The woman in white (+photos)

By Zoe Walker

Model Kelvin wears (L to R) Nyne maxi dress $419; Vanessa Bruno dress, $980, from Adorno; Georgia Alice sweatshirt dress $399. Photos / Babiche Martens
Model Kelvin wears (L to R) Nyne maxi dress $419; Vanessa Bruno dress, $980, from Adorno; Georgia Alice sweatshirt dress $399. Photos / Babiche Martens

It is minimal and pristine, the shade of virtue and cleanliness, simplicity and restraint. It is brides and virgins, doctors and scientists; innocent, yet clinical.

White offers the ultimate clean slate, inspiring decades of artists and designers to offer their own interpretation. From the white of Greek mythology to Le Corbusier's plain white obsession, has any other colour offered so much?

"White is pure and simple and matches with everything," wrote Christian Dior in 1954, commenting on the colour's ability to portray good grooming. But it must be spotless: the designer advised that for day-time, white "has to be used with great care because it must always be really white and immaculate. If you cannot keep it so it is better not to have it."

White is simple, but, by gosh, is it high-maintenance.

It also may not be as pure as we think, according to Dr James Fox who, in his BBC series A History of Art in Three Colours, noted that in the history of art, white is loaded with ideologies and "may just be the darkest colour of them all".

"It's the austere colour of elitist taste; the unwelcoming colour of those exclusive London art galleries; the sterile colour of Le Corbusier's modernist housing blocks; and the racist colour of the extremists, supremacists and fascists that litter the 20th century."

In fashion, the meaning of white is much less loaded. For most designers it is often simply the ultimate clean canvas on which to play with proportion and silhouette.

Auckland-based fashion designer Georgia Currie, of the label Georgia Alice, has made extensive use of white in her collections, with simple, structured white forms featuring in her spring collection.

"White provides a fresh backdrop. It makes for great layering and always looks crisp. It's a blank canvas for which the rest of the collection can sit," explains the designer, who is drawn to its cleanness and timelessness.

Several other designers have, over the years, used white to make similar statements, from the futuristic, antiseptic whites of Courreges in the 1960s to Phoebe Philo's more recent statements on modern minimalism in her tactile, creamy whites at Celine.

Valentino presented his famous White Collection in 1968, with Vogue noting the "cleanliness and distinction of his crisp whites, his lacy whites, his soft and creamy whites". Comme des Garcons followed that tradition with an all-white collection for spring 2012, described as white drama - "a precise summation of a show that felt like it tracked a progression through life's dramatic waystations: birth, marriage, death, transcendence," wrote Tim Blanks for Style.com. Such is the power of white that it can say so much with so little.

For spring, a season when designers play with ideas of new beginnings and fresh starts, white has proven popular once again. Zambesi's minimal spring collection centres on a series of six all-white looks, while Kate Sylvester's features expanses of stunning white leather and baby-doll dresses, referencing her season muse Marilyn Monroe's frailty and innocence.

Immaculate, virtuous white is also key for Australian label Lover: they have included white lace in almost every collection, inspired by the prudish, high-necked, white dresses worn in the designers' favourite film Picnic at Hanging Rock. The brand has since established White Magick, an ongoing collection of charming white lace dresses.

After seasons of graphic prints and brash colour, what's more rejuvenating than a fresh coat of white?


So Fresh, So Clean: 10 white items to buy right now

- VIVA

Shoot credits:
Photographer: Babiche Martens
Stylist: Rachel Morton
Model: Kelvin at Clyne
Hair and makeup: Carolyn Haslett for M.A.C.

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