Trending: Scarves | Prestige Hong Kong (Sept 18)

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Got something to say? It’s all about making your point with a silk scarf. zaneta cheng explores how this symbol of the bourgeoisie is spearheading a social and ethical revolution this season

Who’d have guessed that the delicate silk scarf of Queen Elizabeth and the ladies-who-lunch would make its roaring comeback in 2018 as a symbol of fourth-wave feminism?

This autumn/winter, silk scarves were given new life, worked into elements of clothing and, in the case of Richard Quinn, even became the focus of a collection. Natalie Kingham, fashion and buying director for, says, “Silk scarves have always been a classic wardrobe staple. In recent seasons, we’ve seen that scarves have been providing inspiration beyond how to wear them. Designers are developing the idea by executing print mash-ups and draping to celebrate the soft accessory itself in ready-to-wear-form.”

London designer Quinn, the lucky recipient of a new royal grant, took a tongue-in-cheek approach to his scarf mash-ups, splicing cutesy prints and making references to bondage. A gesture to his front-row guest and benefactor, the Queen, came in the form of her signature headscarves, but those were paired with a silk scarf covering the whole face in a nod to the gimp mask, subverting an originally twee accessory into a statement for the emancipated woman of today. Entire looks were covered in large floral printed silk squares, gathered and stitched together to create bold silhouettes, from dresses with ruched necklines that recall couture-like refinement to trench coats constructed from the same fabrics styled over gimp suits of equally bold floral silk prints. 

Donatella Versace went further down the heritage route so magnificently defined in the brand’s Tribute collection of spring/summer 2018, taking inspiration from Britain’s various style movements, with the rebellion of punk rock getting top billing. Headscarves were definitely part of this bandwagon. Stiff collars, tartan, trench coats and football scarves were all present, but the inescapable silk scarf worked its way into slinky ’80s dresses referencing the shapes Princess Diana wore when finally finding her fashion footing, as well as strong-shouldered long-sleeve tops and skirts reminiscent of Vivienne Westwood’s punk-rock aesthetic. A styling tip from this show to take into the season would be to ground the flittering fabric with a heavy boot or a chunky heel to show the patriarchy you mean business.

It’s certainly a welcome respite from the loud-sloganed revolutionary statements of past seasons that saw brands invoking the student demonstrations of 1968 Paris for protest inspiration. 

But why, of all things, the silk scarf? Kimberly Chan, associate buyer for Joyce, says, “The resurgence of silk scarves this season combines the luxurious fabric with the latest on-trend floral and pattern mix, revamping an old, ‘grandma-chic’ item into completely modern and cutting-edge looks.”

Aside from the symbolic bourgeois implications of the accessory, the scarf-on-scarf phantasmagoria taps into a key and very current industry concern: sustainability. Upcycling and sustainable sourcing are hot topics, with Kering even devoting an entire environmental-impact profit and loss report to the issue in order to show its commitment. It seems that, though progress is slow, fashion is finally showing that it’s listening.

“Amid the political disarray around the world,” says Chan, “designers are delving further into reinterpretations of ‘vintage’ looks commonly found at refugee camps. As designers become more aware of fashion’s hyper-speed need for the next and new collections, and its subsequent impact on our environment, upcycling vintage and deadstock fabrics is becoming increasingly prominent.”

Inklings of the trend first manifested themselves in the spring/summer 2018 collections when brands such as Altuzarra and Dries van Noten incorporated scarf elements into their garments, dangling them off an asymmetric skirt or weaving them into jacket linings. In the same season, Kingham notes, “patchwork dresses were a key trend for spring/summer ’18, with brands such as Joseph, Loewe and Marni being highlights, creating interesting combinations using different fabrics and tones. Brands have elevated this even further for autumn/winter ’18 with the use of silk scarves as part of their design.”

Cue 3.1 Phillip Lim, whose runway was awash with patchwork. Floral silks were sewn into tops, dresses and skirts, all dancing in the wake of the model’s stride. Lim’s collection showed a slouchier take on the trend with palettes in blue and white. 

At Toga, Yasuku Furota turned silk linings inside-out so that sleeves and pockets of silk scarves spiced up an otherwise traditional tweed jacket. Skirts had holes cut in them to reveal the silk lining underneath. The patchwork trend is no newcomer to Tokyo’s thriving vintage scene, where the remake trend flourishes – deadstock and vintage fabrics and clothes are given new life, stitched into new, unique pieces.

Then there’s LVMH Prize-winner Marine Serre, whose third collection, Manic Soul Machine, embraced the idea that fashion can be used as a political, social and cultural barometer. Upcycling was firmly in the spotlight in the collection, and a series of dresses – made from roughly 1,500 second-hand silk scarves sourced by Serre and her team – drove home the notion that fashion has entered an era where ethics and social values carry a certain cachet. One upcycled scarf piece had “Futurewear” flapping on the edge of the silk dress, and it certainly seems this is a concept that’s here to stay.

Indeed, the future surely lies in sustainability. The most active designers are the younger ones who are among the voices railing against the establishment. Kingham agrees. “The use of upcycled fabrics is part of a movement within the industry to take a more considered approach to production and minimise wastage ... particularly among more emerging designers. Brands such as Eckhaus Latta and Batsheva, and our upcoming SS19 Innovators, Germanier, Ingy Stockholm, Noki and Petersonstoop, all take a sustainable approach of using deadstock fabrics or reusable materials to create their collections, It’s creating a really exciting time for innovation in fashion.”