London’s Frieze art fair in October was not only a showcase for contemporary art but also a barometer of the hottest fashion trends of the season. On the VIP evening you could hardly move for chic artists, buyers and dealers in oversized outerwear. “The oversized coat is the only coat to own this season,” says Kate Phelan, former Vogue fashion director-turned-Topshop’s creative director. While there were other styles on the catwalks this season – from puffas and crazy fun furs to military and equestrian – there was a rare consensus among designers about the key coat statement: supersize me.
Not that fashion is offering a total respite from decision-making. Within the trend there are multiple looks. There’s sporty (Chloé, Stella McCartney), the oversized boyfriend (3.1 Phillip Lim, Céline, Chalayan), the 1950s, couture-inspired cocoon (Raf Simons’s last season for Jil Sander, Erdem), the luxe dressing gown (Daks, Chloé) and the biggest and, if you like your clothing conceptual, the best: the 2D felt sandwich board-effect courtesy of Comme des Garçons.
Céline’s pumped-up crombie-cocoons might come in bright turquoise and a soft dusky pink (£2,160) but the borrowed-from-your-boyfriend shape – assuming your boyfriend has the build of an American footballer – is decidedly masculine. So too is Phillip Lim’s dark, herringbone style with asymmetric zip (£934). Lim says: “A woman in a man’s silhouette provides both protection and power – a perfect solution for the neo-noir heroine that lives within all of us.” Hussein Chalayan, who has always included an oversized coat in his collections, is also taken with androgyny, saying: “I think a roomy coat is beautifully boyish and timeless on a woman … I like a woman who can be slightly boyish during the day and more feminine at night.” This mannish silhouette feels effortlessly cool. Call it a backlash against the Duchess of Cambridge’s parade of fit and flare, matched to her hat, Trooping the Colour-appropriate coats.
But scaled-up cover-ups can also look ladylike. At Jil Sander, Simons struck the right note of femininity without fussiness on full swing and A-line coats with wide sleeves and dropped shoulders. In shades of sugared-almond pink, tan, scarlet and navy, they demonstrated the elegant simplicity of volume and harked back to the 1950s and 1960s. Loose, kimono-like opera coats, such as those by Paul Poiret, were popular in the 1910s but the oversized coat is most associated with the 1980s. Then, volume suggested testosterone-charged power as Claude Montana and Thierry Mugler offered coats with exaggerated proportions.
This time round, however, the pseudo-masculine bravado of 1980s outerwear has become a desire to appear outwardly confident while, inwardly, being cocooned from the world during financial, political and even climatic turmoil. After all, if society is about to collapse, a huge swathe of tweed in which to envelop yourself and your survivalist supply of canned food or superannuated euros will be more useful than something tight and tailored.
Chalayan says: “I like the idea of protecting and encapsulating the body in something warm.” Sheila McKain-Waid, designer at Daks, whose long fleecy coat was the closest thing the catwalk has to an XXL Slanket (in the best possible way), agrees: “There is a comforting quality to them, a wonderful cocoon against the elements.” For Carmen Borgonovo, senior style editor of UK Harper’s Bazaar, the appeal is twofold – psychological and practical: “One finds safety and comfort in a large, warm cover-up whilst, from a fashion point of view, these shapes create a dramatic and stylish contrast against fitted tailored pieces.”
Clearly, pairing a big coat with big trousers will make you look – guess what – very big. Borgonovo says: “It’s all about playing with proportion and creating a bold statement. I’d wear them with cropped trousers and architectural shoes or with slim dresses and pencil skirts.” Artist Anj Smith was at Frieze in a puffy grey coat by Marc Jacobs. She said: “I’m not intimidated by volume. This coat is bigger than I would normally wear but I think the shape has the appeal of a cocoon, only more relaxed.”
The high street has embraced the style, with a tweedy car coat at Hobbs NW3 (on sale at £194) and numerous styles including a black wool cocoon at Cos (£135). At Topshop, where roomy coats such as one in black with a red cross print (£250), have been popular, Phelan says: “The slouchy boyfriend coat is so easy to wear, you just throw it on over everything. It can be smart with a polo neck and a cigarette pant, or casual and easy with jeans and a shirt. It is also incredibly glamorous over the shoulders on a little dress for a night out.”