The Next Big Thing?

Shapes and silhouettes are getting larger. Is this a sign of times ahead? Or simply the reactionary nature of fashion?

Models on the runway at J JS Lee, Houghton and Thom Browne. Photographs: Getty Images

Models on the runway at J JS Lee, Houghton and Thom Browne. Photographs: Getty Images

Mon, Apr 28, 2014, 14:30

Last month, Rihanna arrived at Heathrow Airport in London wearing a humongous star-spangled backpack. In its immensity, it was akin to the giant sack used to pilfer all of Whoville’s gifts in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” “I don’t know what she put in it,” said Adam Selman, the knapsack’s designer, “but it’s the perfect weekend bag for the gal on the go.” It was undeniably versatile (she could have used it as a sleeping bag).

It retailed for $685 at Opening Ceremony and Browns in London, and sold out. This wasn’t Rihanna’s first foray into Cyclopean attire. During Paris Fashion Week in March, she wore a look that her stylist Mel Ottenberg culled from the New York VFiles show that highlighted emerging designers. The outfit’s standout component was a foam-padded pleather motorcycle jacket that stretched to the singer’s ankles.

In this ensemble, Rihanna attended the Comme des Garcons show on March 1st. Synergetic lightning struck. Rei Kawakubo, no stranger to pushing the boundaries of beauty and scale, opened with a blazer so big the model could have shoplifted a TV under it. Other outsize garments followed (many trailing sleeves).

The pendulum effect

Before the fall fashion shows were over, blown-up looks had appeared on the runways at Prada, Rick Owens, VFiles, Jonathan Saunders, Thom Browne and Gareth Pugh, among others. All of which leads to the question: Why is fashion being supersized? One might think that Claes Oldenburg was collaborating on capsule collections with the fashion cognoscenti.

“Fashion is reactionary,” said Valerie Steele, the director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Sensibly, she explained that fashion is moving away from “a close-to-the-body moment.” “It’s the pendulum effect,” she said. “If it’s long, it gets short, and if it’s short, it gets long.”

Simon Doonan, the creative ambassador of Barneys New York, is similarly unsurprised that gigantism is having a moment. “The shrunken silhouette has been dominant,” he said. “The teeny jacket and impossibly narrow sleeves. It’s logical there is a change.”

Melitta Baumeister, who designed the jacket Rihanna wore in Paris, and whose work will sell at Dover Street Market and VFiles in July, said that she was merely playing with proportions. “I want to challenge the viewer’s eye,” Baumeister said. “What is normal for a garment?”

Confident New Look

Silhouettes expand during boom times, we know. Christian Dior’s full-skirted New Look of 1947 was a militant rebound from wartime frugality and rationing. (Contrarily, some saw it as a return to the kitchen for the pants-wearing women who had entered the workforce while men were away at war.) Perhaps giant fashion portends a respite from the global financial malaise.

Still, fall’s cartoonish catwalk extremes lead one to wonder where they fit in a broader landscape. Are we witnessing a sartorial form of island gigantism, the phenomenon that brought about hulking megafauna like the Komodo dragon and the dodo? Christopher Raxworthy, the associate dean of science at the American Museum of Natural History, described how such creatures evolved.

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