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By Freya Barry on

Fashion in the Sun

Ahead of London Fashion Week, we’re looking back at how the Sun has helped inspire trends in the colours and clothes we choose to wear.

When you think of fashion and the Sun you might think of it in the context of weather, particularly the ever-changing seasons and the challenge of dressing fashionably in an unexpected heatwave (no prizes for guessing which one I’m thinking of). But sunshine has inspired more than just the iconic Ray-Bans and the dainty straw boater.

Throughout history fashion designers have sought to capture the glow of our nearest star in a variety of ways, through warm tones, gauzy textures and futuristic sunglasses.

Pair of sunglasses with orange frames and dark green lenses, polythene, mid 20th century, will be displayed in The Sun: Living With Our Star

The Sun has long been associated with grandeur and royalty as King Louis the XIV of France knew all too well. Styling himself as the Sun King he adopted the star as his emblem claiming that France revolved around him as the planets revolved around the Sun. He performed to the delight of his courtiers in Ballet de la nuit as the Greek Sun God Apollo, in an ornate costume decorated with curlicued sun rays. His emblem still adorns the gates of the Palace of Versailles today.

Recreation of the costume worn by Louis XIV as Apollo by David Walker, 1969 © The Royal Academy of Dancing, on display at V&A

The Sun was also a key source of inspiration for perhaps the most famous designer of all time – Coco Chanel. It was Chanel who reversed a centuries-long trend for the wealthy to maintain a pale pallor (often through the use of poisonous mercury) by tanning on holiday in the Mediterranean in the 1920s. The photographs of her disembarking from her yacht in Cannes with a ‘healthy glow’ became iconic, and overnight a touch of soleil became less très paysan and more très chic. To paraphrase Christopher Marlowe, Chanel’s became the face that launched a thousand bronzers.

Poster, British Railways (Southern Region), Sunny Worthing, printed in England at the Baynard Press, 1961.

Fast forward to S/S 2017 and Gareth Pugh dressed models in operatic costumes that borrowed motifs from Roman mythology with glowing crowns covered in spiky sun rays. Pugh reflected on the source of his inspiration post-show:

“In one way the sun is a symbol of creation and warmth – an explosion of power and life – but it can also represent tyrannical power and destruction…So I wanted to explore that duality, to show two sides of the same coin, but for grace to triumph over nature.”

Gareth Pugh S/S 2017 © Vogue

This year, designers waved goodbye to the rose quartz shade of millennial pink and adopted ‘Generation Z yellow’ – a bold shade that hints at rave culture, sunshine and a fearless optimism. From Oscar de la Renta to Tibi it popped up on dresses, prints and in uncompromising beauty looks. It seems the Sun is never out of fashion.

Learn more about humanity’s relationship with our nearest star in this blog series, based on our recent exhibition The Sun: Living With Our Star.