All hail the revival of the pencil skirt – a trend that saw office-friendly hemlines on the knee or just below outnumber the usual micro minis for autumn/winter. Why is this so exciting? Consider the following statement from designer Jonathan Saunders: “For a long time it’s been about flamboyant decadence on the runway and that’s unattainable for the real woman. The idea is for clothing to look luxurious, not like we are dressing a teenager. That stems from a reality check on who is buying these clothes.”
Be still, our beating hearts. Because Saunders is not alone in his sudden attention to the adult woman’s body; see also Donna Karan, where pencil skirts and shirts reflected a nod to 1940s city style; or Salvatore Ferragamo’s oversized dogtooth decorated designs with a side split; or Jil Sander, where designer Raf Simons featured colour-blocking of pink and red on simple straight shapes. With everyday items such as sweaters, silk T-shirts and blouses the preferred pencil partner at Erdem, Balenciaga and Givenchy, something is clearly going on.
“If you’re paying £800 or so for a skirt, you want it to be versatile,” says Saunders. “It’s not quiet or tame but you can wear it lots of different ways.” Saunders’ signature vibrant prints in grass green, burnished rust and cobalt blue is currently featured on skirts that all hit the knee or below – among them, a wool crepe midi skirt, £670, Net-a-Porter – which can be worn with satin blouses, nipped-in jackets and sweaters on top.
“When I started, there weren’t many designers who just did dresses so it was a niche,” says Roksanda Ilincic, another London-based designer, who was formerly known for her pretty dresses but this season diversified into feathered and beaded skirts (“zebra” skirt, £1,950, Browns boutique) mixed with wool T-shirts, satin V-necks and simple sweaters.
“We have seen a marked rise in separates,” says Jane Shepherdson, chief executive of UK brand Whistles. “Skirts – in particular full or A-line midis – are selling very well. That knee-length and midi-length skirts are back in fashion might cast horror in some women’s minds but for many it’s very much a wearable trend.”
While the look was wholeheartedly embraced on the front row by such fashion stylists as Carine Roitfeld and Giovanna Battaglia at the recent round of shows, the jury among consumers, many of whom have been indoctrinated over the past few years with the all-dresses-all-of-the-time mantra, is still out. Thirty-two-year-old Rebecca Nicholls, for example, who works as stock and direct deliveries controller at Penguin, says, “Dresses probably dominate my wardrobe but I’ve started wearing more separates recently as it makes things more versatile.”
“I really like the new silhouette, especially at Jil Sander,” says Sophie Galasinski, a 24-year-old who works in PR in the City of London, “but I think it could be hard to pull off.” Similarly, Monica Bhaskar, 34, a graduate programme manager at Credit Suisse, says dresses are “smart, easy and stylish; the only co-ordination you need to think about are accessories”.
Ilincic, however, says wearing two pieces from the same designer can have the same effect as a dress – but better. “You still look put together but, by breaking the dress in two, you add something different,” she says.
“It’s all about the double L,” agrees Ignacio Ribeiro, of design duo Clements Ribeiro: “long and lean.” Ribeiro and his wife, Suzanne Clements, achieve this with a below-the-knee skirt length (lace-print skirt, £660, Net-a -Porter), pretty knitwear and cuts that skim, rather than cling to, the body. “You have to work out where to place the waist,” he says. “Some women will look better with the high waist, some with it slightly lower. You can then either tuck in your top or wear it with a shorter piece, like the knitwear in the show.”
Ribeiro is also adamant that – despite the 1960s flavour of the pieces that appeared at Balenciaga, or the 1940s edge of Saunders’ collection – the return of the pencil skirt is about moving forward. “The new pencil skirts are a little straighter,” he says. “They are narrow but not figure-hugging. That’s what makes them cool.” He believes this new take on a classic means they will last. Shepherdson, too, sees potential in the skirt’s versatility. “It allows more options than a dress,” she says. “I think we will see it filter through to next year.”