by Emily Cronin and Fashion features editor, The Telegraph, July 28, 2017
Summer used to be fashion’s forgotten season. In any park on a hot July afternoon you could see why. Shoppers, which is to say all of us, preferred to strip down and lay supine on picnic blankets at the first sign of sun than burrow away in fitting rooms. Eventually coats would appear in shop windows, beckoning us back.
But somewhere along the line, denim cut-offs and floaty halter-neck tops stopped being enough for an off-duty summer wardrobe. In place of clothes that were afterthoughts – crumpled, rumpled, comfy bits that felt too relaxed for real life but just right for weekends and holidays – now we have frothy dresses for every warm-weather pursuit, designer straw hats, ‘sunglass wardrobes’ and sandals to finish any outfit.
Welcome to high summer, the newest season on the fashion calendar – and the reason you’re considering skipping the sunbathing to shop. "It’s like your summer wardrobe is that moment of escapism," says Lisa Aiken, retail fashion director at Net-a-Porter, "when you can embrace print and colour and have a little more fun."
It’s all down to Instagram (of course) and clothes that look good in the classic open-suitcase snap. "People are no longer only packing for practicality but to look good in their Instagram photos, standing out against pale beaches or cobbled streets," Lyst’s Charlotte Austin told the Telegraph. Searches for Insta-bait brands like Marysia, Eugenia Kim and Zimmermann have rocketed by 408 per cent on the shopping search-engine site.
Powering the rise of summer fashion is a new class of labels that all cater to different warm-weather fantasies, mostly in the form of buy-now-wear-immediately holiday garb. As a sampling, there’s Ulla Johnson, whose embroidered dresses are their own portable California holidays; Gül Hürgel, whose scallop-edged pieces evoke summer in the family vineyard (fantasies, remember?); and Caroline Constas, whose off-the-shoulder gingham makes you want to order a drink that comes with a tiny umbrella. Straw-bag specialist Rae Feather and espadrille pro Manebí have accessories covered. And Three Graces London provides premium swimwear and romantic cover-ups you’ll want to be swept away in, off the beach and on. "It heightens how you feel if you know you’ve got a gorgeous dress in your suitcase," says Three Graces founder Catherine Johnson. "You look forward to wearing it."
That many labels of the summer-brand renaissance – including leaders like Talitha (boho deluxe) and Lisa Marie Fernandez (£300 bikinis named after famous friends) – are fancy-lady brands is no coincidence. It’s wardrobing for women whose lives can look like a series of beach trips. "We know our woman travels repeatedly during the year, so it’s about constantly refreshing that vacation wardrobe," Aiken says.
Yacht-hopping may not be your reality or mine, but the relevance of high-summer dressing for the rest of us is the consistency of its aesthetic. Hürgel showed the same scalloped detailing and pastel stripes for summer 2016 as for ’17. Anyone who buys a Lisa Marie Fernandez shirt dress, a Solid & Striped swimsuit or Ancient Greek Sandals slides can trust that their purchase will look just as hot on a different beach next year. "Summer fashion is perennial," says Carmen Borgonovo, co-founder of the dress-focused line Borgo de Nor. "We all have our favourite summer look we bring out year after year because we love how it makes us feel."
Or, as Lisa Marie Fernandez puts it, "A pretty summer dress is a pretty summer dress." And you may get to wear it more often than you think. It’s always hot somewhere – even if only on that blanket in the park.
"In the summer I love to wear dresses – they’re so feminine and easy," says stylist Carmen Borgonovo. Borgo de Nor, the brand she launched this year with Joana de Noronha, focuses on special summer dresses in glorious prints. The ruffled designs all come in on the longer side, so though made with the beach in mind, they translate to real life. As Borgonovo says, "There is nothing more thrilling than slipping into a dress and print that you love and that makes you happy."
Growing up, Caroline Constas visited family in Greece every summer. She recalls spending the flight from Canada sketching ideas of what she wanted to wear once she arrived. Now she’s brought her daydream wardrobe to life with her line of striped, gingham and floral tops, skirts and dresses, as seen on Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Sarah Jessica Parker. "The clothes are effortless, without a lot of fuss," she says. "But they’re also flattering and comfortable."
Parsons-trained designer Gül Hürgel creates linen shirt dresses and sailor-collared jumpsuits that wouldn’t have looked out of place on Mad Men’s Betty Draper. In other words, just the sort of things you will like if your summer style goals tend towards the timeless. "She crafts clothes that you can wear to a wedding or to a lunch on the beach," says Chelsea Power, vacation-collection buyer at Matches Fashion. "They’re very versatile, which appeals to our customer who is often travelling and wants to look pulled together but also be able to travel light."
Look at archive pictures of Brigitte Bardot or Jane Birkin in the south of France, and chances are they’ll be carrying a basket bag. "We all love that look," says Rae Feather, the woman behind the brand that’s made monogrammed baskets the summer bags to spot on Instagram. "We’ve woken people up a little bit to baskets," she says – but the label’s loved for its kaftans, fine-gauge cashmere, sandals and sun hats, too.
New this season, Hansine’s five summer-dress styles in simple shapes can be worn to the beach or dressed up for dinner with layers of jewellery. We like the sparkling adjustable straps, printed fabrics and wide, breezy cuts.
For those days when a trainer is too hot and a flip-flop too flimsy, there are espadrilles. Manebí, named after an area in St Tropez, offers Spanish-made, jute-soled designs in velvet, suede, canvas and brocade.
"There’s been a collective unbuttoning," says Ulla Johnson. "A sense of ease that women now want in their everyday." They can find it in her embroidered tops and silk dresses, with a sense of freedom or, as she puts it, "optimism and joy" evident in every piece.
"Romantic, sensual and free" is how founder Catherine Johnson describes the Three Graces London look. That means semi- sheer goddess dresses, crisp cotton maxis with pintucked bodices, minimalist swimwear and printed, pom-pom-detail kaftans.
This article was written by Emily Cronin and Fashion features editor from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].