Want a party dress everyone will remember – for ever? Take your cue from these five icons, says Laura Craik
Many are designed. Few are chosen. So what, exactly, is the special quality that makes a party dress iconic? It’s a question that is as difficult and convoluted to answer as the design process that led to its creation. Partly, it can be explained as being the right dress at the right time, worn by the right model or celebrity. But it is also more than this basic formula allows: a certain kind of magic, an indefatigable ingredient that makes women want to buy it, wear it, fall in love with it and take it to their hearts, cherishing it over the years ina way that makes it truly timeless.
Amid the millions of dresses in the pantheon, these are the five we’ve chosen as being The Ones…
THE VAMPIRE’S WIFE DRESS, 2017
In 2016, the model Susie Bick, whose husband is the musician Nick Cave, launched The Vampire’s Wife, a niche luxury label with a gothic, dramatic feel that reflected Bick’s much-coveted personal style.
One item in particular –a high-necked dress with three-quarter sleeves and a hem trimmed with ruffles– caught women’s imagination, and a cult was born. Who has worn it? It would be quicker to list who hasn’t. Florence Welch has rocked a pink velvet version, Jodie Comer has donned it in black, Holly Willoughby was seen in it in metallic red chiffon and the Duchess of Cambridge metallic green. Three guests wore it to the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. It has also been spotted on Alexa Chung, Sienna Miller, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Keira Knightley.
Bick never gave the dress a name, preferring to give the style a new moniker with every iteration (its debut outing was the Cate). This season, a metallic chiffon version is named the Falconetti (£1,595), while a shorter printed style with forget-me-nots is called Devon’s Dress (£495). So popular was the style that in 2020, H&M launched a The Vampire’s Wife capsule collection that included a more affordable version for £19.99. As the party season kicks off once more, its dramatic Victorian looks are as fashionable as ever.
THE SLIP DRESS, CIRCA 1992
It’s difficult to attribute the slip dress to one designer, so let’s pick two: John Galliano, whose bias-cutting (where fabric is cut across the grain not along the weave) made the style so effective as an evening dress, and Liza Bruce, whose transparent version Kate Moss famously wore in the early 90s. Honourable mentions must also go to Calvin Klein and Alber Elbaz, who also pushed the style.
Almost 30 years on, the slip dress remains loved for its simplicity, and the way its flattering bias-cut skims rather than clings. Black might be its most classic iteration (Linda Evangelista rocked hers grunge-style with a T-shirt), though white is equally impactful – Sadie Frost wore Kate Moss’s white Galliano slip to marry Jude Law in 1997.
THE BANDAGE DRESS, 1993
The bodycon dress to end all bodycon dresses, Hervé Léger’s ‘bandage’ was so-called because it comprised strips of elastic sewn together super tightly. First seen in 1993 on the catwalk at New York Fashion Week, its popularity was sealed in 1995 after supermodels including Cindy Crawford, Eva Herzigova and Karen Mulder took it to their hearts (and ribcages).
Part of its appeal is that it works on curvy and angular figures alike. It also lends itself well to bright colours: Salma Hayek, Elle Macpherson, Kim Kardashian and Rihanna have all fallen for its charms over the years, while the current early 2000s revival means it’s winning over a new generation.
Last year, Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot wore a hot-pink style in a TikTok video that got 11.6 million views. If you’re in the market to wear one this Christmas without breaking the bank, check out Ebay which has a great selection of vintage ones
THE DOUBLE BRA DRESS, 2021
You may not have heard of Nensi Dojaka, but you’ll know her dresses: they’ve been worn by Rihanna, Dua Lipa, Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski, Adwoa Aboah and Hailey Bieber to name a few. Originally from Albania, the 28-year-old designer launched her eponymous label in 2017 while still studying at Central Saint Martins; in September, she won the prestigious LVMH Prize, securing €300,000 (around £250,000) and a year’s mentorship with the luxury-goods house.
While it’s fair to say her £800 double bra stretch-silk dress requires confidence to wear (its cutaway bodice and gossamer-thin straps reveal a lot of flesh), something about its bold, unapologetic brand of sex appeal has caught the imagination – and after 18 months of lockdown, there’s a hunger for sexy party dresses.
Dojaka says she hopes hers convey both softness and strength. Already, retailers are churning out similar designs–a sure indication that the double bra is on its way to classic status.
THE GALAXY DRESS, 2005
With fans including Scarlett Johansson and Halle Berry, when it came to dressing the A-list, Roland Mouret already had form. But in 2005, he hit paydirt with the Galaxy, a square-necked, cap-sleeved dress that hugged the body in all the right places. More of a cocktail dress than an evening number, its genius lay in its versatility. Well, that and its power-mesh slip, a secret layer that acted like a hidden corset to shape and sculpt.
Those who have enjoyed its flattering cut on the red carpet include Rachel Weisz and Victoria Beckham, while Beyoncé was snapped in one at a book launch and Carol Vorderman has worn one almost everywhere, having purchased the dress in several colours.
Mouret is sadly said to be battling administration, but 16 years after it was originally unveiled on the catwalk at Paris Fashion Week, the Galaxy continues to thrive: it’s currently available at rolandmouret.com priced £1,595. And homages can be found at Topshop, River Island and Missguided this Christmas.
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