Mirror, Mirror: The sleek scarf goes on and on

Posted: April 17, 2014

All during this awfully cold winter, I took comfort in infinity scarves. And although the winds are warming, I want to hold on to my stylish security blanket.

Judging from the explosion of lightweight wraps on this spring's fashion scene - bandeau and shawl, solid and print, tasseled and zippered - I'm not alone.

"You just wrap yourself in them over and over and over again," said Ken Downing, Neiman Marcus' famed fashion director, as he exited a Drexel University lunch in his honor Friday afternoon. "And they look great with a moto jacket ... It just adds a dose of cool to everyone's wardrobe."

Some fashion experts credit this spring's scarf renaissance to our emerging global style. As those countries that require women to cover up become dream destinations and fashion epicenters - think Dubai - what's modest becomes marvelous.

In addition, the one-size-fits-all accessory is an easy (and somewhat affordable) way to introduce the dizzying prints-on-prints trend to our wardrobes. Go ahead and buy that pink tiny peony-print scarf with the chic turquoise cheetah-pattern border.

Not only are scarves key layering pieces, they are a big part of the androgyny trend on runways and in Hollywood. For every time Solange Knowles or Kim Kardashian is photographed casually wrapped in a cozy infinity, you can find a pic of Kanye West, Justin Timberlake, or Pharrell Williams scarfed up as well. (See Williams' performance last weekend at Coachella.)

Speaking of Coachella, the explosion of music festivals is behind the season's scarf craze, too. Whether tied around arms or waists or used as picnic blankets, scarves are right up there with cutoff shorts and tasseled halter tops when it comes to the warm-weather looks of millennial-type hippies.

"They are a versatile and practical item in addition to just being pretty," said Karen Giberson, executive director of the New York-based Accessories Council, which last week featured three scarves in its Mother's Day event. "Fashionably speaking, you get a little bit of a lot of stuff with them."

No wonder there are so many YouTube tutorials on how to tie them.

Customers love them, and so do their makers. Scarves offer young designers who are trying to find their niche in the industry an opportunity to experiment with new methods.

Christa Halby, the Connecticut-based designer of Christa Louise, makes scarves using a technique called fabric-felting. Using soap and water, she blends wool into silk to create her colorful swaths.

And Lele Tran, who owns Old City co-op US*U.S., added a zipper to her signature colorblocked kerchief to make the Lele Zipper Scarf. Wearable in more than a half dozen ways, including as a classic neck warmer, a halter top, and a skirt, it has become quite the item among the city's high-style devotees.

"The fashion industry is very competitive and making clothing in different sizing that fits everyone is a real challenge," explained Tran, who has been a Philadelphia-based designer for nearly two decades. She is hoping her patent-pending one-size-fits-all silk scarf will become the item for which she is known.

Other brands like L.L. Bean and Scarf Addict are infusing scarves with technology to protect people from ultraviolet rays.

Portland, Ore.-based designer Summer Kramer is celebrating the one-year anniversary of her SummerSkin clothing line that includes maxi dresses, pants, tops, and, yes, scarves fashioned from bold-hued bamboo and spandex blends.

"It's such a massive trend for the season," said Kramer, 33, a melanoma survivor. "It's a natural fit for what we do, and it's the easiest way to spice up your outfit."

Scarves have a long fashion history of tying things together, said Clare Sauro, director of the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection at Drexel University. They, with tunics and skirts, were the original building blocks of wardrobes in ancient civilizations like Greece and Rome. In warm climates, they were natural sun protectors.

As our culture became more Western-focused, scarves were predominantly thought of as cold-weather items, whether shawls, French capes or pelerines, or partlets, Elizabethan-era shoulder coverings.

People will continue to keep scarves in their wardrobe because, Sauro said, they are both "fashionable and functional and they complete any outfit.

"They are among the most timeless of silhouettes."


ewellington@phillynews.com

215-854-2704 @ewellingtonphl

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