Ralph Lauren, a designer who has perfected the art of classic lines in American sportswear took on British period drama with a cult following, "Downton Abbey" for his F/W 2012 collection. Lauren certainly gave Downton Abbey's costume designer, Susannah Buxton, otherwise known as the "sculptress-in-cloth", a run for her schillings. To the delight of many, his inspiration was not limited to the regal ladies of Downton, but rather the dignified gentleman as well. The dynamic collection featured pieces for every fanciful occasion one might encounter as part of the early 1900's aristocracy, be it hunting on the English countryside or a dazzling evening affair at the estate.
There collection boasted a bevy of frocks fit for every woman of Downton, which seemed to have taken into consideration the disimilarities in style between between Lord Grantham's three daughters. Take Lady Sybil for example, the young and most non-conformist of the daughters who is most intuitive to the changing times and more embracing of modern style. The androgynous, more robust looks would no doubt call out to her. For the most fashionable sister, whose look always exhibits classic refinement, the elegant silk gowns with ornate details would definitely strike Lady Mary's fancy. And for Lady Edith, well, she's always a mixed bag.
The show began with the Downton Abbey theme song, along with evocative vocals from British Singer Mary-Jess in "Did I Make the Most of Loving you". The following songs included a strings-only version of The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" and selections from the W.E score by Polish composer Abel Korzeniowski which set a beautiful melancholic tone.
The first looks were amongst the hunting grounds with tweed suits featuring immaculately tailored narrowly cut blazers and skinny trousers. Adding flair were wool fair isles intarsias, argyle socks and hats ranging from dainty cloches to boyish bowlers by milliner, Patricia Underwood. The pieces boasted weighty fabrics and close attention to detail in embroidery. It was within these looks where the menswear motifs… particularly that of the characters: Lord Grantham and resident Downton heartthrob heir, Matthew Crawley – were most present.
Downton Abbey Hunting-Wear
Three-piece suits, checkered ties, silk pocket squares, walking canes (a droll in honor of Maggie Smith, no doubt) and vests adorned with pocket chains juxtaposed old-fashioned style traits with the contemporary idea of mens-for-womens-wear. Eventually the looks made their way into dandy territory, the ornate smoking jackets and burgandy velvet three-piece dress suit being the most exemplary.
In addition to the hats, toppings of the assemblages were structured handbags varying in size from large leather satchels to exquisite clutchs in ladylike shapes. Most of the bags put an emphasis on simplicity, even those comprised of exotic crocodile skins. The exception naturally being the minaudieres with the intricate detail and embellishment of which the Gilded era prided itself on. The jewelry erred on the side of extravagant, rather than the more demure pearl and delicate strand pieces we're used to seeing on the drama. Chunky gold chain necklaces and chokers, as well as crystalized and feather brooches were bold decoration to the looks.
Lady Mary in the evening
The collection transitioned into the evening wear where ornate opulence characterized each look thanks to the sumptuous velvet, silk, lam, and beaded fabrics. All encompassing looks included a gold-embroidered cardigan paired with wide-leg trousers, silk paneled bias-cut dresses paired with luxurious fur stoles and long-sleeved velvet columnars with elaborate beaded neck detail all in the glamorous color amalgamation of black and gold. A brisk pop of "Gentleman Prefer Blondes" pink gowns in streamlined silhouettes was a modernistic touch amongst the early 20th century ritz.The collection no doubt reached its apogee with the black silk gowns, one featuring ropes of crystalized beads pendent along the back, another coupled with an oversized ostrich feather cape.
While Lauren's show was the ultimate homage to the drama that's captured the hearts of the fashion crowd and beyond, elements of Downton Abbey's period fashion will be sure to influence collections to come. I can say with great credence and delight that Downton Abbey and its sartorial influence are here to stay.