Since ancient times, the cape has served as cover-up. Now, fashion designers are stating the obvious – you need a cape for FW20.
As mesmerizing yet fictitious as the image of the hero donning a flowing cape might be, there’s a kernel of truth in the meaning behind why many have worn capes throughout history. The protective piece of fabric, sometimes accompanied by a hood, most commonly associated with kings, queens, magicians, wizards, and even She-Ra, offers a layer of protection to the body and the visage. Apart from serving as a fashion or even a religious statement, capes protected against harsh weather and also maintained one’s privacy when needed.
In Roman times, one often finds a cloak or cape in the statues of military commanders, fastened at one shoulder. Capes were commonly worn in medieval Europe by the rich and poor alike, attached with a hood. Then in the 19th century, during the Victorian period, a combination of capes with a chaperon or hood became vogue in Europe. The cape also carries religious significance. Centuries ago, Muslims, Jews, and Christians, particularly in Arabia and in the Levant region, wore a cloak similar to what is referred to as the abaya today. While the history of the abaya, like the cloak, remains vague, historical evidence demonstrates how the robe-like garment was also worn in ancient Mesopotamia.
The cape has made a comeback at different intervals throughout history and today, it is once again having a moment of glory. If there was one obvious trend on the FW20 runways, particularly in New York and Paris, the cape was it. Indeed, this season we’ll spend a lot of time taking advantage of the spacious forms that the cape element brings to fashion. Designers such as Rick Owens, who offered a long statement puffer cape in baby blue, and Givenchy’s Clare Waight Keller, whose seductive red pagoda shoulder cape slim-fit dresses drew inspiration from the stars of French cinema, played with capes, transforming them into everyday and evening attire in new ways. In Dior’s FW20 collection, a sculptural black ruffled cape signified once again that the cape trend was very much the zeitgeist.
Some of the Middle East’s biggest design names, particularly from Lebanon, are similarly maintaining the age-old fashion element with new additions. “A cape is an envelope that protects the body; a surprising element that can hide everything and reveal many things,” says Rabih Kayrouz.
For his Spring Couture collection, the designer offered a transparent mesh-like black robe. In previous collections, Kayrouz has often included long capes in a multitude of colors and cuts. “In the world of couture, the cape element will never be outdated or out of style,” states Lebanese couturier Rami Kadi. “What I love about capes is that they always add a touch of royalty, flawlessness, and elegance to the designs.” Kadi, who is known for his vibrant use of distinctive and psychedelic colors and unconventional cuts, often incorporates light capes into his collections. “We always use the cape to enhance some of our pieces, especially wedding gowns,” he adds. “While the origin of the cape is traditional, we love to modernize it in our collections and give it new life. Sometimes we make it long or short and plain, and other times we embroider it with delicate designs.”
From ready-to- wear to haute couture, capes have also appeared in many of Georges Hobeika’s collections. “In our last couture collection, we presented caped skirt suits and printed capes, endowing them with a more modern and casual feel,” he states of his sartorial cape approach. Lebanese designer Zuhair Murad’s showstopping gowns, suits, and skirts have long been known for their showy, sequin-laden, and dazzling appeal. They are the epitome of contemporary majesty. To that end, the designer often incorporates capes. Some are merely fastened to a slim-fit outfit while others are attached to a flowy robe-like dress with long sleeves with a cut just above the hand so that you can ever so slightly see the fingers. An intimate elegance can be found here as well as remnants of the cape’s ancient and protective uses. “The purpose of inserting capes to a collection is to add a majestic allure,” says Murad. “A cape emphasizes the glamour of the piece.” Perhaps it is this princess-cum-hero quality of the cape that makes this fashion element timeless and especially attractive this season. She who dons the cape, can well and truly save herself.
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Originally published in the November 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia