Listen to this article
It began with Lanvin. Out stepped the girls at the spring/summer 2011 runway show – and “it” came into view, clinging neatly to the torso under billowing chiffon skirts in shades of olive, plum and scarlet, often held on with leather harnesses. It showed up again at Chloé, where designer Hannah MacGibbon added funnel necks and long sleeves, so it could go from day to night in a cloud of shimmering jersey. And there it was at MaxMara and Bottega Veneta, moving to a contemporary sportswear beat in primary colours: tangerine to cobalt blue and hot pink.
What is “it”? It is the bodysuit – also known as the body, aka the must-have basic of the 1990s – and it is back. But things have come a long way since Donna Karan, Azzedine Alaia and Wolford first took the stretchy undergarment from dance floor to boardroom.
“Customers who were too young to wear the body back in the 1980s or 1990s are now experimenting with it in new, more subtle ways,” notes Martina Brown, head of product management at luxury bodywear label Wolford, where bodies are now the fastest growing category in the entire range. “They are more likely to regard it as a foundation piece for the current minimal workwear trend.”
In other words, this is no Black Swan-inspired fragile ballerina-type leotard; this is the rediscovery of an essential underpinning – which also happens to be how the originator of the style, Donna Karan, viewed it all those many years ago. Indeed, “The bodysuit had always been a part of my own life,” says Karan, who launched her first Lycra versions as part of her 7 Easy Pieces collection in 1985.
“I love dancing and I’ve practised yoga since I was 18,” she continues. “The bodysuit was my personal foundation piece, whether I wore it under jeans, a suit or a dress. So that really was my initial inspiration: I wanted to bring the body’s flexibility and flattery into sports wear on a higher level, to make it the foundation of a day into-evening system of dressing. You put it on and let the possibilities unfold.” To wit: this season‘s “Infinity System”, a mix-and-match line featuring bodies, trousers, skirts and tank tops, in five weights of jersey, designed to be worn together.
As Wolford’s Brown points out: “bodies are not to be confused with underwear. For us, they are true statement pieces, updated twice yearly with luxury novelty factors”. For spring, the brand is offering long sheer sleeves and transparent necklines peppered with crystals as well as soft pleating on other pieces, which gives the illusion of abstract patterns. Similarly, Turkish-born newcomer Hakaan Yildirim made his bodies sleek, chic and often transparent this season.
Raquel Franco, a 30-year-old London-based designer who launched Bodyline (from £90) with fellow designer Laura Figueras in 2009, included bodies in traditional Breton stripes, as well as colour blocking in shades of coral and red in his about-to-be-released collection.
“Our trademark seam runs from shoulder to waist and out again to the hips to create a flattering figure for everyone,” notes Franco, who also ensures that all Bodyline designs fit different body lengths. “We only work with the most luxurious and comfortable fabrics; stretch silk, cashmere, cotton and jersey.”
“Designs like these are clean, simple and look great with everything,” observes Averyl Oates, buying director at Harvey Nichols. “That makes them a staple in any woman’s wardrobe.”