Style denizens were thrown a curve during the fall 2010 collections.
Breasts. Hips. Cinched-in waists.
After years—years—of flat-chested, boy-hipped teenage models stalking the catwalk, directional designers such as Marc Jacobs, Miuccia Prada and Dolce & Gabbana embraced a fuller-figured femininity this season, marking the emergence of an uberwomanly aesthetic.
"Finally," laughs Madonna Badger, founder of Badger & Winters Group. "We've got the power. Sex sells.
"Who wants to see a depressing skinny girl with no boobs who looks like a boy?" she continues. "There is a luxury in voluptuousness. There is something incredibly comforting about a beautiful female silhouette. And real women, grown women, are the ones who can afford the clothes now."
Fashionwise, this season's grown-up clothes could be seen at Louis Vuitton, Prada, Chloé and Dolce & Gabbana, among others—collections that featured hourglass shapes, sexy pencil skirts, corseting and tailored trousers, in substantial fabrics such as tweed, cashmere, silk and velvet. Such a return to femininity bodes well for beauty. "If you're wearing a Vuitton suit, you want your hair to be finished and your makeup polished," points out Aerin Lauder, senior vice president and creative director of Estée Lauder. "On the runway, we saw deep lips, dramatic eyes, lots of mascara and eye shadow, unlike the no-makeup makeup of seasons past."
"I don't think you'd wear these gorgeous outfits with the lighter scents we've been seeing in the last few years," agrees fragrance expert Ann Gottlieb. "It would look absurd to be without makeup in this more dressed-up clothing, and to be without fragrance—they go together."
Lauder says in terms of hair and makeup, the trend manifests itself in two ways: a more casual "done," as at Proenza Schouler, Marc Jacobs and Michael Kors, versus a more polished version, as at Oscar de la Renta, Chloé and Vuitton. "But within both, the beauty is very finished and polished," she says, pointing out that even young women are taking a more considered approach to their appearance these days. "Blake Lively is the girl of the moment, very youthful and beautiful," Lauder says, "but at the same time, she always has a very finished, ladylike look, even if her hair is in a ponytail."
In a postrecession world that eschews conspicuous consumption, such an idealized version of femininity, whether on the runway or the red carpet, is becoming a status symbol of sorts. "When you look at European culture, Rubens, Ingres, etc., you have this idea of the feminine form representing health and wealth," says Badger. "Today, luxury is a healthy woman, a voluptuous woman. It's comforting, with all of the scary stuff that's going on in the world."
Of course, the appeal of such a look has clear commercial implications, too. "It's an aesthetic more women can understand," says casting director Michelle Lee, who counts Jacobs among her clients. "Women who aren't in fashion can aspire to be this woman. The average woman can't look at a teenager and relate to her," she continues, citing WWD Beauty Biz cover model Isabeli Fontana as a prime example of real-woman aspiration 101. "Isabeli has curves, but she's fashionably thin. She's not too young. You can look at her and want to be her," Lee says. "It's more believable if she's in a coat that costs thousands of dollars or wearing major jewels. The brand is not overpowering her."
Fontana is among models such as Karolina Kurkova, Doutzen Kroes and Miranda Kerr who are as likely to be found on the runway for Victoria's Secret as Vuitton. That exposure has made them famous, if not the darlings of high fashion—and their resulting poise is also resonant now. "These models aren't just models, but they're spokeswomen," says casting director Jennifer Starr. "They're people who navigate the press brilliantly, and today it's not only about a picture, it's about being able to represent a brand and to have a personality."
For all of its femininity, this isn't a movement that marginalizes women or their achievements. Quite the opposite, says superstar makeup artist and P&G global creative design director Pat McGrath. "The new look of femininity is actually a return to something very fundamental to women—the art of artifice," she says. "Through traditional beauty rituals, paired with curve-enhancing sensual clothes, women can embrace femininity without sacrificing their achievements."
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A scene from the 91st annual @macys Thanksgiving Day Parade. The parade, which boasts 50 million TV viewers and 3.5 million on-site spectators, is considered one of the largest and most watched parades in the world. (📷: Jason Szenes/EPA-REX)
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