Get the measure of cocktail wear this season in sumptuous separates that can be reimagined for work and play.
It was Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli who observed that in difficult times fashion is always outrageous. The current appetite among women, then, for fashionable but practical eveningwear that serves more than its primary purpose is as strong a sartorial indication that things are on the up as the thigh-high hemlines that stalked confidently down the runways at Louis Vuitton, Antonia Berardi and Loewe.
Many of us might playfully dream of looking like a decadent glamour puss dripping in diamonds, but in reality we want to look more modern than that, and build a wardrobe that is relevant rather?than retro. There's been a cultural shift, too. Those'days of keeping clothing for ?good wear? are long gone, partly because looking polished and well put together is now considered cool (it's the Victoria Beckham effect - whereas once we?ridiculed her for looking painfully?over the top, now we'revere her?for striking the?right sartorial note every time; she?almost makes me wish Kate Moss would ditch the distressed denims a little more often), but'more importantly because it makes us feel and look in control. As Karl Lagerfeld put it, ?Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants.?
So designers have steadily created a crossover between career and cocktail hour with chic separates that offer something extra-special - feather trims, embroidered metallic threads and embellished collars. A statement skirt in a jewel colour looks perfectly presentable in the office when worn?with a silk T-shirt and a masculine blazer, but it will sing for evening?if styled with a feathered bustier. It's all about taking daywear dictates to the dance floor and bringing?cocktail wear codes back down to earth. In other words, clever cocktail dressing (and elevated daywear) comes from creating'drama - not an over-the-top sartorial scene - with clever contrasts; mixing masculine and feminine, modern and vintage, haute couture with high street. There's so much more to party wear than just a little black dress.
1. Lace and sheer body suit, Autograph, €55 at Marks & Spencer
It's a little bit experimentation and a lot of fun. Essentially, it's dressing up to feel good (in clothes that feel good to wear - think velvet, brocade, silk and satin) rather than to appear ?party perfect?. This must be why fashion editor Carolina Issa, model Natalia Vodianova and actresses Diane Kruger and Amanda Seyfried always look like they're having such a great time. They personify this modern ease with eveningwear. They look current and fresh and they move freely and fluidly - no tit tape disasters for these women. Beckham perhaps personifies the evolution best. From a ?Goddess? Cavalli gown with plunging neckline and thigh-high split in 2005 to a black Maison Martin Margiela jumpsuit?two years ago at the UK Glamour awards. This is cocktail wear with class.
So, with the party season only a whisper away, it's time to start seeking inspiration for your office to after-dark wardrobe. Designers such as Prabal Gurung, Balmain, Dried Van Noten, Stella McCartney and Oscar de la Renta create the right amount of fizz without going off the boil, while on the high street, try Three Floors and Self-Portrait at BT2, Red Valentino, Umit Kutluk?and Emma Manley at Arnotts, and Coast, which has some exceptional separates this season. And if you need that?extra shot of glamour in your armour, embrace a statement jewel or glittering gem.
1. Strapless duchesse-silk satin and wool jumpsuit, Lanvin, €3,190 at net-a-porter.com
2. Gold flared skirt coat, Niamh O?Neill, €545 at Arnotts
3. Embroidered box jacket, Dries van Noten, €1,425 at Brown Thomas
4. Faux-fur scarf, Charlotte Simone, €267 at Style-Ikon.com
5. Black lace and tulle skirt, No.21, €885 at Samui
6. Embroidered sequin cropped top, Needle & Thread, €160 at BT2
7. Purple strappy sandals, Guiseppe Zanotti Design, €1,350 at farfetch.com
This article was originally published in the November issue of IMAGE Magazine.