A little carefree hippie here, a dash of Marrakech spangle there, not to mention beaucoup Talitha Getty charm, and you have the makings of a timeless, lasting look — the bohemian. Season after season, it seems as though the headlines still sing one boho rhapsody or another. Just what is it that keeps this look going in an industry of one-season wonders, where instant obsolescence is the fashion creed?
Perhaps it’s the comfort factor of a chic, loose-fitting caftan or embroidered tunic. “The shapes themselves are easy and appeal to a majority of body types,” says Susanne Klevorick, vice president of design for Jones Apparel Group’s Nine West. “It’s a mood that transcends all areas of apparel and accessories.”
But comfort is never the only variable in the style equation. “The primary objective is fashion,” points out Robert Burke, Bergdorf Goodman’s vice president and senior fashion director. “Boho’s a trend that can be interpreted in a lot of diverse ways, which is interesting to the consumer because she’s not pigeonholed into a look.” Allegra Hicks, whose own collection is usually caftan-bent, agrees: “It’s a very free way of dressing. Your personality and your own style can come through. There’s a psychological freedom that makes it last.”
And there are myriad styles that fall from the boho tree. In the land of Bohemia, a girl can work Bollywood flourishes one season and reference Seventies hippie icons like Getty or Charlotte Rampling the next. She can even throw in a black-on-black Beat look à la Audrey Hepburn in “Funny Face” or, as with spring’s fare, slip into something minimal with gypsy-style mirrored or layered details. But boho, in fashion jargon, is largely the language of gypsy-hippie chic, as likely to conjure up images of homespun crochets, patchwork skirts and peasant tops as paisley prints and babushkas tied around the head.
Laren Stover, executive director of editorial at MAC Cosmetics and author of the recently published book, “Bohemian Manifesto,” attributes those stereotypes to the origins of the word — bohémien means “gypsy” in French. Burke, however, traces the history of the look only as far back as Yves Saint Laurent’s iconic mid-Seventies collections. “That’s the benchmark,” he says. “He did it at a time when it was absolutely not done. Think of the peasant blouse or a long shirt — those are the iconic pieces, and Saint Laurent has left a lasting impression.” As for today, Burke believes Tom Ford jump-started and led the recent bohemian caravan. “When we first saw it come back, it was Ford’s fall 2001 collection for Yves Saint Laurent,” he says of the dark gypsy affair, Seville-style.
“To me, it’s that whole escapism thing,” says Anna Sui, whose own collections riff on eclectic bohemians. “Times are so harsh now that it’s as if our only kind of escape is dressing from another time, another life, another fantasy.”
“It’s our ultimate fantasy right now to be a Kate Moss or Sienna Miller,” Sui adds, “to be able to have the luxury of being that glamorous, but also have that whole throwaway look. There’s a dressing-down quality, and people can relate to fashion that way.”
Miguelina’s Miguelina Gambaccini seconds that thought. “It’s not about wearing a label anymore,” says the designer, who’s known for her luxe, wanderlust-inspired dresses. “Women are a little bit more adventurous in what they wear. It’s more about having your individual style.”
“There’s something incredibly romantic about the bohemian lifestyle,” says Stover. “There’s always been that visual vocabulary of the alternative. It’s provocative and sexy because it’s unconventional.”
Julie Gilhart, vice president and fashion director of Barneys New York, ultimately credits the staying power of bohemian fashion to its roots. “The whole original idea of the style is to set aside the more conservative bourgeois way of dressing,” she says. “So there’s always going to be a style that will be different from the norm. As long as there’s a mainstream, boho will keep reinventing itself.”
— Venessa Lau