Fiona Leahy knows her way around a fantasy dress. But when the leading events designer considered her options for a birthday party at Six Senses Ibiza last month, all the Valentino, Rick Owens and vintage Paco Rabanne pieces she’d packed felt too familiar. “So I ditched what I was going to wear and rented a metallic, futuristic Barbarella minidress instead,” she says.
It proved the right choice. “I had a number of things I could have worn, but that dress felt exciting,” Leahy says. “It’s like we’re all getting out of jail. We’re really excited to dress up. And as soon as you do dress up, you feel elevated and you’re more likely to have a good time.”
The vibe shift has come for our holiday wardrobes. After the Zoom tops, cagoules, rain boots, picnic dresses and Dryrobes of two pandemic summers, this one is taking a glamorous turn. When it comes to dressing for milestone trips and major events, the outlook is clear: more is more.
“Summer holiday and event dressing is definitely, definitely back,” says Jeannie Lee, head of buying womenswear at Selfridges, where demand for luxury clothing has returned to near pre-pandemic levels. “People have been at home for so long without buying a new bag or a new dress to wear to a wedding. When you’ve been deprived of newness and suddenly you have the excuse and opportunity — the clients are going for it, head to toe.”
A little pre-vacation shopping is nothing new. What’s novel in 2022 is that instead of simply replacing tired sandals, affluent travellers are curating a total holiday wardrobe. Stylists and personal shoppers report that rather than taking a pick-and-mix approach to holiday packing, clients are opting for entire outfits.
“I’ve been so busy and it feels like every appointment is about holiday dressing,” says Tessa Litchfield, senior private shopper at MatchesFashion.com. “I’m doing full looks, not worrying about budgets, just about the ‘wow’.”
Jet-setters bound for Capri or Formentera are packing Gabriela Hearst’s crocheted dresses, Valentino’s rainbow-chevron-striped skirts, Taller Marmo’s fringed or feathered kaftans, and Chloé’s oversized Larry seashell necklace. For weddings, guests are gravitating towards matching two-piece sets from Emilia Wickstead and Erdem (Gwyneth Paltrow recently snapped up the latter’s floral-print linen crop top and wrap skirt set for a summer wedding).
“Summer is the season when even minimalists give themselves permission to step into a print,” says JJ Martin, founder of print-centric Italian fashion and homeware brand La Double J. Versatility is key — Martin recommends pulling on a maxi skirt in a matching print to one of her long-sleeve swimsuits as an option for evening, or packing an allover-print silk swing dress that “folds down to the size of a handkerchief”. She adds, “Women want pieces that will do double or even triple-duty: ‘What can I wear to the beach that’s also going to work for cocktails or dinner by the seaside?’”
Another category selling well after fallow years: heels. Outré styles from D’Accori, Amina Muaddi and Mach & Mach are nudging basic espadrille wedges out of suitcases. Just don’t plan to wear them for your next boat party. “Boat dressing is fascinating because it’s no heels,” says Litchfield. “And these are women who think dressing up means putting on a heel. We’ve got to think about which dress or look will work with a flat shoe or bare feet on the boat, and still feel special . . . It’s not about fitting in at these boat parties, even if you’re like that in your day-to-day life.”
Not on my staycation, you say? Not so fast. While one woman I know travelled all the way to a boutique hotel in Menorca to realise that the holiday gear she’s leaned on for the past two summers wouldn’t translate to 2022, I only had to go as far as a farmhouse in Cornwall. And yet a friend came down for cocktails wearing a full-length emerald silk dress and chunky gold necklace, greeted by approving murmurs all around.
In many cases, the boom in destination dressing stems from the events involved. Everyone who delayed a destination wedding or rescheduled a child-free holiday with friends, only to cancel it and reschedule yet again, has mentally upped the ante on how much effort they’re willing to expend on holiday looks.
Of course, short of shipping your suitcase ahead, no manner of strategic packing can prevent lost luggage debacles (sympathy to anyone with bags in the “enormous luggage carpet” at Heathrow). Lucky then that luxury brands, out to capture the spending power of returning tourists after focusing on local clients, have opened seasonal shops in jet-setter hotspots. Bottega Veneta has seven summer locations including Portofino, Capri and Marbella. Chanel is popping up in Bodrum and St Tropez, while Dior is bringing its beachy Dioriviera collection to seasonal stores in Taormina, Montauk and Mykonos.
And hotel boutiques, once afterthoughts, have emerged as new destinations for luxury fashion. “We have people coming from outside the resort,” says Daniela Agnelli, stylist and co-founder of Agora, an eco-aware boutique at Six Senses Ibiza. People come to peruse the Cinderella rail: the edit of eveningwear-for-hire where Leahy found her Barbarella dress. “It brings a lot of joy,” Agnelli says. “Women want to feel sparkly and new.”
Sparkly and new can feel a universe away from ground-down, burnt-out, disillusioned. It’s easy to scoff at destination dressing as frivolous, especially in a moment characterised by daily and unrelenting dread — concerning war, inflation, Rwanda, Roe. In a gentler light, this emphasis on good times suggests a devotion not to the fantasy that everything is perfect, but to the idea that we should celebrate when we can. “People have a desire to come back to life. That’s moving,” says Emporio Sirenuse founder Carla Sersale. “It’s a good thing, a sign that the world is alive and that we want to keep living and to be happy.”
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