mink fur appliqué of a charming rainbow was recently added to the sticker collection and sells for £250).
Contrast that cheerful aesthetic with the recently pervasive “ grumpcore” trend of T-shirts boasting slogans such as “Anti-You.” I still occasionally see these tops worn at local hipster hot spots and even by my husband (you can imagine the tension between our wardrobes). Lately, though, I’ve also noticed street-style stars such as Footwear News editor Mosha Lundström and Refinery 29 co-founder ChristeneBarberich sporting shirts that say, “It’s cool to be kind.”
The messaging is perhaps less gregarious than one of Hindmarch’s genial bags, but the effect is the same. It gives the onlooker cause to smile, but also touts the wearer as a person who has chosen a rosier outlook.
While I’m all for an upbeat slogan tee used to liven up a look, it’s the more subtle expressions of optimism I find the most interesting this season, such as the prominence of bright shades of yellow and green on the runway, from Rochas’s sublime sheer lemon-hued dresses to Valentino’s chartreuse frocks. Prada’s use of kooky ostrich-feather trim, ranging in colour from bubble-gum pink to sherbet orange, complements its array of retro-tinged checks and op-art prints. The elated moods these looks evoke is mirrored in recent ad campaigns, like Chloé’s sun-soaked scenes featuring a wide-smiling Ulrikke Hoyer linked arm-in-arm with fellow model Luna Bijl.
What’s most impressive about this movement toward happiness is its utter discord with the fashion set’s historic reputation as cold, unfriendly and the very definition of the grumpcore “You can’t sit with us” catchphrase. While there will still be some consumers who buy into the glum fashions of Vetements and Kanye West’s Yeezy line, my hope springs eternal at the thought of designers and shoppers alike casting off the shackles of the notion that to be chic, you must wear head-to-toe black capped off with an air of ambivalence and disdain.
Iconic street-style photographer Bill Cunningham once famously said that fashion is “the armour for surviving the reality of everyday life.” And curiously, Cunningham always favoured subjects dressed not in the industry’s shade of choice, but those who took a more fun-filled approach to dressing, such as Toronto’s dynamic blogging duo, the Beckerman sisters, Samantha and Caillianne. It’s very possible that the rise of these Canadian fashion influencers and their penchant for oddball embellishments has trickled into the industry’s collective consciousness, kick-starting a love affair with optimistic attire. Amid the current state of global affairs, embracing the sartorial equivalent of a smile seems like a good coping strategy.