Linen, once the mainstay of hippies and home furnishings, is experiencing a resurgence this season, thanks to designers at SS18 reworking the natural fabric in a host of contemporary ways. Woven from the flax plant, linen has been used for clothing since Mesopotamian times, but has recently been relegated to resort wear, all floaty kaftans and loose wide-legged trousers.
Why, then, are designers reviving linen now? It’s certainly a palate cleanser amid all the Gucci maximalism of late, as Candice Fragis, merchandising director at Farfetch, suggests: "It's an elevated version of minimalism which works well alongside some of the more extreme trends – raw fabrics are more interesting and can also be so luxurious." Linen’s return could also be a result of the drive to create more sustainable collections, as an eco-friendly, luxe alternative to cotton. Maybe it follows on from last season’s revival of that other retro fabric, corduroy, or maybe designers are simply embracing it once again as a warm-weather staple.
"Linen has always been a great material for summer, but it has been suspiciously absent in designers' collections over the last few seasons, with the exception of the resort wear category," Ida Petersson, womenswear buying director at Browns, explains. "Due to the massive growth that this category has experienced in the last two years, it feels natural that more designers are getting braver and experimenting with it again to great success." So it’s time to rethink your notions of linen as an art teacher and holidaymaker favourite, and instead look to SS18’s shows for sartorial inspiration.
"Loewe has always done linen well," Fragis says, and this season was no exception. Linen waterfall-hemmed skirts in forest green with tan detailing put the statement skirt front and centre, while black linen shirt dresses with contrasting white buttons schooled us on easy summer workwear. Rejina Pyo, the new fashion week favourite who’s filling a Phoebe Philo-shaped hole, is offering linen in a thoroughly contemporary way, too. Her SS18 show gave practical favourites like the trench and pencil skirt a feminine twist, and the collection was littered with linen and earthy hues. "Pyo has become a go-to for a more modern and interesting take on using these natural materials," Fragis explains.
"There were standout pieces from both Nanushka and Staud," Petersson says, two emerging brands to watch this season. Staud’s summer collection features linen tabard dresses with lace-up detailing and spaghetti-strap jumpsuits perfect for sunny climes, while Nanushka’s striped loose trousers are made modern with wraparound blouses with ballooned sleeves. This relaxed aesthetic is how Fragis will be styling the fabric this summer: "I love a linen suit for summer and a jumpsuit is a great option too. Linen shirts can also be super chic and take you from the beach to dinner on a summer holiday – I usually buys men's linen shirts."
We’ll be wearing this Topshop Mango two-piece, the ideal summer-in-the-city workwear duo. "By wearing tailored linen – which was a huge trend for SS18 – it’s an excellent way of showcasing the material in a different light." Zara does a fantastic khaki jacket, and Mango's turmeric-hued blouse is a perfect see-you-through-summer staple. As for maintenance, linen has traditionally put people off thanks to the pesky creases that require ironing after every wash. Good news, then, that the fabric gets softer with every wash, meaning after first wear your piece will eventually become easier to manage. Expect to find us wafting around the city (and beach) in summer's lightweight comeback kid.