Birds of Paradise

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Helmut Lang spring-summer 1998

In her twisted elegance for spring-summer 2017, Miuccia Prada sent down a line of feather-trimmed jackets, bras and skirts. The dresses by Prada, with ostrich-feathers on the sleeves, were pure lightness, blurring the silhouttes’ minimal cut and old-fashioned opulence. “No other material stirs the imagination quite like the feather“, said the intro to Antwerp’s MoMU exhibition dedicated to plumes and feathers back in 2014. That’s quite true – for centuries, feathers were symbol of sophistication and refinement in women’s wardrobe. Valued by designers, like Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen (and the late  designer himself) or even Phoebe Philo of Céline, feathers are the quintessence of preciousness. Whether traditionally crafted by skilled artisans called plumassiers, detailed with the help of Maison Lemarié in Paris or simply turned into ethereal headpieces (Maria Grazia Chiuri’s debut haute couture collection for Dior; Helmut Lang‘s all-white feather crowns from the 90s).

Some designers choose to use feathers spontaneously, one-time, like London-based Christopher Kane. But others, like Ann Demeulemeester, feel strong affection towards feathers since childhood. The queen of Belgian fashion especially favoured dove feathers and transformed them into timeless pendants. For her first fashion show in Paris in 1992, she placed on each chair a leather string holding dove feathers. In 2000, a priest called her and asked whether she can ‘dress’ the Madonna in Saint Andrew’s church in Antwerp. The effect was a feather bustier, which ideally matched the holliness and spirituality of this place. Although Demeulemeester stepped down from her role at the brand, Sébastien Meunier succesfully continues her feather legacy. Just see his poetic autumn-winter 2017 collection for men (note the hats and shawls).

One of the biggest fashion moments connected to feathers that always hits my mind is Peter Lindbergh’s cult editorial for Harper’s Bazaar in 1993. Amber Valletta, looking like a fallen angel, wanders around New York in her white wings and white suit. Beautiful and melancholic simultaneously. Light as a feather.

Shop the look: Ann Demeulemeester bead and feather necklace.

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