When I wear a silk scarf I never feel so definitely like a woman, a beautiful woman’ – Audrey Hepburn
What do Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, the AW17 catwalks and Her Majesty the Queen all have in common? The answer of course is a certain natural yarn, discovered in China over 10,000 years and obtained to produce the luxury, slippery fabric famously used for all manner of luxury accessories, namely printed scarves. Yes, the iconic printed silk scarf, having suffered something of an image crisis in the Noughties and corrupted by Sloaney kitsch, is currently enjoying a revival reminiscent of the very Golden Era that glamorised it. And which public figure has stayed loyal to this luxury fabric throughout? Of course, it’s none other than our Head of State, the high priestess of the printed silk headscarf and now officially our style muse for AW17.
It’s hard to argue neither with the versatility of a square silk scarf nor with its social symbolism through the history of fashion, art and culture. Indeed, the fact that you can still receive a lesson in how to knot your silk square in Liberty London – where Art Nouveau prints were championed in the 19th century - is a case in point. But for the hipsters and fashion queens of today, the silk scarf is just as likely to worn as an artsy headband, belt, wristband or even turban as it is a stylish neck-cessory. Thanks to French fashion houses such as Céline and Balenciaga, who recently gave the silk scarf a PR makeover for the AW17 catwalks, and popular icons such as Paloma Faith who democratised it, the luxury accessory traditionally associated with Hermes and Gucci is now a high street staple.
Few will have missed the exotic and rich front cover of Edward Enniful’s inaugural Vogue cover – featuring Adwoa Aboah wearing a bespoke silk turban designed by Stephen Jones for Marc Jacobs. Though some may have missed the way in which silk had already been seducing our style senses for a season, evinced in Victoriana silk blouses shown in primary colours for SS17 through to the slip-dresses and luxe maxi-skirts, which saw us through to autumn.
One of the wonderful things about the revival of the printed silk scarf, which I find particularly pleasing, is the way it captures the renewed affection for quality and respect for artisan design and craftsmanship that’s rippling through consumer consciousness. Not only is pure silk – I’m talking triple AAA grade fine silk – 100% natural, lending itself to hand-drawn and digitally printed designs, but it’s hypoallergenic too, thus meeting the demand for wellbeing and self-care. It’s also being designed and produced in the UK by and handful of small independent designers fusing art with fashion and epitomising wearable art. Basma Design is one such example.
While Millennials continue to step away from Fast Fashion and Gen Y look for personalisation and individuality, the ethos of seeking quality over quality - the ‘Buy Less; Buy Letter’ philosophy – is weaving through our social fabric and into our wardrobe.
What I also love about the printed silk scarf is its capacity to transform a look. A simple high street dress accessorised with a printed silk scarf adds a sense of ownership to an otherwise non-descript outfit. It’s the ultimate power accessory and the savviest style trick for updating a wardrobe. Worn any multitude of ways, this luxury investment is the Swiss Army Knife of style accessories. For a long time, this timeless and simplest of accessories has semaphored joie de vivre. Just look at the witty way in which designers such as Celine and Balenciaga have reinterpreted the silk scarf for added functionality with the former producing a tote bag and the latter a silk jacquard pair of courts, both featured in Vogue UK. As sustainable fashion and individuality gather momentum, our desire for more than just product – essentially to be able to buy into a story, develop a relationship with a designer and express-ourself, will only grow. As Coco Chanel said, fashion is not just about clothes:
“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street. Fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening”.
It’s a vehicle for communication, a means of self-expression and a reflection of the world we live in. The silk scarf has connotations of exoticism, indulgence, passion, purity and earthiness, while proudly averting any rules or constraints in how it’s used or worn. Indeed, the image of being tied up in silk bed sheets differs somewhat from that of the modest headscarf. It’s the most sentient and seductive or fabrics and its popularity would appear to chime with our concerns for wellbeing and comfort. We demand maximum utility from what we buy and where we spend our money:- ‘Buy Less; Spend it Well’, we say. Surveys and polls show that many of us would rather spend more on quality and craftsmanship to find the optimum PPW (pay per wear). New Luxury has a conscience.
Christmas - a time of year when extravagance, opulence, indulgence and down-right decadence (Champagne marmalade with your Champagne breakfast anyone?) is respectfully approved of – is perhaps the season for a celebration of the sumptuousness of silk. We have full licence for Luxe. Surely Gift Wrap should be just that? Gifts wrapped in a gift; gifts wrapped in silk. I shall be expecting nothing less!
As for fashion, it was Oscar de la Renta who claimed that “Silk does for the body what diamonds do for the hand” and, whether it’s around our neck, waist or wrist it seems we’re all tied up with Grandma’s silk scarf. The style status of the iconic silk scarf is a sartorial reminder that Grandma always know best.