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Searching for the one: The holy grail of fashion


Words by Catherine Elliott-Kemp, Creative Director at Zebra Digital

Have you ever felt that if you could just find that perfect pinstripe suit, that divine dress, or the most sublime shoes in the universe then everything else in life would slip into place?

If so, you’re not alone. Clothes are full of meaning, of the potential to change us or reflect who we could be. Have you experienced the thrill of feeling that you might have just found The One? Not a romantic life partner, but the item of clothing that will somehow transform the ordinary you into the uber-stylish, confident person you really are. This holy grail is the suit, dress, bag or coat that will make everything perfect.

Clothes are full of meaning, of the potential to change us or reflect who we could be

The glorious thing about fashion is that that search is never-ending. Some might call it frivolous, but it’s a fact that the clothes we wear are not simply enjoyable for the wearer but they give crucial social signals to others. Whether we think we’re biased or not, as soon as we meet someone new we make judgments about them: can we trust them? Do we like them, and will they like us? These feelings are based on a huge range of factors like body language (the non-verbal signs we’re unaware of) but also our clothes. The corporate world is still dominated by dark suits while many of us working in the creative industries are given carte blanche to express our individuality in our clothes.

What you wear is how you present yourself to the world, especially today, when human contacts are so quick. Fashion is instant language – Miuccia Prada

Richard Gere, film star and former People Magazine ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ (not to mention ex-husband of Cindy Crawford), is a man who’s been wearing his clothes well since the Age Of Bad Taste, as I call the eighties.

He played a wealthy man-for-hire in the film thriller American Gigolo, and in one key scene, stealthily works his way through his capacious dressing-room. Not for him an overstuffed wardrobe with an array of mismatched items on different sized hangers. Each and every one of his numerous suits is pressed to perfection and hung in uniform rows, colour co-ordinated in every shade of the spectrum. Ditto his designer shirts, shoes and the rest. Ties are neatly laid out in pullout drawers and although I can’t recall the camera venturing into his underwear stash, then without a doubt, his boxers and socks must have been arranged in such a way to make the ultimate tidying guru and clothes-folder Marie Kondo look like a positive scruff.

The glorious thing about fashion is that that search is never-ending

In Pretty Woman, Gere is once again looking every inch the gentleman. And who could forget his sassy love interest in the movie – played by Julia Roberts – being transformed into the epitome of elegance thanks to some classy clothes choices. The message there was clear – that she didn’t just look different in beautifully created clothes, she walked taller, and more confidently.

Interestingly, her clothes didn’t shout. They magically drew attention to her at her best, and after all isn’t that what we’re all in search of? Elegance is key. It was Coco Chanel who said: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” And let’s be honest she knew what she was talking about.

Less is more, as we’re often told, especially when it comes to accessories. Serious bling – whether that’s amazing jewellery or statement shoes work best when teamed with a simple dress.

The concept of a ‘capsule wardrobe’ has been around for some time now

Elegance is elimination. – Cristóbal Balenciaga

The concept of a ‘capsule wardrobe’ has been around for some time now. This is the idea that with just a small number of co-ordinated staple items of clothing we can look great everyday. The woman who coined the term, Susie Faux, suggested that a few classic ‘investment’ pieces could be worn for years, supplemented by seasonal items of clothing.

Designer Donna Karan made the idea more popular and in many ways the capsule wardrobe concept has never truly left us. In these times when many of us are yearning for more simplicity and less stress, what could be better than to concentrate on key quality pieces that you love and really suit you? These core items that never go out of fashion might be tailored trousers, a trench coat, a classic crisp white shirt and of course, the Little Black Dress, a fashion icon so ubiquitous it is know by just three letters.

One is never over-dressed or under-dressed with a Little Black Dress. – Karl Lagerfeld

Less is more, as we’re often told, especially when it comes to accessories

My first experience of the power of the LBD was as a student at University. One of my flatmates had THE perfect Little Black Dress. It was lined, knee-length, heavy black satin and very fitted. It was ultra simple and completely beautiful to look at and to wear. But more than that, this dress seemed to have magical properties because four of us girls, ranging in size from a leggy, slim size 10 to a curvy 12-14 wore it and looked amazing. It seemed impossible. The dress took on mythical properties once we realised this and it became known then as The Dress. All these years later, I can’t even be sure who owned it and I’ve never found its replacement.

And so, my search will go on. The One is out there somewhere, in a shop only a few miles from me now, perhaps. Perhaps…