During a brief stay at a splendid hotel a couple of years ago, I wandered the petal-strewn pathways and anticipated the trauma that awaited me after checkout: a return to slush-slathered winter in Toronto. Since I couldn’t stuff the swimming pool into my carry-on, I desperately pilfered a monogrammed hotel towel—a French-terry postcard of pleasure from a time of planes and plans. (Remember those?) But when I returned home, I didn’t use the towel; whatever ablutionary occasion I was waiting for didn’t present itself—until the pandemic settled in. If COVID-19 has been a season of scarcity, of loss upon loss, depriving us of safety and certainty, hope and occasions, it has also been a time for compensatory enjoyment. Small pleasures have fast expanded like sourdough leaven into sanity-saving reasons for living. And so, in the name of joy and, frankly, survival, I promoted the towel to daily use. The upside of this new occasionless world is that if there are no ostensible reasons to rejoice, somehow everything can be one.
It seems to me that this pourquoi-pas “use the good dishes” (or “bath linens”?) pleasure principle is fuelling the notion of holiday dressing this…let’s call it unpredictable…year. We may be facing a festive season in which our dance cards are as barren as the Arctic tundra, but as Larry David once told Jimmy Kimmel in an interview, “If somebody cancels on me, that is a celebration!” Given the state of the world, the dress code du jour is calling on us all to bedeck ourselves for, well, cancellation.
For their fall/winter 2020/2021 collection, designers Gilda Ambrosio and Giorgia Tordini of Italian brand The Attico presented sequin-and crystal-doused party dresses, slit skirts and ostrich-feather-festooned robes—a sartorial acknowledgement that
fashion can serve as both a reflection of our times and a protest against them.
Oscar de la Renta’s fall collection featured cocktail dresses in a party of jubilant hues. Meanwhile, J.W.Anderson’s resort 2021 collection (designed mid-lockdown) is all fluid silhouettes and giddy colour, as if each piece were a missive from a happier, more hopeful future. In his show notes, Anderson explained that he hoped “a sentiment of youthful, freewheeling amusement composedly comes to the fore.” Indeed, his dresses are accoutred with pompoms, and some are even trimmed with what look like “wings,” prompting us to think of fashion as a means of flight. The levity and whimsy of the collection—its obliviousness to the gloom of reality— are an act of optimism and dissent. After all, if we’re sailing toward the end, why not twirl our way there in pompoms? Or in more galactic sparkle than you’d find in the Milky Way, as designer Julien Dossena of Spanish fashion house Paco Rabanne proposed in his spring/summer 2021 collection staged in Paris’ Le Marais neighbourhood?
All of this defiant glamour makes me think of Wallace Hartley, the bandleader on the Titanic who played his violin while the liner slipped into the icy North Atlantic—a legend of bravery and a celebration of art and beauty in the face of tragedy. Okay, opting for sequins over sweats may not be akin to leading an eight-player band on a sinking ship, but there is a certain courage and abandon and cork-popping liberation to giving into despair, a what-are-we-waiting-for freedom to dressing for The End. Because if that’s not an occasion, what is?
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