LUXURYCULTURE.COM - The Scarf's Second Coming


The once-staid headscarf has rocketed back to fashion's center stage, embraced across all divides as the simplest accessory with maximum impact.

A simple square of silk has become the de rigueur accessory for young and old, injecting Hollywood glamour and ethnic allure into a melting pot of personal style.

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, scarves were something that could, at best, be termed fall-back gifts – something one could fall back on when one couldn't think of anything else to buy a mother, aunt, grandmother or sensible lady friend. Unsurprisingly, scarves became tainted with bourgeois, momsy, duty-free overtones, basically the last thing any fashion-forward young woman might want to wear, and the textile equivalent of the kiss of death if gifted to the wrong person.

How times have changed! From Sex & The City to the catwalks of the world and on to the coolest streets and trendiest nightclubs, the traditional silk scarf has become an indisputable part of every fashionable woman's wardrobe. And not just women; teenage girls, too, are clamoring to tie their hair in scarves, wrap a fichu around their head and pair it with oversized shades, or use them as belts or bracelets. Clearly, Versace sensed the mood when, for this summer, along with a host of scarf-based accessories, the Italian house created thong sandals threaded through with a silk scarf in the signature house print. Missoni wrapped every head with a scarf and made floaty eveningwear composed of scarves sewn together. Even in menswear, one of the trends for next spring lies in prints and jacquard patterns with scarf heritages.

From Audrey Hepburn with a headscarf and sunglasses, to Susan Sarandon in 'Thelma & Louise,' Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot, ad infinitum, the connection between the scarf and cinematic glamour is a deeply ingrained one. And who can forget that famous white Hermès scarf in 'The Devil Wears Prada'? Princess Grace of Monaco, a woman not averse to accidentally starting huge trends in accessory fashions, gave a new dimension to the Hermès scarf in 1956 by wearing it as a sling for a broken arm. Since then, this simple accessory – which has gone on to find itself co-opted as an item of clothing, too – has enjoyed a rollercoaster ride of popularity that Pascale Mussard, joint artistic director at Hermès, sagely points out as being "cyclical."

The scarves at Hermès are possibly the most famous in the world. In fact, when people think of headscarves, they're most likely to think of an Hermès 'carré' (square silk twill scarf), though recent years have also seen the Paris house adapt the dozen or so designs it produces per year into new shapes like the Losange and the Twilly, to allow for an easier and more youthful adaptation for wearing it as a bandana without the bulk.

It might seem as if Hermès has always produced scarves, but the practice is only 70 years old this year, an anniversary being fêted with a Hilton McConnico-designed two-week exhibition in Hong Kong called 'Once Upon a Silk.' The show's second installment, 'The Tale of Silk,' will open in Shanghai in September. China is, after all, the land where silk was first woven and is still the world's number one silk producer.

The story of the Hermès scarf opens with a fateful, and entirely accidental, meeting between Robert Gandy, a printer from Lyon who was shopping around his newly invented way of printing silk, and Robert Dumas, a member of the Hermès family, who just happened to be in the flagship Paris store that day. From the first design – created by the frustrated architect Dumas himself – which was called Jeu des Omnibus et des Dames Blanches, Hermès has gone on to produce over 1500 designs, each one "an anecdote, a story, a form of poetry," as Mussard explains. The notion, she says, is developed from parachute regiment soldiers bringing coded maps with them printed on the scarves tied around their necks, and every designer who's worked at Hermès has imparted their own personal code into the scarf designs they've created.

Catherine Baba, an Australian-born, Paris-based stylist, is famous on the City of Light's party circuit for her Marchesa Luisa Casati approach to getting dressed up for both evening and daytime, a large part of which involves languorous kimonos and putting headscarves to extensively inventive uses, notably in a turban form. She admits to having something of a collection of scarves.

"I am someone who gets bored very quickly. But I abhor nonsense time spent on preparations, even though I live for rituals," she says, puffing on a menthol cigarette held in a long holder. "We work, we're on the move, and the beauty of wearing a turban in the morning is flawless for appearance and flawless for time. And it also subtracts the boredom."

Her headwear habit – which extends across the whole scarf and hat family – was inspired by magazines from the 1920s and '30s she would look through, agog, when she was young. And so a star – with a very individual look – was born, and one who, despite her job, was impervious to the sea-changes in fashion at large. "And at one time a friend of mine – and maybe he's right, and maybe it's too late, but whatever – nearly convinced me to do a turban collection, and I sort of shunned it," she explains. "And then Prada did turbans on every girl, and then everyone who's anyone wore a turban, and that actually disturbed me, but I thought I can't NOT wear a turban anymore. For me it's a part of my dress code, like a kimono."

Prada's overwhelming push for turbans for this summer points to a strong belief not only in the allure such an accessory bestows, but also in the fact that, in an era when even bags have their own accessories, the head remains the great unexploited body part when it comes to accessorizing. It's part of a whole trend toward covering up and donning headwear that's continuing for fall. Be they headscarves or hats, there's something ultimately alluring and attractive – and individual – about sporting something on the head, be it fixed or fluid. As British milliner Noel Stewart told, "The innovators of the fashion industry – Galliano, Marc Jacobs, Comme des Garçons, Gaultier, Prada – have consistently used millinery to emphasize their work." Naturally, he has a slightly biased outlook, because these designers have also heavily used scarves, headbands, turbans, and so forth. Arden Wohl, a fixture on the New York social party scene, has become instantly identifiable through the omnipresent headbands that top off a downtown bohemian look. A fondness for headwear seems to run in her family, to such an extent that Arden's mother Denise recently launched her own line of visors.

The headscarf has different meanings in numerous cultures and social strata, and recent seasons have seen designers exploring a number of these. For fall, houses like Blumarine and Cacharel styled their shows with simple monotone scarves tied babushka-style, in the case of the former, adding volume above a narrow black column of velvet, or in the latter, contributing to the lightly handled, blousy silhouette devoid of print or unnecessary detail. Yohji Yamamoto wrapped heads and faces with scarves printed with fake monograms in a manner that, at its purest, called to mind postulant nuns from the Middle Ages, an ironically futuristic look that YSL and Akris took up, albeit in specially created little helmets of leather and woven cashmere with a tulle visor. Donna Karan, who filled her fall collection with headwear, made the strongest statement when she wrapped heads with unadorned black scarves, which instantly make heads look small and charming and place the focus on the face.

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