Fashion: Black to basics

Alone or with white, black is the sophisticated shade of summer. Stephanie Smith hails the allure of monochrome.

Black dress, £229, by Sandro, which opens next month in the Victoria Quarter in Leeds.
Black dress, £229, by Sandro, which opens next month in the Victoria Quarter in Leeds.

When the going gets tough, the smartest of the tough turn to black and white to see them through a tricky fashion situation in style.

Summer black is a lesson in chic in itself. It’s all about grown-up dressing, sophisticated, often tailored, and monochrome fits in well with this aesthetic. All black, all white, or a mixing of the two – it’s clever, not least because if you invest in good quality separates you can create many different looks that will work for seasons and years to come.;

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As Coco Chanel herself pointed out: “Black has it all. White, too. Their beauty is absolute. It is the perfect harmony.”

But finding that perfect harmony can be harder to achieve than Coco ever made it seem. It can veer from the overdone to the underdone with the addition or removal of a bag or a pair of shoes. Try all black with a hint of white, perhaps a vest top, a clutch bag or a scarf, and it’s almost impossible not to think of a waitress, as I found once when I attended a garden party wearing a black wrap dress with a white modesty cami under, plus black heels. Before I knew it, I was being asked for top-ups and when the canapes might be appearing. Actually, I had a far more interesting time than I would have done as an ordinary guest.

It’s hard to fail if you stick to making black, or black and white, your foundation and then add a colour on top, but not a garish, bold colour – no, instead a deep, rich, possibly metallic one. For example, black skinny jeans, white silk blouse, black scarf and then a blazer on top with a shine, or an interesting grid pattern or texture in a navy, or grey, but keep it all darkish in tone. Stop the look from being too ’80s retro by keeping hair sleek, make-up understated and footwear fabulous.

Thinking French will help. Luxury French fashion retailer Sandro opens at the Victoria Quarter in Leeds next month. Look out for beautifully tailored, pared-back blazers and elegant little black dresses.

For autumn, the monochrome trend continues to grow in strength, as a look at Victoria Beckham’s striking black and white looks testify, for starters.

On the High Street, Marks & Spencer has put together some luxurious black and white looks for autumn, teaming streamlined wool tailoring with white and cream knits.

While the sales are still on, look out for silk and cotton shorts and blouses in cream or white; black jeans and wool tailored trousers; any knits you can find in black and white, especially long vests to layer and anything with a cowl neck; a simple black dress; but don’t add a flash of white, unless you don’t mind handing round the canapes.