Now that the word “cowboy” has become an adjective of abuse, it is perhaps more than a little ironic that fashion should be looking to the Wild West for design inspiration. Yet fringing – once the stuff of cowboy-chaps and ponchos – is everywhere this season. At Jil Sander, the designer Raf Simons wove delicate strands of black fringing across the body to create sheer, almost cobweb-like effects on dresses; swimwear designer Melissa Odabash experimented with the tassel via fringed, backless swimsuits while Alberta Ferretti looped fringes to draw attention to specific parts of her dresses.

“I wanted to express movement and vibration, which could lead to a feeling of lightness and volume,” says Ferretti. “Every fringe is held together by crochet work. It’s an antique, handmade technique, which is difficult to produce.”

“Fringing sculpts, extends and elongates the body by way of movement,” explains Mark Fast, a Canadian-born knitwear designer and recent graduate from Central St Martins, who wove fringing into abstract shapes in a spring/summer 2009 debut collection inspired by tribal dances and exotic feathered birds.

“Add a modern yarn [such as Lycra or Viscose] into classic fringing yarns, such as spun silk, and you can only go forwards. As soon as you add a twist of stretch then the fringe suddenly moves with the natural flow of the body.”

Mark Baverstock, head buyer for international women’s wear at the London boutique Matches, agrees. “What’s nice about fringing”, he says, “is that it moves when you walk, so it does attract attention to what you are wearing or what you are carrying.”

It does, however, require a little restraint: “Fringing should be pared-down,” Baverstock says. “Always keep things low-key and subtle. If you opt for a fringed jacket, you should wear cleaner lines underneath – fringing has to be the focus of an outfit.”

Cue accessories, of which there are plenty of fringed options this spring, including Lanvin’s fringed necklaces, Jil Sander’s silver-fringed clutch bags, Christian Louboutin’s exotic, fringed peep-toe shoe and boot hybrid (the “Tina Summer”), and – for those with the taste and confidence to carry off even more flagrant fringing – Martin Margiela’s fringed coat and matching wig.

“Fringing is provocative,” says Fast, however you wear it. “It says: ‘I’m going to shake things up.’ With all the doom and gloom out there I think fashion should be full of life. In times of recession women want unique pieces which are hand-crafted and have a real integrity, and that’s fringing.”

Case in point: one senior city investor, who would prefer to remain anonymous, has just bought her first spring piece: a beautiful short-fringed shift dress by Alexander McQueen. “When it’s on,” she says, “it makes me want to walk with a defiant sashay as opposed to a whole-world-hates-me-and-my-profession way. You know what? I might just wear it to the office.”



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