The nature of great style is no longer just about a killer red carpet gown. In this voyeuristic age, it’s now intrinsically linked to the essence of the woman wearing the dress, says fashion director MARIE KELLY.
We talk of style rules and fashion dictates often, and yes, there are some. Texture is more important the older you get; tailored is better than tight; and trends should serve as guides rather than edicts. For most women, learning these simple style lessons gives them a sort of sartorial peace of mind. They may not make any best-dressed lists, but they won’t feature on the worst-dressed either.
In the giant pool of big-name celebrities, the women who rise to the surface are those who embrace their own aesthetic without ever compromising. It isn’t about the best dress or the best styling; it’s about imbuing the clothes with a certain charisma. Tilda Swinton works that red carpet in her own individual way every time.
But fashion does not exist in clothes alone. Style is about a certain poise, an indefinable attitude, even a way of living. The women who we most want to emulate – whether it’s those who ignore the rules entirely and get away with it (Vivienne Westwood) or those who adhere to the dos and don’ts, but always look elevated (Olivia Palermo) – have something that can’t be illustrated in any manual or magazine article. I guess you could call it a sixth sense; a certain something in how they pull together an outfit that makes us take a second look, then linger; a certain attitude that engages us; a way of conducting themselves that we respect. They have a sense of self and an ownership of their lives.
There are women who dress well and then there are those who inspire the rest of us. It takes a strong sense of self to become a force for fashion and the embodiment of good taste. We don’t hear names like Olivia Palermo and Caroline de Maigret and think of the labels they wear – instead we envisage their polish and professionalism.
It’s never really about the label they wear, it’s certainly not about the price they paid or which handbag they hang from their arm. That oft-quoted comment by Coco Chanel: Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman is personified by this eclectic group of fashion icons. Yes, in the moment you notice her outfit, but it’s the woman you can’t forget.
Thirty, even 20 years ago, our style icons were primarily of the A-list variety – actresses and a select group of supermodels. There was no social media, no street style as we know it, and no reality TV. Designers, fashion editors and stylists, for the most part, didn’t have celebrity status. We didn’t pick apart their outfits, scrutinise their body shapes and critique their boyfriends.
Models are beautiful – we know this. But more intriguing are the girls who carry the style torch into their everyday lives with effortless ease. Models may present a blank canvas on the catwalk, but in real life, Erin O’Connor and Lily Aldridge, among others, are nothing if not true style originals.
But today, there’s a minute-by-minute surge of style inspiration, and observation, streaming onto our phones, tablets and TVs, updating itself faster than we can switch from Snapchat to WhatsApp. We’re assaulted by everything from the sublime (Lauren Santo Domingo) to the ridiculous (Lil Kim). A celebrity or model is no longer simply judged on a rare red carpet experience. We score them just as seriously on how they dress for the supermarket and the school run. And to satiate our appetite for the good, the bad and the unruly, the pool of celebrities has swollen well beyond the banks of actors and Vogue models it once was. Editors, bloggers, designers and It girls – royalty even – are all open to the scrutiny of the masses. So the nature of this digital dependence means that style is heavily intertwined with how we behave. You may like the last dress Lindsay Lohan was snapped in, and you might think her street style is pretty cool, but the collagen-enhanced lips and series of minor misdemeanors and erratic behaviour suggest that she simply can’t pull it together (emotionally or sartorially).
THE INSTA GIRLS
The powerhouses of personal style on Instagram have snared millions of followers by applying their style aesthetic to every aspect of their lives. They give us a snapshot into a world that is beautifully curated, and more importantly, completely authentic. Whereas some media stars perform for the camera, these ladies are the real deal.
Despite the deluge of digital intel coming our way every day, those real fashion aficionados never get lost in the virtual crowd. We notice them immediately. Domingo, a Vogue contributor and co-founder of online retailer Moda Operandi, is part of that very modern style tribe – the influencers. Powerful women in the world of fashion who are setting the agenda, determining what we wear through their buys, and how we wear it through their own personal style. We admire their success, determination and demeanor as much as their wardrobes. Then there’s the digital influencers, the women who share their aesthetic online and conjure up moodboards of fascinating people, interesting places and beautiful things, suggesting they’re far more than just fashion mavens and clotheshorses. Style has never been more about substance.