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In a season of neutrals, SS19 has been the battle of the browns. Dozens of brands have staked a claim to make the colour their own. Some have commanded a whole 50 shades of beige.
At Burberry, Riccardo Tisci has said he wants to “own beige”, which seems reasonable enough for a house famed for its gabardines. But he has some stiff competition. Already in Milan we have seen browns as pale as the milkiest latte at Jil Sander, and in spicier hues at Alberta Ferretti.
Max Mara, home of the camel coat, isn’t about to concede its slice of the colour wheel either. For his SS19 collection Ian Griffiths, the label’s British creative director, had looked to Greek myths and Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls — set during the Trojan War — to find inspiration for his goddess-themed collection.
But his women weren’t in any way ethereal. They were earthy, urban, and stunning to behold. The Amazonian details were restrained. “An asymmetric shoulder, and a bag slung across the body is all you need to say goddess for me,” said Griffiths. Seen on the catwalk, it proved to be true.
The collection, which also featured black, khaki, greys and sunshine yellow, was neat-waisted, elegant and covered in little ruffles. Nothing too exciting, but still as chic as hell.
Quite why designers have gone so crazy for the neutrals is slightly harder to ascertain. Certainly, shades of the 1970s — tangerine, turmeric and toffee — have been making a comeback for a while now, but this season the trend has exploded anew. Anyone looking at the scenes outside the shows this season might be forgiven for thinking they had happened on a chocolatiers’ convention. Even the colour-loving Italians are going mad for cappuccino.
I would hazard that its growth has been inspired by the influencer. Brown looks delectable in real life, but even better in pictures, where its hues look richer and more textured than the flatness of the ever-fashionable black. As brands do more marketing on Instagram, using strategic, street-style snaps, my guess is that the tonal evolution will continue.
“Maybe,” says Karl Lagerfeld, who also sent out a Fendi SS19 collection rooted deep in earthy neutrals, and especially an espresso shade of brown. Although he wouldn’t call it brown. “I would say off-brown, I think,” he said backstage.
He is less convinced that the current fascination with the colour is a signifier of anything other than a passing trend. “[Street-style images] might be a fact, but it’s not the final reason.” As with so many trends, he countered, “It’s just something in the air.”
His summer collection drew on other street-style influences. He had set giant pockets — or as Lagerfeld likes to call them, “GPs” — onto blazers and jackets, and looks were fastened with toolkit-style belts. Recent years have seen fashion becoming more and more hands-free, but the nod towards utilitarianism was subtly made. “It’s utility with a baroque background,” said Lagerfeld of his slimline, efficient designs. There were no oversized security coats here, à la Calvin Klein, although a floaty print dress with handkerchief sleeves stood out in firefighter-jacket orange.
There were no logos either. The Fendi front row was filled with millennials wearing looks from the brand’s collaborative range with Fila: Nicki Minaj was head to toe in it. But Lagerfeld says he is done with “logomania”. No doubt he’s already bored of “off-brown”, too.
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