THE BLOG

Saving the World in Heels, Wearing Picasso Prints

10/03/2014 14:33 GMT | Updated 10/05/2014 10:59 BST

The intellectual climber. We can all think of one: The synonym-using, over-agreeable dinner party guest with the "awe-inspiring" weekend and "idiosyncratic" partner. The person who pronounces 'hyperbole', "hyperbowl".

At one time or another, we've all been there. But, rather awkwardly for our social circle, now is my good friend 'S's time to bluff. For the past few weeks she has referenced the Dutch masters at regular intervals. My coffee cup (bearing an owl) was compared to a Vermeer. A friend's new hair colour described as "very Rembrandt". And, much to another acquaintance's annoyance, we've dutifully adopted the 'smile and nod' manoeuvre in response.

The thing is, I know S's problem: a passion for Valentino. The Italian house has referenced both classical portraiture and Pop Art in its Ready-to-Wear collections of recent seasons, the latter just days ago when unveiling geometric prints and flashes of colour on its Paris runway, inspired by the likes of Giosetta Fioroni. With design houses including Dior following suit, artistic motifs are set to become one of this year's most popular fashion trends and consequently one of S's new preoccupations.

The good thing is that for brands such as Valentino, the respect for cultural heritage is more genuine than S's amusing references. At Valentino, its creative directors Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli, had worked with the house's founder Valentino Garavani for more than ten years to master his sense of craftsmanship and over-arching vision, before taking the helm. The house has since used its success to fund projects such as The Stiller Foundation's initiatives to improve child welfare, coupling its Couture with a conscience.

Other labels such as Beulah London are even more directly involved in championing and rewarding craftsmanship, recognising that building a skill can instil confidence into a work force: Lady Natasha Rufus Isaacs and Lavinia Brennan started producing their distinctive colourful dresses and scarves after volunteering with a project in the slums of Delhi which rehabilitated those who had been victims of human trafficking and the sex trade. Three years on, all pieces by Beulah London arrive in a reusable canvas bag produced by the victims as part of an empowering work-based scheme in Kolkata known as Freeset. Other items in the main line collection are produced by women supported by a similar initiative in Delhi, known as Open Hand.

For those who aren't about to adopt poster paint colour this season (or indeed anything which strays from monochrome), Ahilya's collection includes simple, light-weight separates for Spring/Summer. Its materials honour the ancient tradition of cashmere weaving; Merino wool used in the designs is acquired from small, family-run suppliers in New Zealand, while the cashmere itself is sourced from the free-roaming Changthangi goats protected by nomadic herders. There are no tent-like shapes (unless you choose them) and ethical does not equal a lingering smell of hay. In fact, Ahilya's aesthetic is defined by emerging London talents, who just might be the next big thing.

"Fashion is only the attempt to realise art in living forms and social intercourse," said Coco Chanel. This season, lets embrace the trend but do it in a socially responsible way. And stop citing Rembrandt at the dinner table.