One of the most surprising trends of this season has been plastic everything – clothes, shoes and accessories. No, we’re not referring to those slick and shiny black vinyl pants from last season hanging in your closet, but clear plastic (think Season 4 Yeezy clear boots that Kim Kardashian made famous, or even that transparent folder you carried to school).
And yes, they are actually different. While both vinyl and plastic can be made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyurethane (PU) and Perspex, the difference is that vinyl clothing is usually fashioned from fabrics that just have a coating of plastic on them. Plastic, on the other hand, is made entirely out of, well, plastic.
The material is not new to fashion – plastic has been experimented with since the ’20s, before making a loud statement during the ’60s – the space age. Designers were looking towards futuristic fashion, and Paco Rabanne spearheaded the move by throwing in unconventional materials, such as plastic (in all its forms) and metal, and fashioning garments out of them. Cue Audrey Hepburn in Two for the Road (1967) – the black PVC Paco Rabanne pantsuit she wore, among others, remains iconic today.
The fashion journey of the material has, however, been through a few (divisive) stereotypes, from purely functional to fetish. Seldom before, though, has it been embraced in its entirety. The Spring/Summer ’18 runways used plastic in its full transparent – sometimes coloured – glory.
The look isn’t futuristic or space age aspirational; it’s functional. We are not talking about wearable plastic bags, but a definitive use of the material through entire collections, including 91 looks at Chanel. We’re talking statement pieces such as capes, bejewelled gloves, high-shine jumpsuits in ruby hues and, of course, boots, as well as accents on prim pencil skirts as seen at Balenciaga (Demna Gvasalia even had actual store awnings on shirts and pants).
At Valentino, Pierpaolo Piccioli opened the show with a cropped plastic jacket embellished with sequins. See-through plastic added a touch of eclecticism worn layered over polished ensembles at Chanel and Calvin Klein 205W39NYC, while adding a slick sheen to athletic styles at Marc Jacobs (he created a cellophane-organza blend).
As much as we hate cliches, it’s hard to deny: Life in plastic is fantastic.
An Abridged Look At The Plastics
Nope, not the gang from Mean Girls, but the women (and some men) from pop culture history who made wearing plastic fashionable.
’20s & ’30s: Cellophane was the Kirakira of its time, appearing in black and white photographs and films like Dancing Lady (1933) (1), giving images a glamorous sheen thanks to its shiny and reflective quality. Stephen Gundle noted in Glamour: A History (2008) that the material conjured the effect of “striptease, which achieved its effect by constantly making the unveiled body more remote.”
’60s: The Mod era saw fashion designers like Pierre Cardin (2), Paco Rabanne and Mary Quant experimenting with plastic as an avant-garde material for futuristic pieces. Rabanne was said to have used 30,000 metres of plastic per month for his designs.
Some of the most iconic plastic fashion moments occurred on the silver screen. Audrey Hepburn wore designs from Paco Rabanne in Two for the Road (3), while the kitschy ’60s spy parody In Like Flint (4) made see-through plastic dresses a talking point.
Clockwise from above: Resin sautoir necklace, Chanel. Calfskin wallet with PVC shopper, $1,300, Celine. Oscar de la Renta PVC and leather pumps, www.oscardelarenta.com. Resin cuffs, Balenciaga. Jimmy Choo x Off-White leather and PVC booties, and PVC mules with crystals, Jimmy Choo. Resin bracelet, Proenza Schouler. Prices unavailable unless stated
Still Life Photography Vee Chin Art Direction Adeline Eng Catwalk Photos Showbit.com Archive Photos Everettcollection.com & TPG/Click Photos
This story first appeared in Female’s February issue.