Romantic, sensual and covered-up

NEW YORK • Chalk it up to the spate of covered-up looks by runway stars like Stella McCartney, Phoebe Philo of Celine and Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino - or to the procession of red-carpet dresses like that worn this year by Ethiopian-born actress Ruth Negga, who appeared at the Oscars in a high-neck, long-sleeved, floor-length Valentino gown.

Credit the forthcoming nuptials of Ms Pippa Middleton, who will marry on May 20, most probably dressed in a fragile variation on the modestly cut gown worn by her sister Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, on her wedding day.

Whatever its impetus, a similarly chaste spirit has infiltrated bridal wear, lending regal authority to the spring 2018 collections shown all over New York recently.

"We're exiting away from the sexy, sheer look," said Ms Rachel Leonard, editorial director for the Bridal Council, a trade group.

"We're moving towards statements about romance, femininity, sensuality and pure simplicity."

To some minds, that shift in direction arrives not a moment too soon.

Tuxedo cape with interior sleeves and fitted A-line skirt by Vera Wang. Pared-down, modestly cut bridal gown by Ines Di Santo.
Tuxedo cape with interior sleeves and fitted A-line skirt by Vera Wang. PHOTO: VERA WANG/ INSTAGRAM

"My collection was a reaction to the very naked dressing that was happening last year," Vera Wang said. "More coverage felt newer and way more modern."

To that end, Wang mixed propriety with a bit of coyness in a collection highlighted by filmy collared gowns, billowing sleeves and wispy Empress Josephine silhouettes.

Elie Saab, Sachin & Babi, Carolina Herrera and Ines Di Santo, who, only a year ago, espoused steamy sensuality, were also among those who seemed, at a glance, to be celebrating a return to tradition.

But they were, in fact, executing a radical about-face.

Like Di Santo, many designers abandoned the provocative cutouts, plummeting necklines and transparencies they once favoured for high collars, covered arms, bodice-concealing wraps, hooded capes, gloves and other totems of bridal decorum.

Few entirely relinquished the deep V-necklines, strapless tops and slit-to-the-thigh dresses that remain bestsellers.

But a proliferation of pared-down dresses and, conversely, traditionally frothy ball gowns, seems reflective of a recent nostalgia for the prosperous, if somewhat uptight, Reagan-era 1980s, a period punctuated, in the pop culture at least, by the fairy-tale wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

For fashion designer Monique Lhuillier, the ideal is a timeless, elegant and wedding-appropriate look.

Tuxedo cape with interior sleeves and fitted A-line skirt by Vera Wang. Pared-down, modestly cut bridal gown by Ines Di Santo.
Pared-down, modestly cut bridal gown by Ines Di Santo. PHOTO: INES DI SANTO/INSTAGRAM

"Remember," she said, "you are surrounded that day by family and friends."

As for sheerness and nudity, she added: "That wave has passed. I hope one day my daughter will feel the same way."

Lhuillier's designs underscored the new mood, supplying her demure brides with point d'esprit lace capelets and matching gloves.

Ms Leonard suggested that this season's shift in tone may have less to do with making a socio-political statement than with acknowledging a taste for escapism.

"Last year's aggressive sexiness has given way to something more magical, dreamy, other-worldly," she said.

The contemporary bride, she noted, is comfortable with her femininity and coming to terms with the notion that it is perfectly fine to show a tender side.

"Why not, if that's what she wants?

"It is, after all, her wedding day."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2017, with the headline 'Romantic, sensual and covered-up'. Print Edition | Subscribe