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· Fashion Notes: Sequins

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Fashion Notes: Sequins
by The Kindly One

I used to hate sequins. Previous to a couple of months ago, I considered them tacky, overt, and obvious and couldn't see any use for them. Recently, though, I've come to realize the problem all along hasn't been sequins themselves so much as it has been with their inappropriate use as a design element.

One of my problems with sequins had been their fairly strict virgin/whore connotations. I've primarily only seen sequins as appliques on holiday sweaters or on overly tight, short, and skimpy frocks. While there's a whole lot of room between for experimentation, it takes thinking outside of these extremes to do so. This can be difficult to do when the extremes are so embedded into the cultural consciousness as to be accepted as "the way it is," so it is little surprise that my conversion to sequins began with a step outside my own norms.

French fashion blogger Betty is the first, and most instrumental, person to show me the way with sequins. I love her use of them because she takes everything that always scared me about sequins - their cheapness, frumpiness, tackiness, and overt, aggressive sexuality - and throws it out the window. She's able to wear them simply as just another design element without any allusions to their sordid past.


I've saved my favorite sequin look for first. What I love about this outfit is that it isn't about sequins at all. Instead, it looks as though Betty has thrown on a sweater that just happens to have sequins on it, sidestepping the issue of obviousness and just looking like herself. It also helps that the sequins aren't in some sort of pattern (the ubiquitous flower or butterfly), but instead have a tonal effect, brightening the darker greys and blues of the outfit. And the fact that they are placed on a small, concentrated area of the sweater doesn't hurt.


Sequins don't have to be relegated to supporting role, though. They can be a centerpiece of an outfit so long as the outfit maintains balance. Betty achieves this both through a voluminous cut and the inclusion of neutral and earthy design elements. This tunic would be far too much if it were tight - too overt, too sexy, too much for daytime. This looser, slouchier cut allows for a softer, more wearable look that's infinitely more flattering to a variety of body types than the standard skin-flick of a sequined dress. The earthy shoes also play down the shine to literally ground the look, and the denim works as a kind of universal neutralizer to keep either of the other two elements from standing out too much or working against each other.


If you really want to subvert the norms, though, just use sequins themselves as a neutral. In the wrong hands, this outfit would become a skimpy tank and shorts with no room for the imagination, but Betty transforms the tank into the outfit's grounding piece. By wearing sequins in a neutral tone and matte finish on a more voluminous cut, Betty's able to take a sequined tank and essentially dress it down to the level of a white t-shirt. All the sequins do here is add texture to what would otherwise be a matte, flat outfit so that the tank is an entirely wearable neutral that can either add balance or pop to an outfit.


Pop - that's what I used to think sequins were all about. I still think they can be, though I now have a different idea of what that means thanks to Zanita. Instead of neutralizing sequins, like Betty, Zanita uses them as a whimsical centerpiece to an otherwise adult outfit. The shoes are attention-getters, for sure, but they're fun and funny rather than pushy and sexy, plus they provide a lovely contrast to the black. I have to admit, I've been looking for sequined skimmers since I first saw this picture.

My other gripe with sequins has been that they look cheap - not only in the sense of gaudy, but also as in poorly applied, about to fall off, and just plain busted. Go to a store and you'll often see them applied in some hideous design, too much (all over a full-length gown), or just randomly sprinkled over netting without any thought or purpose.

As with beading, embroidery, lace, and other handiworks, sequins require real craftmanship of application and aesthetics. This is why so much factory-sewn sequin work looks cheap, gawdy, and tacky. The method of production doesn't allow for time and thoughtfulness in application. When sequins are properly accounted for as a design element, as in the picture below, they can end up looking rich, expensive, and purposeful.


This Lanvin dress works because Albert Elbaz has accounted for the way sequins catch and reflect light. It would be far too much silver, sparkle, and "fabulousness" to fully sequin a dress in bright, metallic silver. The use of matte grey-silver is appropriate - it's eye-catching, and that is where it begins and ends. The dress doesn't grasp for your attention or leave you slave to its sheer gaudiness. Instead, the eye is subtly drawn to it so that the viewer only glances and wants to take it more.

This dress is also stunning because it's very, very expensive. Lanvin is a luxury brand in the truest sense, which means that the brand can afford to spend money on design, development, and labor. This allows Elbaz to spend the time necessary to decide on exact placement of sequins - where they must be laid down to catch light, how they need to be placed to allow for draping of the garment, and so forth. This also allows for spending on quality materials, quality craftmanship, and ironically, failure. If a dress doesn't drape right the first time, Elbaz has a little elbow room to play with and perfect the design, certainly more than a designer scraping by. In turn, all of these elements combined with a truly discerning designer allow for exceptional clothing that will neither look cheap now, nor in 20 years.

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7/30/2009 [11]

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