In the summer of 1938, five days before a state visit to France by Queen Elizabeth, her mother, the Countess of Strathmore died and the visit was postponed for three weeks. Norman Hartnell, the queen's couturier, immediately set to work to rethink the Queen's wardrobe in keeping with the mood of mourning... Hartnell's answer was to make a wardrobe entirely in white: unconventional, but had an historical link, as French queens had worn white for mourning until the 17th century. In late July, the Queen left Buckingham Palace in black and stepped from the royal train in Paris in white. Hartnell knew that white is the only colour that can trump black!
Unlike us often associate, white is not always the bridal colour. Today the western wedding dresses are usually white but until 1840 they were in all colours.Phillipa of England , the queen of Denmark Sweden and Norway in the 15th Century is the first documented princess in history wearing a white silk tunic and cloak bordered with grey squirrel and ermine as her wedding gown. The wedding of Queen Victoria had more of an impact than most and actually started an entirely new trend when she decided not to wear the traditional royal silver bridal gown but wore a simple dress made of white satin incorporating the Honiton lace she owned. She also had a Honiton long veil and a wreath of orange blossoms to represent purity. It was then that white became the dominant, traditional choice, symbolizing purity and maidenhood.
White nowadays is the colour with the richest and most contradictory range of associations. It can be nostalgic, romantic and theatrical. Remembering Sofia Coppola’s “The Virgin Suicide one can suggest that it is the colour of purity, innocence and virginity. Again a modern conception as the colour blue has been historically the symbol of virginity. It can belong to different professions for it is associated with angels and doctors. Maybe because of this spiritual connotation, it was the colour which sold well in the summer of 2002 after the Sept.11 attacks. Aside being the colour of ghosts it is also synonymous with 60s designer Andre Courrèges, representing the colour of the future. It is the colour of peace but also the colour of money. Belonging to those who can afford it (frequent dry cleaning) no doubt it it’s the colour of the chic and represents the passion for luxury. Understatement yes, but it is also true that nothing glows under the flash of paparazzi like a white dress.
The emphasis on purity of design over decoration and of silhouette over styling caused many designers to lean towards white. Because the cotton toiles that traditionally form the first draft of a catwalk vision are white, a white garment on the catwalk has overtones of being pared down, concerned primarily with structure. And white does not have to mean plain, white on white can be a stunning platform for texture and embroidery: that most traditional of feminine summer fabrics, “broderie anglaise”, is set to make a return.
And it was not only that white features strongly in many collections but that every other collection began with a high-impact all-white section. Using white as an opener makes full use of the palette-cleansing qualities of the colour: in a flash, the blur of previous collections is erased, and a pristine blank canvas erected. As a matter of fact white in fashion mainly represents a pause in the trend cycle in order to clear the palette before a major fashion shift.
In 2005 it was a personal statement for Riccardo Tisci, then the new designer at Givenchy for his first collection, staged in a totally white environment, a catwalk in whitewashed concrete cube, with white block seating and an important part of the collection devoted to white. But the most important of all is Andre Courrèges, whose avant-garde architectural styles shook up the fashion world in the 1960's. Until mid 60’s fashion had never been attacked from its roots. When President Kennedy announced America ’s goal of sending a man to the moon, he not only inspired most of the western world but also set the tone of the decade. In 1964, Courrèges launched his futuristic, radically different” Moon Girl” Collection including angular mini dresses and trouser suits. He basically showed legs and this was the real novelty. He had sketched a look so radical that he knew it would make or break his career. At his show, the initial reaction to the designer's futuristic vision with four inches above the knee dresses and flat white boots proposed in summer, was stunned silence. No applause. No cheers. Nothing..." But the mini-revolution with thigh-high skirts that caused the Paris couture crowd to blush became quickly popular and everyone everywhere created and sold their own interpretations of the look.
The clothes in this collection were crisply cut, had geometric shapes, usually created by using heavyweight fabrics like gabardine and worn without bra. They were mostly all white but sometimes with black accents and stripes. They were matched with white flat boots, goggles and helmets taken from the equipment worn by astronauts. The flat boots obliged him also to define new proportions for the female body, fixing the dress at the shoulder for an A line shift along the body.The look was created. The clear shapes and white and silver colour scheme immediately earned the name “Space Age.” And he was named the “Corbusier of fashion.
This was also important because it carried a new statement for women. For Courrèges today’s woman was a working woman, driving a car, heading an active life. So it was essential that her clothes didn’t restrict her freedom of movement. The modern women did see herself as the equal of man; she is not anymore the object but the subject of her life. She wanted the recognition of her sexuality and her desires. She wanted to be able to show her body. So these were the clothes of tomorrow for the new fun youth. It was the antitheses of conventional status dressing and also allowed young girls to rebel from their parent’s generation through clothing. He liberated fashion from his tradition – no more 6-7 fittings once necessary four haute couture.
His revolution had one colour: white, the colour of the future and the modern. White had represented youth, optimism and purity for him. He defined white as a state of mind. “It is sun and laughter” but also white was his preferred colour as it is the best colour to show the purity of the form and the silhouette.
Today white is not revolutionary neither futuristic anymore. However it is not representing the ultimate classic or call it the L.W.D. standing for the “little white dress.” ubiquitous for each summer either. Instead white is a trendy colour reinterpreted with a twist by each gifted designer, revived regularly by mass or selective brands, worn regularly by celebrities on red carpets for a fashion statement.
In late 1989, Rifat Ozbek's rapturously presented an all-white collection, which heralded the dawn of what became known as the New Age. Narciso Rodriguez displayed bright white empire-line day and evening dresses on his spring-summer 2005 runway. Hermès paraded ultra-chic ivory shirt dresses, complete with white parasols in monogrammed Hermès white lace for summer 2007. That year Spring summer catwalks looked also inspired by Courrèges’s metallic and extraterrestrial at Dolce & Gabbana, androgen by Balenciaga, in the form of trench at Burberry and experimental by Hussein Chalayan with his “morphing dresses.
Diane von Furstenberg accessorised her Rome-in- the-60s collection with white sunglasses”. Tod's and Valextra, Italian makers of expensive handbags, produced stylish models from ashen crocodile in white. Kenneth Cole offered fitted white tank tops as an alternative to blouses. The Gap's summer line of white denim became hugely popular and the catalogue La Redoute presented the collection Couture Future by Courrèges,10 pieces of the geometric cut and the arrangement of the straps of trapeze dresses, boots and mini skirts for home and leisure expressing the typical optimism and lust for life of the designer.
This spring summer 2010 season offers many variations of white. The use of the color white represents one of the main seasonal trends in sack-style shifts, shirt dresses and white silk fabrics. White as a full washout - bleached cotton also came tailored and masculine or bulging and ruffled. Givenchy started its runway show with black-and-white geometrics, Calvin Klein’s white label advertising campaign is shooted all in white. White was present in every fashion collection, designers such as Gucci, Hervé Léger by Max Azria, Osman, and Marquise are only a few designers to mention. Victoria Beckham is photographed carrying her white Hermès Birkin among a mind blowing collection of over one hundred Hermès Bags that she owns.
Celebrities of this year showed that there is a new trend in town: white. White was one of the most popular colors on the red carpet event this year’s Grammy Awards. Rihanna, Eva Longoria, Rose, Amber Rose, Fergie, Megan Fox, Blake Lively are just a few celebrities who were caught dressed in white at the Grammy Awards 2010. .Jennifer Lopez was in a white Armani Privé gown for the Oscars 2010 Ceremony and the British pop star Cheryl Cole posed to the cameras at the stairs in Cannes in a white cut out Versace dress couple of days ago.Although fashion projects for the future, futurism in white has become rather a “retro terminology”. White strong as ever now is a fashion statement, assuming many roles except being rupturist. Today, it is Coqueline Courrèges who is in charge of the couture house Courrèges. She also works together with Scientifics in order to develop new fibers, fabrics based on the research on genetics. Her dream? To dress people with the technology of the future, to become the “couturier of DNA”. And André Courrèges,a trained engineer and celebrated designer who worked 10 years for Balenciaga before opening his own house of couture, now age 87,simply prefers to do his sculpture and paintings in his all white house at the outskirts of Paris.