It is Coco Chanel who is credited with saying that"elegance does not consist [of] putting on a new dress," which is a fair enough point. But after spending months, as many Canadians have, all bundled up and layered in heavy clothes, it's just as fair to say that pleasure, sensuality and even physical relief can be found in the donning of a new summer frock.
"Once the weather gets warm, everyone just wants something breezy to throw on," says Emily Scarlett, public relations manager at H&M Canada. "The easiness of dresses makes them essential for summer, especially because we're so used to putting effort into keeping warm."
At this time of year, dresses are to retailers what flowers are to gardens. And the variety, from dainty to seductive, is ever more bountiful. But how do you pick among such delicious variety?
According to Cheryl Stephenson, marketing director at Bal Harbour Shops in Bal Harbour, Fla., the chic Miami-area enclave where the photo spread featured here was shot, the answer is: with relative abandon. The current season, she points out, is one of dress-style extremes, encompassing "everything from ankle-length and flowy [models] to sexy, really short minis." Over all, though, the strongest message may have less to do with a single dress style than a look that, thanks to any number of small design details, feels fresh – the kind of fresh that can take you from office to evening to lazy midsummer weekend. Here are just some of the prevailing trends.
While designers have a long track record of applying sporty, uniform-style flourishes to dresses, this season'sl ineup – from the likes of Stella McCartney, Lacoste, Alexander Wang and Peter Pilotto – goes less literal than racing stripes or tennis pleats. Instead, it plays up contoured seaming, cutout shapes and streamlined silhouettes.
McCartney, who designed the British team's Olympic uniforms alongside her spring/summer 2012 collection, seems to have had extra fun combining pyjama prints with body-con dress styles.
In an industry that claims to be forward-thinking, the ongoing love affair with mid-century fashion may strike some as contradictory. But the Mad Men look has "continued to evolve season after season," Scarlett explains. "It's very feminine, now with an accentuation on flirty." How does this flirtiness manifest itself? Think sweetheart necklines, wasp waists and fuller skirts.
The counterpoint to Prada's kitschy retro car prints and flame decals would be a belted white shirt dress – the epitome of easy-breezy.
While Stephenson reports that Bal Harbour Shops customers, a high-flying mix of Brazilians, Russians, Western Europeans and deep-pocketed locals, are invariably hungry for glitz – "the shinier, the better," she says – Canadians tend to prefer a more low-key lustre. In the same apparent mind frame, designers on the whole have embraced metallics that shimmer discreetly rather than sparkle, a subtle but crucial difference separating summertime seductress from disco queen. (RIP, Donna Summer!)
For both Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy and Karl Lagerfeld, inspiration seems to have come from the iridescence of the deep blue sea and also fish scales, as their short, swingy dresses covered in grids of reflective pieces that give off a futuristic, blue-purple sheen demonstrate. Marc Jacobs, meanwhile, added filmy, cellulose-like layers to the shifts in his namesake collection. The effect: liquid luxe.
A SUMMER LACE
For his Louis Vuitton collection, Jacobs joined Pier Paolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri of Valentino in the embrace of lace, all of them conjuring a romantic vision that is synonymous with the season. "At once, it intensely decorates yet reveals, is supple yet structural, is en français yet Anglo-Saxon," LV's runway program for the spring 2012 collection noted of broderie anglaise.
And while lace (especially white lace) is commonly associated with the ingénue, a lacy summer dress can be remarkably versatile, conveying either more or less sweetness via its styling. Pearls and a pair of kitten heels, for instance, play up the girly, while a jean jacket and sneakers subvert it. On a practical level, lace – and by extension any crochet or cutout pattern – has the added benefit of air flow.
Appropriately enough in a season that will see Batman and Spider-Man join the Avengers onthe big screen, this summer's dress prints have all the exclamatory visual force of comic-book sound effects: Whammo! Ploof! Ka-pow! When the colours aren't supersaturated (see Derek Lam's mutant neon blossoms), the treatments (Christopher Kane's puffy– sticker florals come to mind) are über-playful. There is much on offer, ino ther words, beyond the traditional flower patch.
At Dolce & Gabbana, diaphanous dresses covered in eggplants, tomatoes and peppers sprouted from their one-of-a-kind giardino, while the beachy dresses of Salvatore Ferragamo boast hot fuchsia animal spots and leafy palm fronds. For their part fast-fashion retailers have stopped just short of going bananas over prints that pop (bananas, in fact, are a feature of Prada's 2011 collection).
Of course, the abundance of such exuberant styles might heighten the fear of "Who wore it better?" repetition at the next garden party, but it shouldn't. "Just because the prints are bold doesn't mean they can't be boldly accessorized," says Scarlett, who recommends wearing high-impact footwear, belts or bags to complement vibrant frocks. If, however, you are playing by Mlle Chanel's rules, remember to guard against unflattering excess by taking off one thing before leaving the house. After that, there's only one thing left to do: Go out and soak up summer.
On location: Bal Harbour, Fla.
Where to stay
Just north of Miami Beach, the village of Bal Harbour, site of Globe Style 's summer-dresses shoot, is fast becoming a travel destination in its own right, its luxe hotels, ultra sophisticated restaurants and top-drawer cultural programs offering a worldly wise, less hyperactive alternative to go-go South Beach. Following are some of its highlights.
Where to stay Designed by Toronto's Yabu Pushelberg, the newly opened, extravagantly appointed St. Regis Bal Harbour is the last word in beachfront luxury, featuring butler service, private cabanas and a 750-foot stretch of shore. Reached via the hotel's eye-popping lobby, every one of its 270 rooms faces the Atlantic. The truffle pizza at the hotel's J&G Grill is a must-try.
At Bal Harbour's northern tip, where the Atlantic meets the Intercoastal Waterway, is ONE Resort and Spa. Comprising 124 studios and suites, each of which features an oversized terrace, semi-private elevator access and floor-to-ceiling windows in the bathroom, ONE also boasts a large art collection displayed throughout the premises; its oceanfront restaurant, Mr. Collins, offers made-from-scratch classics such as shrimp and grits.
Where to eat
Bustling yet warm, the Italian eatery Carpaccio specializes in mouth-watering homemade pastas, super fresh seafood and dynamite people-watching (think deal-making power lunchers, glossy women in tropical prints and the occasional celeb).
Right next door, La Goulue is a Parisian-style bistro famous for its soufflé au fromage, which the restaurant has served since 1973.
And at Makoto, chef Makoto Okuwa of Buddakan and Morimoto fame serves inventive Japanese food in a modern interior; aside from the sushi, the meat and fish from the robata grill are a surefire bet.
What to do
The village has long been associated with Bal Harbour Shops for good reason: The charming open-air shopping centre hosts just about every luxury brand going, from Chloe and Céline to, most recently, Stella McCartney and Balenciaga.
Coming next: Alexander McQueen, which opens later this month.
After all that power shopping, some relaxing water side yoga might appeal: Every morning from Thursday to Sunday, guests and residents of the village can participate in free yoga or Pilates classes along the beach; the sessions are offered by Nomi Pilates, a local studio.
And starting this October, the first Bal Harbour public arts project will kick into gear, giving the project artist (to be selected in July) the opportunity to create and display artwork within select public spaces. Visit www.balharbourflorida.com for more information on both the project and Bal Harbour in general. – TIYANA GRULOVIC