It was a good run, Betty Draper.
As one of the protagonists of Mad Men , January Jones’s impeccably outfitted sixties-era housewife character dominated the fashion sphere of late, helping to launch the ladylike trend that lasted more seasons than many would have predicted.
Following last spring’s last gasp in the saturated-colours-and-girly-prints department, however, a new, unlikelier style icon has emerged for fall: Lisbeth Salander.
The girl best known for her dragon tattoo and blunt haircut seems to have been tacked onto the fashion world’s collective mood board as a daring volte-face from the plethora of pretty. The fall shows made a fresh case for toughness, whether it was the vampire vixen message from Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci, the moulded minimalist statement at Calvin Klein Collection or the asymmetrical, leather-centric looks at Proenza Schouler.
“Fashion always moves in sweeping 180-degree turns and I think that a lot of designers had seen enough of colours and prints and were in the mood for something darker,” Nicole Phelps, executive editor of Style.com, opines.
As a consequence, this season’s shapes are decidedly assertive (but not overpowering), while the palette is nocturnal, often punctuated by a deep oxblood or crimson. Leathers, meanwhile, have been worked into sculptural dresses and no-nonsense jackets.
Roseanne Morrison, fashion director for the Doneger Group, a New York-based authority on global market trends, says we’re seeing an Edvard Munch-level anxiety manifest across visual media; fashion’s link to television and film, she adds, is a real one – even if the plot lines are fictional.
“It used to be all about happy endings and now it’s not,” she says, citing Gameof Thrones , The Hunger Games and TheDark Knight Rises in addition to The Girlwith the Dragon Tattoo.
But despite – or to spite – all the grittiness, a no-nonsense, empowered chick inevitably rises above. On a less allegorical level, fashion seems to be following a similar theme.
“The tough, covered-up silhouette and leathers are a response to the general mood in the United States and perhaps in the world,” says Phelps, who agrees that continued economic uncertainty is a contributing factor not just to the look’s popularity, but also to how it can positively affect a brand’s bottom line. “Designers love selling leather,” she notes. “They can make a lot of money on it.”
As impactful as the look may be on runways and in glossy magazines, however, it can, Morrison insists, remain just as strong when personalized.
“What we see is that nobody buys trends; they buy items,” she says. “So even if [many women] buy an edgy leather jacket, they will wear it with a pencil skirt … they’ll integrate elements. I think the days of wearing one look head-to-toe are over.”
Toronto designer Jeremy Laing understands that his clients want to define feminine on their own terms, so he imagines core pieces – pants, jackets, vests, shirts – as individual units that come together to create a striking whole.
This fall, “it’s not ladylike, but it’s womanly,” he says of his silhouette, which was based on the architecture of an inverted ziggurat. “There’s severity but also sexiness – everything can be opened with long zippers that allow you to reveal or hide.”
Two decades ago, when Rick Owens and Helmut Lang were playing with similar ideas, they were considered fashion radicals. It’s a testament to the aesthetic that their designs don’t appear dated (indeed, the Hollywood version of Salander was dressed at times as if she had hit the jackpot at a Rick Owens sample sale in 1998).
Not coincidentally, Helmut Lang (which has been without its titular founder since 2005) is capitalizing on the moment, debuting a fall footwear collection inspired by Game of Thrones.
For his part, Laing isn’t interested, he says, in adopting new references from season to season, but he does understand the sartorial appeal, however fantastic, of the tough girl. “Sometimes everyone wants to be a punk warrior princess and sometimes they just want a great coat.”
This season, everyone can be and have both, it seems. So maybe happy endings aren’t passé after all?