Wimbledon, which begins next week, famously requires every player to wear all white on the court. But though it may seem old-fashioned (the relic of a tennis dress code that dates back to 1877) the look is, in fact, entirely on-trend. Indeed, this summer designers are embracing white after seasons of dazzling print with a speed that puts Serena Williams’ serve to shame.
White is everywhere this summer; from Simone Rocha’s white-on-white flower embroidered T-blouses and flounce skirts to Cos’s thick poplin zipper-front cocoon dresses and rubber flat-form sandals, and, most popularly, the white dress, as seen on runways at Chanel (drop-waist wraps), Gucci (wafts of organza), Marni (sweetly flared cotton smocks), Jil Sander (starkly modern shifts) and Valentino (prim and proper puff-sleeve Victoriana). It’s about time, say women in the know.
Valerie Hermann, the French chief executive of American brand Reed Krakoff, now considers white a year-round staple. “The versatility of white appeals to me, and its effect depends on how you project it: for example, with a casual attitude in a white cotton shirt, or dressed up in a silk pantsuit,” she says. “I also like mixing shades and textures of white: off-white with optical white; light, transparent fabrics with denser, opaque ones. White is a good base on which to introduce a pop of colour, or even black for a graphic effect.” Her current favourite: a matt viscose T-dress ($1,590) from the pre-fall collection.
Then there’s Carolina Herrera, for whom white shirts are embedded in her designer DNA. “The white shirt has always been part of my life. I’ve worn white shirts for as long as I can remember – there are not so many things that look so well in different situations,” she says. “It’s the simplicity of white and the effortlessness of wearing a shirt that create a fashion classic. It is so chic to wear a white cotton shirt with a ball skirt, tuxedo pants or even silk shorts – women today want to achieve elegance in a way that appears effortless.”
“Designing in white is beautiful because of the sculptural effects you can create – drapes and folds create subtle shadows and depth, whereas black is all and only about silhouette,” agrees Sophia Kokosalaki, who has come up with a series of dresses that could equally work as bridal or summer party-wear, including the bestselling Electra dress (£2,840) for Net-a-Porter: a satin sculpted dress under a veil of silk tulle that can be worn as a strapless frock or a floor-sweeping maxi skirt.
White’s benefits are not limited to design. According to Paula Reed, creative director of Harvey Nichols, “My skin is so pale that white makes it look like I have the merest hint of colour. I used to avoid anything but sporty white separates. Dressy whites always seemed too bridal. But, as I get older, I am changing my mind. I love what it does for my skin in the evening and it feels more glamorous than black in the summer.” Reed’s white highlights include Valentino’s romantic white lace dresses (£1,685), Alexander Wang’s sporty white cocktail dresses (£450) and Givenchy’s modern white tailoring (jacket £1,799).
New York-based artist Terence Koh, meanwhile, only wears white – long white shirts and slim cotton trousers are a current favourite – and lives in an all-white environment. “I love all shades of white. I’m not sure if it is a genetic thing but fresh white snow falling is one of my earliest memories of my Canadian childhood,” he says. Koh has just created a one-off white bomber jacket featuring pearl motifs on the back and sleeves for Net-a-Porter’s Art Capsul collection, curated by Stacy Engman (available to order, from September).
In fact, says Reed, white’s only real drawback is that it is “high maintenance, especially in the city. A crisp white shirt or shirt dress looks breezily chic, but all bets are off as soon as it starts to get grubby.” All the more reason for buying two of your favourite pieces.