As we usher in a new fashion season, talk inevitably turns to the inspiration behind the trends. And what becomes ever-apparent, is how the past infuses the present. With everyone from Alexander McQueen to Erdem referencing Victoriana, and Chanel, Saint Laurent and Isabel Marant taking style notes from the high-shine ’80s, it’s evident that decades in fashion don’t die, they get reborn.
One of the most enduring and transformative fashion decades of all is the ’60s, an age that embraced experimentation and individual identity more than ever before. An epoch with staying power, for spring/summer 2016 iterations were found peppered through the collections of Jeremy Scott, Rochas and Giambattista Valli.
Yet beyond the runways and boutique rails, it is more often than not the faces behind the fashion that cement its dateless durability. In the case of the Swinging Sixties, Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, Mary Quant and Edie Sedgwick each defining a particular school of style and serving as perennial inspiration well into the millennium.
Which is why, for S/S16, Middle Eastern brand Zayan The Label turns to influential 1960s icon Jean Birkin, with her gap-teeth and quirky British-meets-French dress sense, as a style reference for its new Darling, Je T’aime collection. Understanding that what made the style of the ’60s so special, such as a yearning for femininity, naturalness and a somewhat undone aesthetic, appeals just as strongly today, all the way from Europe to Arabia.
“Sixties fashion produced lots of iconic shapes on iconic fashion personalities, which designers have continually referenced because of their distinctive style,” says designer, Zayan Ghandour. “But the ’60s wasn’t about a contrived or ‘put together’ look, it was about easiness and looking natural. There’s no effort required in putting on a little flirty dress, and that has a lot of appeal nowadays to women everywhere who are always on the go and are looking for something just as pretty as it is easy.”
What Jane Birkin did for fashion was to introduce an insouciant, laissez-faire, loucheness to it, ushering in a new era of free-spirited, charming, youthful sensibility. One packed with attitude. “Everything she wore became iconic,” adds Zayan, of the original ingénue’s influence. “From girl-next-door to icon, her look can translate to any style and be worn by any woman. It is simple but with a styling twist that manifested in the way she combined her outfits. Everything from her iconic hairstyle to her wicker basket to her Mary-Janes became reference points that were adaptable by women who wanted to emulate her style.”
As with all fashion reincarnations, Zayan has taken Jane Birkin’s style and imprinted her own contemporary mark to make it relevant to women today. “It’s Jane Birkin with the extra detail,” she says of the 55-piece collection that hits stores this month. “While she would have worn a plain white T-shirt, ours comes with pearls. And we have an entire lace line in the collection inspired by the iconic lace-collar dress she wore. To appeal to our Middle Eastern customers, we took her understated elegance a notch higher.”
Recapturing one of Jane Birkin’s most iconic images taken in 1970, Jessica wears: Carla dress, Dhs2,205, Zayan The Label.
One such customer is Lebanese, Abu Dhabi-based Jessica Chadid, seen here recreating some of the French actress’ most iconic looks in Zayan’s Darling, Je T’aime designs. With her willowy limbs, fringed forehead and delicate femininity, Jessica is the archetypal modern day Birkin.
Believing that there is “only one Jane Birkin”, 23-year-old Jessica understands the power of both the 1960s and Birkin herself. “From the fashion, movies and culture, the ’60s seemed like a rather exciting decade,” she muses. “So many fashions came out of it and they are still being channelled today. Jane Birkin’s style has always been part of that for me. She’s always inspired me and always will. I love her simplicity, and her ability to wear anything and look amazing.” From her cool staples of cut-off flared jeans and plain white tees to super-minis and that midriff-bearing back-to-front white crochet dress from 1969, she wore her looks effortlessly, believes Jessica. “She even made a straw bag look chic!” she laughs, “She just knew how to wear basics and make them look fabulous.”
Knowing that Middle Eastern women don’t just follow trends, they set them, Jessica adds, “If you look back at the old photos and movies from the Middle East, women here were following a lot of the same trends in Europe at the time. Today, however, I think women in this region are carving out their niche when it comes to individual style, some of whom use the ’60s as a creative base to build something unique upon.” For Jessica, that means channelling Birkin’s oh-so-cool style DNA with jeans, ballerina pumps, cropped tops, mini-skirts and big sunglasses, but leaving the straw back at the door. “I’ll team flared jeans with a more contemporary top and accessories,” she explains. “I’ll take her style, pick what I love and match it with little signatures to make a look my own.”
Jessica wears: Jane sweater, Dhs874; Frenchie shorts, Dhs690, both Zayan The Label
A style predilection occurring ever-more in this region; where once monobrand top-to-toe was au fait, now it’s all about the mix-and-match. “It’s not about what you wear, it’s how you wear it,” Zayan confirms. “Jane Birkin would wear the simplest of things but give it that twist that made it so stylish and timeless. The 1960s also demonstrated that you can play dress-up but still look very natural,” she adds. “Now more than ever women are looking for these special details, looking for collections that retain a feel of exclusivity, and pieces that aren’t replicated on the high street.”
Jessica agrees, “I believe that to have your own personal style you have to be confident. It is how you wear your clothes, with a touch of something fabulous that makes you stylish.”
Jessica wears: Jane dress, Dhs2,205, Zayan The Label
From the 1960s to 2016, it’s evident that women still channel the same style directive: confidence, attitude, a certain free-spirited je ne sais quoi and the ability to draw on inspiration from a previous time while pioneering their own trademark aesthetic in the process. As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and Jane Birkin is the quintessential icon that proves true style never fades.
Words: Emily Baxter. Make-up: Natalie Tufenkjian. This article appears in the March issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia. On sale now.