Red is the new black
From a style point of view, it’s rather fitting that the colour red happens to be ‘The’ colour for AW17, confirming one of my favourite quotes from Audrey Hepburn - “there is a shade of red for every woman” – and adding a stylish edge to the abundance of Remembrance poppies this month. There's absolutely nothing wrong with a display of charitable commemoration being ‘au courant’ sartorially.
Red is alarming, uncompromising, empowering and fierce. As a society, we’re hard wired to it since it taps into our primal, passionate impulses. It’s the colour of the blood of Christ and also the Devil, with a cocktail of connotations consisting of fireworks, adrenaline, love hearts and red roses. The impact of Margaret Atwood’s haunting Handmaid's Tale has formed the wallpaper of popular TV culture this year, with red dresses and white bonnets even headlining Vera Wang’s fashion shoot in Vogue.
Red shouts. Revolutions are ignited by it, the camera loves it, Tibetan Buddhist landscapes are peppered by flags the colour of blood red robes. The matt scarlet ‘Givenchy Red’ seen on the AW17 catwalks reminds us that this colour is dangerous, subversive and fiercely feminine all at once, while Julia Roberts’ Pretty Woman red dress confirms why every woman should own a red dress. Simply put, everything is better in red and it’s a God given right that every woman should wear in what makes her feel wonderful.
There is a shade of red for every woman
The colour of Buddhism and Communism, Jezebels and a harlot's knickers, when we ‘rouge’ our lips we are embracing our womanhood and making a statement [“I’m gonna’ rouge my knees and pull my stockings down” à la Liza Minelli]. “Let’s paint the town red [….]”. I defy anyone to not feel brighter, more confident and stronger when donning this traffic stopping colour. Bold and yet empowering, it’s even been proven that athletes who compete in red are more likely to win!
That red is also the colour of the iconic Remembrance poppy lends itself kindly to the thread of activism and identity at the heart of fashion’s raison d’être. The symbol of remembrance and hope, the poppy was first given prominence in Lt. Col. John McCrae’s famous ‘Flanders Fields’ poem – lines from which are featured inside poppies this year - , and then by American Academic Moina Belle Michael. It was Michael who committed to always wearing a poppy in 1918 and who, in 1921, began creating silk poppies to sell to raise money for veterans, wounded soldiers and their families. That they were initially made of silk – one of the most sublime and sentient of natural, luxury fabrics – is a fact which has really struck me this year, with silk emerging as part of our mainstream movement towards New Luxury. Fashion will always have activism in its DNA and self-expression woven into its very fabric and its capacity to make a statement through what we wear is one of its greatest gifts. Following on from Michael’s initiative, the poppy flower has been represented in numerous end products using different fabric and materials since 1921, which have also equally been summarily sold to raise money for the needs of the serving and surviving British Armed Forces members and their families. I do not agree with the grievance – made by some - that a fashionable interpretation of the poppy is to the detriment of its sobering significance. From the Jeans for Genes campaign through to Fashion Targets Breast Cancer clothing, the fashion industry remains one of our greatest social influencers and this season’s lusty affair with red is a gift to Remembrance and its iconic red poppy.
Rather, the only problem I might have with the iconic Poppy tradition is that it conjures a collective remembrance, with the risk of the individual becoming lost in the constituent mass of lives lost. One of life’s most precious qualities is our identity, our individuality, having our name remembered when we enter a shop, club or pub or having our preferences or idiosyncrasies recalled. Our identity is everything and fashion is a tool with which we can express this. This is why the homogenous fast-fashion, prescriptive trend-obeying mindset is a travesty for individuality and personal growth while employing our clothing and accessories to express ourselves is hugely liberating. And fun! Yes, identity and individuality is freedom. Fashion has no rules. Fashion is freedom. Fashion is mood-enhancing. A flash of this uncompromising hue is equally impactful – as Christian Louboutin knows better than most. I know myself that when I step into my red stilettos, throw my ‘Red Riding Hood’ red coat over my shoulders or apply some femme fatale red lipstick, I’m owning myself, affirming my identity and making no compromises. It feels bold and brilliant and shamelessly indulgent.
“To me, clothing is a form of self-expression; there are hints about who you are in what you wear” – Marc Jacobs
The right to personal identity is recognised in international law through a range of declarations and conventions. From as early as birth, an individual’s identity is formed and preserved by registration or being bestowed with a name.
To have an identity; to express-oneself freely and to be valued as an individual are values which sustain our self-esteem and give meaning to our sense of self. These are fundamental human rights in a free society, which those soldiers fought for in the fields of Flanders. Few sectors of culture can support the protection of identity better than fashion and independent designers will always have the edge in responsiveness, flexibility and individuality.
This occurred to me other day when I discovered the most beautiful story, reminding me why fashion matters and why cultivating our identity is at the very heart of this.
In support of the irreplaceable work done by the Royal British Legion charity, an independent London designer donated a luxury ‘Poppy’ handbag (worth £888), designed and produced specifically for the cause, to a Royal British Legion branch in Bristol. Eyato London , a brand founded on the principles of distinction, individuality and self-expression, launched a small sub-collection dedicated to Remembrance, called the Ronti collection, a percentage of sales of which will be donated to the Poppy Appeal. Named after phonetic pronunciation of the Yoruba word for 'remember’, the luxury collection is designed by Atiti Izogie around the iconic symbol of hope and liberty represented by the poppy.
Handmade in London using luxury soft leather and designed to encompass the design of a three petal poppy, this Ronti handbag is bold, beautiful, and distinct and will be auctioned off at the Bristol Poppy Ball on the 18th November. From the handmade leather slip-on mules with detachable poppies on the vamp to the shamelessly indulgent evening clutch, the entire edit is a tribute to fashion’s ability to express, remember and be fun. The London designer says, “This collection is all about remembering, acknowledging and cherishing those individuals, just as we respect individuality every day. As a designer, I have always wanted to produce a design around those three petals”. Aside from the symbolism of the red poppy this month, this cheerfully luxurious capsule collection reminds us that fashion is fun, free and rule-defying.
No soldier should be remembered as a nameless collective, and each of us can use our wardrobe as a toolbox for self-expression, selecting what we want to say. Identity, independence and freedom are what each of those soldiers fought for on the fields and what their memory deserves. Identity is our most valuable possession and, together with freedom, will always be at the heart of fashion. Protect it. Wear it. Wear it with pride.
The full Ronti collection will be available www.eyato.com from Monday the 13th of November 2017.