Cambridge, Mon Amour

23 February 2008

In the true spirit of Valentine’s Day, Lili Sarnyai forgoes the flounce and frills to meander down the path of simply chic monochrome.

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The contrasts, the shapes, the shadows; there is something inherently powerful about black and white photography, something intangible which ensures that certain images remain in the contemporary artistic and aesthetic conscience long after their subjects have become victims of the inevitable passing of time. One has only to think of the playful photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson, depicting the little charming moments in the lives of Parisian schoolchildren, or indeed the equally spontaneous and magnetic images captured by Robert Doisneau of the French capital’s quotidienne, in order to get a sense of the attraction of a simple, crisp yet endlessly secretive classic photograph. And such beautifully suggestive minimalism, this unobtrusive interlay between the deepest black and pure, unadulterated white is exactly what also renders monochrome dressing so very perennially chic.

Yet random musings on the photographic heritage of the City of Love may appear to some, in their current context, as rather unexpected; may even be regarded as somewhat baffling, or–gasp!–extraneous.  Nevertheless, as demonstrated by France’s greatest and most characteristic photography, we can all learn a lesson in the art and style of carefully constructed simplicity from this impeccably attired nation. Just as it is undeniable that when a black and white photograph is viewed in tandem with a garish colour picture, it is most often the straightforward class of the monochrome image that appears superior, so too in the world of fashion: it is more often than not the clean-cut, unfussy aesthetic offered by a limited palette that manifests itself as the very epitome of elegance. Whilst explosions of day-glo tints, deluges of flirty florals and layers of billowing bubblegum-hued fabrics are all very exciting for one season, seducing our eyes with their competing vivacity and promising instant therapeutic advantages to combat the late-winter blues, it remains uncontested that sometimes less is indeed more.

And this unpretentious approach seems to have found its way onto the runways once again. Whilst many designers are turning to the natural world and various colourful cultures for inspiration, resulting in almost an overflow of girlie brights and deep, rich, earthen tones, there are those fashion visionaries who have chosen to counteract this abundance of obvious femininity with a more subtle look. Indeed, it was only last week that the most incongruent designers at New York Fashion Week displayed a shared sensibility in a move towards simplicity and a preference for monochrome. Jill Stuart evoked a re-imagined Joan of Arc with twee black blazers, whilst Diane Von Furstenberg leapt back to the 1940s with classic yet fun-loving old Hollywood pieces including adorable black jackets with puff-ball sleeves, and soft cardigans in creams and whites. Halston’s much anticipated collection showcased clean-cut separates in muted greys and neutrals, and Betsey Johnson toned down her wild side with a node towards the darkness of beatnik dressing.

So with the above luminaries leading the way, why not, in true anti-Valentine’s Day fashion, embrace the dark (and light) side of your wardrobe, selecting chic yet simple pieces that will have you living la belle vie even in a rainy Cambridge.