Colgate Couture – Global War-Wear

Katie Zarrella

How would you describe the world of fashion? Vain, indulgent and frivolous? Possibly. Receptive to current events and global mood? Definitely. Every season, trends emerge: the same color schemes paint multiple collections, similar shapes strut down numerous runways, and you could swear that the quirky Phillip Lim dress featured in Vogue is sitting in the window of the Marc by Marc Soho boutique. Since most designers are more secretive than the CIA when it comes to a new collection, the chances that they hold pre-draping cocktail parties and chat about overarching themes is unlikely at best. So what is responsible for the inevitable parallels between the collections of any given season? Simple: simultaneous existence. In the most literal respect, we all live in the same world. Individual tastes may differ, but it is near impossible to avoid being exposed to the people, places, icons and events that compose today’s international mass culture.

The war in Iraq is one of these events that have been abruptly thrust into our lives. To say that it has affected countries, economies, families and individuals across the globe would be a gross understatement. The fashion industry does not exist in a bubble, and thus, it too has been significantly affected by the situation in Iraq. Perhaps the War has sent out some dark energy to which creative souls are especially receptive, or maybe it’s because CNN, the Times and every other media outlet obsesses over its every detail, but since Iraq’s occupation in 2003, many collections have reflected the international mood set by the War. Fall ’07’s ready-to-wear was no exception: from the beefy black combat boots and army green jodhpurs at Balenciaga to the machine-like silhouettes overcast charcoals and blacks at Akris, a plethora of this season’s collections hint at an underlying gloom, intensity or subtle military influence.

Vibrant young designer, Zac Posen, sent an uncharacteristically dark and somber (but nonetheless chic) collection down the Fall runway. Full, feminine skirts and fitted jackets were shown in industrial camouflage-toned “tech” fabric, and the loden “stealth” dress resembles a sexed-up women’s WWII marine uniform. The angular black “jet” dress, long leather gloves and a textured army green day coat all supplemented the sharp, militaristic edge that sliced through much of the collection, but Posen succeeded in maintaining the impeccable, tailored looks for which he is so well known.

More suggestive of an angry, disturbed mood than directly influenced by military uniform, Alexander McQueen’s collection was filled with abrasive looks that were almost uncomfortable to watch on the runway. McQueen set a violent tone by pairing everything from a rigid bubble dress to a ruffled taffeta evening gown with black leather leggings and his color palate consisted of blacks, dark burgundies, deep plums and a shade of green that could only be found in an murky swamp; yet despite its disturbing, violent aesthetic, the theatrical collection was thoughtful, daring and innovative.

The perfect combination of severity and chic sophistication, Burberry’s Prorsum collection would provide an ideal fall wardrobe for someone facing a Park Avenue draft. An army of camouflage green coats charged the runway: thick leather coats, cropped jackets and a parka stuffed with down ensured that Burberry’s models would stay warm in the trenches; a black patent bomber with the checkerboard texture of a live grenade exploded atop a tulle trimmed cocktail dress and the cashmere WWII inspired military jacket with sweeping gold zippers and softly draped lapels was clearly meant for the first in command.

Christopher Bailey’s designs weren’t all appropriate for the obedient soldier, however. Over-the-knee leather boots brought a sexy harshness to simple sweater dresses, a black leather trench drenched in steel studs was deliciously deviant and suffocating patent corset belts were strapped tightly around wool coats and wafer thin tunics. The collection was extreme, dark and avant-garde but it was evident that behind each edgy look was that classic Burberry charm.

No, not every piece in every Fall collection radiates war and despair, but dark, austere and military inspired looks are all prominent trends. The war in Iraq has cast a definitive shadow over so many aspects of modern life and culture and the Fall runways were certainly not untouched. Some designers’ collections may have been a response to the War, some may have been a mere acknowledgement of its overwhelming presence, but many of today’s most respected and sought-after designers, whether consciously or unconsciously, allowed the War’s ongoing existence and repercussions to become embedded in their work.