Somewhere along the line, glamour lost its lustre. In fashion, it was once the goal, a decadent state of mind to aspire to: Elizabeth Taylor, with her endless emeralds, husbands and range of perfumes. Bianca Jagger dressed in off-the-shoulder red on a white horse in Studio 54. Princess Diana in bejewelled, body-hugging Versace. Sarah Jessica Parker's Carrie Bradshaw in her Vivienne Westwood wedding dress. Glamour was once the reference point women took to their hairstylists in the salon and into the fitting rooms at department stores.
Then, from about 2008 onwards, the concept jumped off a cliff and into a pit of internet memes (try Googling 'glamour shots'), and camp TV humour (we love you, RuPaul's Drag Race). Glamour became more entertainment than wardrobe inspiration — at least in knowing fashion circles.
When an ELLE colleague once told another, 'You look glamorous today,' with a raised eyebrow during London Fashion Week, it sent the latter into a minor tailspin. 'Am I wearing too much make-up? Is my hair too big? I feel like you're telling me I look uncool,' she replied. This was at the height of fashion's Off Duty moment last year, when we were all wearing tracksuit bottoms to the office and DHL T-shirts to gallery openings. The last thing anyone wanted to look was glamorous.
But this was before this week's British Fashion Awards, an extravaganza in which most guests walked the red carpet in crystal-encrusted, sequinned and otherwise bedazzled dresses, jumpsuits and skirts. This was also before 2017 rolled around — the year that Miuccia Prada made it cool to wear ostrich feathers, Michael Halpern made a solid case for sequins, and Demna Gvasalia reminded us of the merits of a good old-fashioned bombshell of an evening gown at Prada, Halpern and Balenciaga respectively.
When I spoke to Alek Wek, who wore said gown backstage during the autumn/winter season, her eyes were glassy with excitement. 'It was an emotional experience for me, wearing that gown. It was just that beautiful,' she said of the look, a draw-dropping reinterpretation of an archive piece, complete with a voluminous, oversized bow and pockets. The shift in the air was palpable, as backstage dressers helped the models out of their massive gowns and carefully packed them away like giant works of art — and all this from Gvasalia, the man behind those Vetements DHL T-shirts that made extreme underdressing so popular in the first place.
He was hardly the only one to tap into the decadent, velvet-rope moment. Bottega Veneta offered up moody, vaguely Hitchcockian Forties- inspired dresses and gowns for its autumn/winter collection, while Dries Van Noten showed richly embroidered and sequinned dresses and coats for spring/summer. Alessandro Michele, meanwhile, continues to dial up his already maximalist use of embellishments and embroidery on opulent dresses, coats and tops at Gucci. And at Saint Laurent, in Anthony Vacarrello's hands, glamour becomes an extreme sport (feathers! poufs! leather!) This is a year in which faux furs are big, decorative flourishes even bigger, and Céline Dion is the fashion icon of our times. A sense of deliberation is encouraged. It's no longer uncool to look like you've made an effort. In short, glamour is back.
But why now? The answer is the same one that has been driving the fashion conversation for a while: disruption and the collective desire to feel good in spite of it. Clothes that compel you to dress up and go out out certainly fit the bill.
'The world is quite a scary and intense place. And with times like these, I feel there is always a sense of escapism that comes into play,' says Michael Halpern, who this week won the Emerging Designer Fashion Award. The New Yorker and Central Saint Martins graduate became one of London Fashion Week's brightest new talents in February, when he debuted an unapologetically glam line-up of disco-style dresses and flared jumpsuits covered in multicoloured sequins that would have made Ziggy Stardust proud. In his line's short existence, hugely influential retailers, from London's Matches Fashion and Browns to Bergdorf Goodman in New York, have picked him up. He's already a rising performer at the former: 'Michael Halpern's approach to glamour is different to everything else and feels very contemporary and fun. A pair of his sequin trousers will look incredible with trainers and a T-shirt, or you can go all out with a dress or jumpsuit. We've already had an incredible reaction to his collection, which is selling very well,' says Natalie Kingham, buying director at Matches Fashion.
Opulent glamour as a whole promises to be one of the biggest ideas on the sales floor this season, with dramatic robes, kimonos and crystal- embellished satin heels emerging as retail hits, according to Kingham. 'I think more than ever, people need this sort of escapism today. To go out and feel magnificent, confident and bright is a way to navigate this type of climate,' Halpern says.
Fashion insiders and customers seem to agree. 'Beyond the clothes, glamour is an attitude,' says Lisa Aiken, fashion director of Net-a-Porter. 'All the collections that left an impression on me for their take on glamour had a certain confidence,' she says. Aiken adds that velvet-rope dressing makes a refreshing counterpoint to minimalism after years of quiet, tasteful, black-and-navy restraint. 'For a long time, it seemed so modern to be very understated. This season's return to glamour is a bold reaction against that. When we look at all the different situations we dress for in daily life that require a certain seriousness, embracing this idea of getting dressed up is certainly not a bad thing. Why not be that little bit more playful and glamorous for the evening?
There's a fine line between playful dressing up and looking like you're playing a game of dress-up, though. And a dramatic red leather cocktail mini may look like fire on the runway, as it did at Saint Laurent, but in a swish hotel bar, surrounded by drunken revellers at 10pm, it could look like a slippery slope to fashion caricature.
Aiken suggests avoiding the trap by limiting the glitz: 'Don't overdo it. Keep one element of your look pared back, whether that is teaming an evening top with denim, keeping the hair and make-up very undone or dialling down the jewellery. One of my favourite shows this year was Isabel Marant's autumn/winter show; the soundtrack was irresistibly feel-good, the girls walked with a certain attitude and I loved the juxtaposition of lurex combined with denim and giant crystal earrings, topped off with an oversized blazer. It looked fabulous but very wearable and real at the same time.'
It's about making the showy pieces feel like an extension of how you already dress, rather than putting on a costume for a particular occasion. A return to the street-style peacock this is not. 'Authenticity is the most important thing when it comes to glamour,' Halpern says.
It's a feeling that has been underscored in pop culture. Witness Kylie Minogue's gusto in pirouetting in a sequin dress, Kira Kira sparkles shining for effect, on Instagram. Or Celine Dion embracing a full snakeskin look, complete with a Rochas coat and matching Balmain boots, for a flight — an occasion in which most people wear sweats. Or Solange Knowles' brightly hued, carefully coordinated outfits on and off stage (yes, matching your clothing and accessories is now a perfectly acceptable thing). In both cases, the sense of glamour and the woman are almost inseparable. And the thought, planning and effort that has obviously gone into said looks is a huge part of the appeal. You have to admire a woman who cares enough about herself to put her best foot forward, even on the ocassions when she doesn't have to.
'It's about committing to it,' Halpern says. 'Anything that doesn't immediately feel genuine in turn makes it irrelevant. Glamour is not only about something that sparkles, but something that breeds conviction.'