​These Are the Labels Pushing an Anything-Goes Agenda After Dark


A few years ago, Milan-based style blogger Candela Novembre was rushing from a fashion show—in which she’d walked—to the city’s annual star-every-square-foot amfAR gala. So she threw on a bubble-shaped, brushstroke-print Vionnet raincoat: “It was short and full of color. Completely unexpected. Everyone was like, ‘You went to amfAR in a raincoat?’”

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Consider that just one of the leaves in Novembre’s prodigious stylebook. She’s also worn a completely transparent lace skirt—over tap pants—with a sweater that Marian the Librarian might reject as too conservative, and attended a black-tie gala at La Scala in a pink gown by the label that looked, with its candy-pink color and oversize bow, plucked from the wardrobe of a very chic fashion clown. Novembre mingles the bright-color–loving style of her homeland, Argentina, with the Gucci-driven eccentricity of her newfound home. And she’s not alone: Instead of monochromatic cocktail frocks, Novembre and her friends turn to statements like pajamas for evening, courtesy of the Milan-based brand For Restless Sleepers; or dresses dripping with disco glitter, from the boudoir-inspired Milanese label Attico. These are just two of the newish names that have sprung up in response to demand for a very old-fashioned commodity: eveningwear. Yes, the word brings with it a whiff of mothballs, a holdover from an era in which “dressing for dinner” was a thing. But if, these days, “evening” can mean almost anything—from a casual Netflix night with a backyard projector to a red-carpet event—young designers are realizing the same anything-goes ethos can also apply to eveningwear.

A pajama “gown” by For Restless Sleepers for spring 2018.

Courtesy of the designer

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For Restless Sleepers, for instance, came about when designer Francesca Ruffini decided to start wearing pajamas out at night. She enlisted a tailor to make them at first, and “in the beginning, I never wore them together,” she recalls. “Just the top, like a jacket; or the bottom, like elegant trousers.” Initially, she elicited “very strange reactions. People were afraid of wearing something so intimate to go outside.” But since she started her line in 2015, fashion has seen pajamas evolve from a left-field style idea to an evening staple. (And, as Ruffini points out, it’s a staple with serious history: Coco Chanel was known to sport her pj’s on the beach beginning in the late 1910s.)

“I’m obsessive about comfort,” Ruffini says. She doesn’t like to feel any fabrics against her skin except cotton and silk, the latter sourced from Lake Como, whose factories have produced silk for luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Pucci. Her latest addition, ankle-length pajama shirts, proves a comfortable alternative to the standard gown. (Novembre’s styling tip: “Never put pajamas with a flat shoe.”)

Giorgia Tordini, the cofounder of two-year-old Attico, also began designing to meet her own needs. When she and design partner Gilda Ambrosio found themselves reaching for the rich, maximalist vintage pieces in their closets again and again, “we wanted to reproduce the same aesthetic for a woman of today—modern and fresh but still with that slight sense of something old,” Tordini says. They named the label after the Italian word for “penthouse,” and have shown in one dizzyingly chic Milan aerie after another. Says Tordini, “Attico is a fashion brand that kind of creates a world around it.” The duo’s own circuits around the street-style scene didn’t hurt the brand’s rise. Says Tordini, a tad bashful, “People enjoy seeing when we wear it.”

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Tordini is another designer who doesn’t believe in rules for eveningwear: Attico recently added jeans, which she recommends wearing with one of their sequined robe dresses. “When you look at it, you’re like, ‘Oh, this is an eveningwear piece,’ but it’s nice to unbalance it with something completely out of context.” The label’s satin pouches—a carefree alternative to the standard box clutch—have also become a hit, and for spring 2018 they’ve introduced mini feather-fringed bags meant to be worn around the neck like jewelry.

Meanwhile, J. J. Martin, an editor-turned-designer also on the Milanese evening circuit—though, she says, “I’m not a nightclub person; I like to go to bed at 10”—has made maximalist prints the hallmark of La DoubleJ, her line of dresses and separates. “What’s great about wearing a print, especially one in a fancy fabric like silk,” she says, “is that it automatically can feel very dressed up.” She’ll wear one of her own dresses with Stan Smiths and “a big roly-poly sweater” on the weekend, then switch to jewelry and fancy flats after dusk. That casual approach suits Milan, where “we entertain at home; that’s what people do. There is this cozy elegance.”

The flip side of the eccentric, print-heavy Italian approach is the starker style now ruling in Paris. There’s a reason Le Smoking originated in that city, given the local preference for more sober formality. One of the most notable heirs to the tuxedo-dressing throne is Pallas, a label that’s been around since 1960 but launched an exceedingly hip tuxedo collection five years ago by the husband-and-wife team of heir-to-the-house Daniel Pallas and Véronique Bousquet. It began when Pallas started making items for Bousquet, who eschews gowns and all things froufrou. “The first style I made for her was a tuxedo—even when she asked me for a dress, it was a tuxedo dress,” says Pallas, who grew up idolizing photos of YSL collections. “I was amazed by the strength that a tuxedo could give a woman. There is no modernity anymore with gowns. If you look at the red carpet, the stronger women are the ones wearing tuxedos.” When model Aymeline Valade wore a Pallas suit to Cannes in 2014, the designer remembers, “it was a shock; all the gowns around her were from another century.” For fall 2017, the two loosened things up with Vegas-inspired tuxes fit for a Chapel of Love wedding. Pallas envisions the silhouette as a 24/7 uniform: “When you wear a tuxedo at night, you are a strong woman, and when you wear your tuxedo jacket with jeans and sneakers, you are the coolest girl in the world.”

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A Vegas-inspired tuxedo look from Pallas for fall 2017.

Courtesy of the designer

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Another silhouette again ascendant? The slipdress. “Every time we got an invitation, it was such a pain to find something that we actually loved—that felt cool, modern, and young and wasn’t exorbitantly expensive,” says Katherine Holmgren, an art-world veteran who set out to solve that problem in 2014 by cofounding London-based Galvan along with friends Sola Harrison, Carolyn Hodler, and Anna-Christin Haas. Their search for non–try-hard pieces led them to the silhouette, now the foundation of the Galvan collection—and of a bridal range launching this month. Galvan’s initial inspiration was a Peter Lindbergh photo of Amber Valletta, at the zenith of her waifish ’90s powers, wearing a slip accessorized with angel wings. In contrast with some of the showy, lingerie-inspired versions out there, Galvan’s live up to the stripped-down ’90s mandate, with ultraclean lines and few, if any, embellishments. For fall, they’re feeling another grunge-era staple, velvet. For those who fear its teen-goth associations, Holmgren insists, “If you’re keeping the lines simple and clean, it still manages to be quite modern.” She calls the result “not your mother’s velvet.”

One reason for eveningwear’s sudden reemergence is, of course, the 24/7 documentation of social media. A zany Gucci bee print or Adam Selman denim jumpsuit, after all, garners more likes than the standard LBD. And on a practical level, several of the designers interviewed for this story note that now that women chronicle their nighttime escapades in detail, it’s even harder to repeat outfits. Martin herself has had moments of “‘Oh my God, I’ve been caught wearing this dress 10 times. I guess I can’t wear this again tonight’—though I do.”

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But in many ways, the new evening clothes serve the same purpose as their predecessors—they can make you look and feel fantastic. “Women want to be a little bit excessive sometimes,” Tordini says. “It makes you feel more like a woman.” And Martin explains her evening-dressing philosophy as something any woman can aspire to: “I’m smiling, I’m laughing, I’m enjoying myself. My life—and my dress.”

NIGHT MOVES

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Whether it’s a Vionnet raincoat repurposed for the red carpet (left, on Candela Novembre), a vintage-inspired Attico gown (on Giorgia Tordini, center), or a Pallas tuxedo (on Aymeline Valade, right), the best evening looks don’t play by the rules.

This article originally appears in the January 2018 issue of ELLE.

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