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Actress Julia Voth sports a sleeveless ruffled top, a prototype by J. Mendel.

Norman Wong

Whenever black pops up as the fashion hue du jour, someone somewhere will inevitably and excitedly declare that the colour is, well, "the new black." Cue the groans and eye-rolling.

Or, perhaps, not – at least not this time around. Right now, the black that defines many of summer's top looks has an entirely fresh feel, producing an unexpected frisson. Throw in navy, dark grey and other ostensibly sombre tones and the frisson becomes a charge.

Part of the novelty, of course, stems from the ubiquity of such a dark palette when the temperature is warm and days are at their longest. But this is part of the appeal. There's a naughtiness to shunning the usual whites and pastels traditionally worn in summer. It's almost subversive to do so.

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Certainly, Hedi Slimane struck a defiant note against anything conventionally spring-like with his moody debut at the helm of Yves Saint Laurent, where the maxi dresses, leather skirts, tuxedo suits and wide-brimmed hats were all in black, casting a dark, defining spell over the season.

The collection now, though, isn't heavy-handed. All those maxi dresses are made from layers of chiffon, while lace panels add lightness to the blouses. This legerdemain is what differentiates his spring/summer pieces from actual winter clothes.

"The material conversation becomes so important," says Melissa Moylan, the Paris-based trend director for Fashion Snoops, a forecasting agency. In her view, many of the black-based palettes that were seen on the runways succeeded because of the way designers employed lighter fabrics.

The most popular of them all is organza, its lightness and transparency opening up myriad possibilities when it comes to construction. It can be shaped, veiled and layered, each time establishing a completely different look.

Moylan theorizes that the use of organza is a spinoff of the rediscovery of lace, which has remained a popular material for several seasons now. Unlike lace, however, organza enables varying degrees of sheerness depending on how it is layered. "Lace is still relevant and commercial," she says. But organza "offers a new dimension."

This appears to be the case at Max Mara, which included a number of breezy black jackets and T-shirts incorporating organza in its spring/summer collection. One jacket in particular combines a tuxedo body, military epaulettes and cool organza sleeves. Only in black could this mashup succeed.

"What makes that outfit unique is the fabrication," says Deena Weinberg of the Max Mara boutique in Toronto. "What I liked about the black this summer is that it isn't heavy; it has a different demeanour."

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She adds: "There's a lot of flexibility as far as wearing [these pieces] in [either] a glamorous setting or in a relaxed way with jeans and heels."

Even in California, where light colours are the norm, black is proving big this season. Fashion stylist Jessica De Ruiter, who works in Los Angeles, calls it "a palate cleanser."

"In the summer, black can be as fresh as white," she says, recalling how her mother, who lives in Toronto, would wear crisp, black cotton skirts in the 1980s. On a practical level, De Ruiter notes, fabrics such as cotton and linen will be more breathable and require less maintenance than silk.

She also points out that black offers a sort of carte blanche for layering on vintage gold jewellery and vibrant pops of colour – think fluorescent orange nails or a bold pink or red lip. "It doesn't have to be complicated or trendy," she insists.

Indeed, the best accessory of all, one that makes black's comeback especially impactful, may be the quintessential seasonal accessory: a summer glow.

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