Fall fashion: Tough love

Los Angeles Times Fashion Critic

Forget the Gossip Girls, Joan Holloway, Bettie Page and those other retro chicks. There is a new feminine ideal this fall, and she kicks butt. If the last five years have been dominated by the preening and pristine women of “Mad Men,” we are now shifting to a tomboy ideal.

We can look to Hollywood as well as the runway for inspiration — recent film heroines such as the bow-and-arrow-wielding Katniss Everdeen of “The Hunger Games,” the cartoon princess Merida in “Brave,” Snow White as reimagined in “Snow White and the Huntsman” and Anne Hathaway in that high-gloss Catwoman cat suit in “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Lisbeth Salander in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” has been influencing many designers this season, most notably Calvin Klein’s Francisco Costa, who had the girl herself, Rooney Mara, sitting front row at his runway in February.


There were also plenty of nods on the runways to that distant silver-screen cousin Marlene Dietrich. Jason Wu’s East-meets-West collection was inspired by Dietrich’s 1932 “Shanghai Express,” and Donna Karan’s pinstripes and fedoras nod to the gender-bending star’s 1930 film “The Blue Angel.”

So, yes, the new tough is about borrowing from the boys. But it’s more than that. It’s about swagger in all its varied forms, from dandyish to downright dangerous. Here are a few manifestations of the trend:

Is it any wonder that leather is everywhere this fall? Versace’s studded, second-skin leather dresses and Givenchy’s kimono-sleeve coats and jumpsuits are the stuff of action heroes. For the rest of us, there are stretch leather pants and moto jackets, which look fresher in bordeaux, navy blue or bottle green than in black.

At the extreme, the new tough is also defined by a bold new silhouette. Big on the top and the bottom, it’s not for everyone. But if you could pull off one of Proenza Schouler’s oversized jackets inspired by fencing, karate and judo, worn with a pair of slouchy, wide-leg trousers (a look also seen at Balenciaga), you could be your own fight club.

Stella McCartney designed the British team’s Olympic uniforms, and her interpretation of the new tough for fall is also sporty, but with a collegiate twist — a varsity jacket paired with cherry-red pleated pants, for example, a silk button-down shirt in a clever print of collaged monograms and an electric blue coat with technical-looking asymmetrical zippers.

Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld takes the tough mood to more futuristic territory. His new three-piece suits (a skirt and jacket over pants) have a sharp geometry, with angular shoulders and polyhedron-shaped sleeves.

Gucci’s Frida Giannini brings dark romance to the look with opulent equestrian-inspired floral jacquard jackets and tassel belts, riding pants tucked into tall boots, wispy chiffon blouses and dramatic velvet capes. Ralph Lauren pairs menswear-inspired houndstooth jodhpurs and pantsuits with rainbow-hued Fair Isle sweaters, colorful fox fur-collared coats and mini crocodile attache cases. And Miuccia Prada takes the mood to dandyish heights with riotous jacquard suits and trippy Mary Jane shoes dipped in rubber — the new gumshoes.

Several designers have added drama to everyday pieces with graphic lines and pops of color that could be drawn from a comic book. Consider Phillip Lim’s wear-to-work, two-toned cigarette pants, black in the front and white in back. Full of contrasts between light and dark, his collection is for the superhero in all of us.

Bold silhouettes. Future shock. Dark romance. Drama. The toughest thing of all may be having to choose.

It’s about swagger in all its varied forms, from dandyish to downright dangerous.