Panniers make a comeback
Everything old becomes new again, especially when it comes to fashion.
Cast your mind back. No, further - way further - to the 18C. Think Marie Antoinette.
What does your wardrobe have in common with the ignominiously pompous Queen of France? More than you may realise, given that panniers - theatrical hip enhancements - are creeping into the sartorial vernacular.
Rodarte experimented with a drop-waist version for fall 2007 and we spotted them at D&G's autumn 2009 show, then at Leanne Marshall, Christiano Siriano, Alexandre Herchovitch and Zac Posen's spring 2010 collections.
Now, the look is back with a vengeance in high fashion circles, cemented by Karl Lagerfeld's latest collection for Chanel.
The label's 2012/13 Cruise Collection, presented in the appropriately heady Chateau de Versailles grounds, featured a selection of pastels, filigree detailing, flatform trainers (we kid you not, more on that highly dubious trend coming), baby doll girliness and, standing out from the modern onlookers but utterly at ease with the antiquated surroundings, cinched, high-volume silhouettes.
With hips boosted by pannier styles, models sashayed around fountains like dolls on a wind-up musical box. Redolent of pre-French Revolution days, the textured gowns gave the models instant waists and derrieres.
The 1770s saw the trend pushed to flummoxing proportions, making today's Vivienne Westwood creations, as worn by Lily Donaldson at the Olympics Closing Ceremony on Monday, seem but a piffle.
Sydney-based stylist Ashleigh Sharman says the look may be more familiar to us than we realise: "The desired effect is the same as the 18C, with attention being drawn to a narrow waist and with added volume around the hips the look is not only dramatic but gives curves to where there may be none. It's part of a trend that is seeing a return to classic couture shapes and finishes in all their boldness."
Indeed, modern pannier styles reflect some more contemporary plays on the age-old trick of accentuating a small waist and full hips - 50s swing dresses, anyone?
"Highly theatrical yes, I can imagine Lady Gaga or Beyonce rocking a number like this, but for the average woman it'll most likely come in versions a little less extreme," says Sharman. "Take for example retail's current love of the peplum, adding detail and volume from waist through to hips, and marry it with last season's famed cocoon coat or tulip skirt."
Bound by its very nature to not be to the liking of all, panniers have the added (dis)advantage of going against the latest fashion trends: the look adds weight and volume to the hip and thigh area. It is brilliantly, refreshingly counter-intuitive but is hard to pull off in a culture that pays an imbalanced amount of attention to a misguided drive for all things skinny.
But, says Sharman, we may be more adventurous than we realised: "Women are getting used to wearing more 'shapes' and styles that fall outside of minimalist lines, the trick is to not make them look like a costume and therefore tone down the exaggeration - above all its about achieving a balance through the look."
For those of you who like your trends like your burgers - medium well-done - fear not. Big-hipped pannier dresses, currently in their nascence, are not likely to hit the High Street any time soon and will first go through the diluting process of London, New York and European fashion filters before hitting Australia.
Then, and only then, may you start practicing your best "Let them eat cake" impressions.
- Daily Life