Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Bubble Trouble

Bubble skirts are back! Well, they've been back since at least 2003 - at least in the minds of designers and on the runways of London, Paris and New York. We've had to endure endless fashion editorials telling us bubble skirts are back. And Australian designers including Rebecca Taylor, Mad Cortes and Jayson Brunsdon have been making them since 2004.

(Jayson Brunsdon, 2004. Image from Sydney Morning Herald.)

(Alexander McQueen, 2005. Image from

Most people think of bubble skirts as a particularly 1980s trend; but they date back to the 1950s, when designers were experimenting with fabrics and silhouettes. This pattern is described as "harem draping", which makes sense if you think of the gathered ankles of harem pants.

So, why haven't we seen bubble skirts on the streets until now? The key is the fabric used in a bubble skirt. You only get the true puffball look with stiff yet light materials like taffeta and raw silk - incidentally, the same fabrics popular in 1980s formal wear. And those were the fabrics used by Alexander McQueen, Marc Jacobs and Christian Lacroix in recent runway collections. There are dressy bubble skirts available this season at relatively upscale stores like Review, Cue and Bettina Liano.

But the skirts that have made the trickle-down to high-street stores like Sportsgirl, Jay Jays, Valley Girl, Pilgrim and General Pants are very different. Made from cotton jersey, they're slinky and comfortable, heavily gathered from a basque waistband, without the pintucking you see on the more 'formal' versions. I've seen people on the street wearing these in two lengths: mini-skirt length and just below the knee. The mini version is cute and perky (and has been favoured by 'young' designers like One Teaspoon), but the longer version has a sculptural quality to it, and it moves fluidly and gracefully as the wearer walks.

(DKNY, New York Fashion Week, 2006. Image from Women's Wear Daily.)

Incidentally, I hate Donna Karan's baggy jumper - it's the casual, relaxed skirt I'm interested in. I think this fluidity is the reason why bubble skirts are only just becoming popular among young buyers, and why we're only just starting to see them on the street as casual wear. I suspect that the bubble mini might well take the place in teen fashion currently occupied by the ra-ra skirt - a cute, disposable casual skirt with a retro feel. Worn with boots and opaque tights during autumn and winter, it might get even more popular.

I'm also particularly interested in designs that play with the bubble skirt, twisting and deconstructing it in ways that complement the sculptural qualities of its soft fabrics. A few weeks ago, I was at an art launch where a woman was wearing a bubble skirt where the hem appeared to have been gathered and secured randomly at intervals. Rather than being smooth and puffy, the hem was puckered and asymmetrical. And I particularly like the Ed & Bek design pictured at the top of this post. It reminds me of sheets drying on a clothesline and billowing in a gust of wind.


elaine said...

*feels smug and surprisingly cutting edge*

plum said...

Mel, didn't Akira do a collaboration with Bonds last year?

And in light of your fascination with all things hipster