Last September, when most of us were eyeing chunky knits and winter boots, fashion critics and cognoscenti witnessed something of a whiteout at the Spring 2011 collections. First, New York designer Alexander Wang gave black the cold shoulder after seasons of making it his signature and instead embraced white as an opportunity to go lighter and brighter. In her review on Style.com, Minal Mistry declared the looks "as fresh as cannonballing into a pool in late August."
Then came Dolce & Gabbana's potpourri of pretty white dresses in Milan and a milky minimalist message from Phoebe Philo at Celine. Rick Owens, never one to play much with colour, also presented a grouping of crisp full-length bed sheet dresses, apparently modeling these bleached creations on Picasso's cardboard cutouts of white doves.
So now we're a more than a month past the vernal equinox - although the weather has yet to catch up to the calendar - and white is ready for its coming-out moment. Think of Jay-Z's "all-black everything" fashion credo and then do the opposite.
Of course, amassing all these ready-to-wear looks is just not an option for most of us, so the easiest starting point is something less formal and less expensive: white denim - worn with more white. Don't blanche! This is not as scary a sartorial suggestion as it sounds.
Going so mono unchromatic can make a statement that doesn't ask too much of us except some caution around red wine. It requires no interpretation; we all understand white to be easy, pure.
But the interesting thing about building a look from white denim is how quickly it takes on a modern edge. Crisp shirts, draped tanks and anything resembling wearable origami contribute to a sleek, sculptured attitude that feels more au courant than ethereal ingénue.
Shannon Davenport, an editor at Stylesight, a New York-based trend-forecasting agency, says she was shocked by the surfeit of white-on-white she saw among the revelers at Coachella, the massive music festival near Palm Springs that has become as much about spotting cool fashion as dancing to hot bands. "It was a great confirmation and really stunning for me to see so much white in the gritty, dusty desert," she says.
But she also points out that Wang's collection offered a novel counterpoint to so much noir.
For Arie Asaraf, "black is always black" while white is "sophisticated and sexy but not in-your-face." The founder of TNT, a mini-empire of directional fashion stores in Toronto and Montreal, says that white denim picks up this season where skinny cargos and chinos left off last spring. "Now you still have the minimalism but it's a bit softer - more feminine, less masculine," says Asaraf, who will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of his business this Thursday.
"I think that white is something people look forward to wearing after a long winter," says Lauren Applebaum, brand manger for Hudson Canada.
The demand for white jeans was so strong last spring that the high-end denim brand has tripled the amount of styles available this season. By contrast, black has been scaled back and even classic indigo washes are taking a supporting role to white.
"People are just getting over the winter blues - literally - and white offers that fresh pop of no-colour colour but you still get that perfect fit pant," Applebaum says from Montreal.
From flare to skinny, straight leg to short short, Hudson's white range boasts two-per-cent stretch, which will come as a relief to anyone concerned about a forgiving fit. The most significant updates, however, are the white hardware - no brass rivets - and "pocket bags" that are sewn down to smooth out the lines.
Coincidence or not, white has found a permanent home at a Toronto boutique named Carte Blanche. Co-owner Tania Martins stocks dressier silk chiffon blouses alongside jeans featuring deliberate slashes.
Let's all agree to end the debate on when to wear white; it works year-round if the fabric corresponds to the season. But how to wear it - especially when attempting the head-to-toe look - is iffier. Unlike black, which demands an identical matching of shades, white benefits from some tonal variation. Putty paired with pure white builds depth. Mixing sheer fabrics and solids creates more visual interest. And don't be afraid to introduce white accessories.
One more thing: A tan, as Martins notes, also helps.