When T.S. Eliot called April the cruellest month, was he thinking of the weather or the awful clothes people wear when faced with spring’s soggy days?
Rain flushes style down the drain. Plastic bags on the feet, secured around the ankles with elastic bands, morning newspapers slapped on heads — the wet season has long been a fashion wash-out.
But wait. A ray of sunshine is making rainwear the shiniest new trend around. Everything’s coming up trench coats with a solid retro feel. Leather, once a dry-season only fabric, has also been treated to withstand foul-weather days. And a fresh spring palette has likewise brightened the fashion forecast, suggesting that it’s time, once again, for dancing and singing in the rain.
Thanks be to Burberry, inventor of the trench, for initiating fashion’s renewed interest in wet-weather gear. Since its revival began more than a year ago, fashionistas from Tokyo to Toronto have been sporting the label’s signature plaid. The brand’s popularity has helped jumpstart rainwear sales — Van Issacs, president of Donna Karan Signature and DKNY Coats, says numbers are up 50 per cent over last year.
Now for spring, the classic is being recast in a rainbow of fresh colours, albeit with the signature check lining intact.
In Vancouver, one of the country’s rainiest cities, the classic English coat remains a lightening rod of chic. “The influence of Burberry is strong,” says Campbell McDougall, owner of Bruce, an influential fashion-lifestyle store in Vancouver.
“Everything is double-breasted, with six to eight buttons,” McDougall says. “It’s Old English styling but done with a feminine touch — sexy, close-fitting, narrow through the shoulders.” Bruce delivers the look with labels including Marc Jacobs, Yuth and Vanessa Bruno.
The season’s new colours are explosive, including electric blue, limeade, herry and tangerine. “Colour is becoming the statement, says Canadian coat designer Hilary Radley in Montreal. “We’re seeing a lot more pastels and a lot more vivid hues in general.”
Colour lends drama to traditional styles like the trench, balmacaan and quilted jacket, the designer says. Hers come coated with Teflon for a waterproof finish.
Water-resistant gabardine — the traditional cloth of the Burberry trench — is the reserve of fashion purists. Splashier is oil-slick PVC and, new this season, distressed leather, which has brought some unexpected thunder to rainwear’s style transformation.
Nine West, Kenneth Cole Outerwear and Cole Haan are all introducing leather into spring. And so is Canada’s Danier Leather company, with stores across the country. Mila Daniely, Danier’s vice-president of design, says that paper-weight calfskin and lightweight lambskin are big this season and in step with fashion’s overall trend to unlined and paper-thin leather. Danier’s skins walk easily into inclement weather because, explains Daniely, they’re pretreated to avoid water damage.
The design department also takes advantage of reversible fashion with a boxy-fit women’s car coat. “The outside of the garment is done in paper-weight cow and the inside is in a water-resistant fabric,” Daniely says. “We made it with the resurgence of rainwear in mind.”
Fashion’s retro revival has also opened the flood gates on the return of Mary Quant-inspired transparency in everything from slickers to brollies. Hilary Radley’s newest ad campaign — now on bus shelters across the country — features a transparent poncho raincoat in turquoise, yellow and white.
Plastic domed umbrellas have also sprouted again on English soil, where rain, rain, rain isn’t just a Noel Coward refrain. The see-through shower-shielders are also riding a wave of cool in Europe, Japan, Russia, the U.S. and Canada.
The Bird Cage was originally made for the Queen Mother in the Sixties by Fulton Umbrella, which has a factory in Canada. The elder fashion-loving monarch liked the idea of a brolly that allowed her to be seen by the crowds as she waved to them in the inevitable U.K. drizzle. But it was Twiggy’s and Jean Shrimpton’s love of the Bird Cage that made it a fashion statement.
That umbrella’s popularity waned with the rise of light-weight, collapsible umbrellas, but now it’s back on the radar because the Queen Mum and the Queen have taken to it again.
Where royalty and rain converge, a fashion moment rises from the mud. So grab a swish brolly, step into a flashy pair of Wellies and don a Burberry-inspired trench. The fashion forecast can be only one thing: Fabulous.