To all you lovely readers, who have been hooked on to your couches, watching Bridgerton and The Crown on Netflix in recent times, were you just not captivated by the exuberance of it all? From their ballrooms, mansions and palaces, to their fashion styles of the haute couture and the bric-à-brac, the elite classes in this gilded age believed in flaunting their opulence.
Rachel Zoe once said, “Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak.” From the way one dresses, carries themselves to even how their personal spaces are designed, it all is an extension of their personality. Often touted as an influential era, not only for their fashion choices, Victorian architecture, filled with infinite character, too, has etched its way and proved to remain a classic after all these years.
To start with, it was a period when a powerful woman ascended the throne, with much gravitas and aplomb. Having reigned from 1837 until her death in 1901, this era of Queen Victoria is often remembered as a time of prolific industrial, political, scientific and military revolution within the United Kingdom. It is also lauded as a time a woman shackled stereotypes, and shattered the glass ceiling effect of sorts. Additionally, she is said to have breathed regality into the fashion and living standards of people, which is being majorly revived in the 21st century, globally.
Class differences aside, the crème de la crème of the upper society, the modest middle class or the infamous artistes, were mainly conjoined by a few statement staples. Now, if you are a fan of Jane Austen novels- Do you not remember the distinction in their stature, be it whilst comparing Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley’s chateaux with the humble Bennett farmhouse, or their lifestyles in her masterpiece, the Pride and Prejudice? From the Victorian interior design styles to the garbs and finery that they adorned, there was a clash between maximalism and minimalism.
To get an adept understanding of how these trends are coming back in 2021, we asked two successful women entrepreneurs, Riddhi Jain and Natasha Aggarwal, from the field of fashion and interior designing, respectively, about their take on this influx, and how they incorporate the same into their work.
Honing her childhood dream, Riddhi of the Riddhi Jain Label believes that ‘Fashion is Art and art is about perception’. Having received her Diploma in Fashion Designing from INIFD, she loves to redefine and experiment through her chic and boisterous designs.
GOING DOWN MEMORY LANE: FASHION MANIA
Speaking of the Victorian Era fashion, we have been seeing influences of it making a comeback, since the last five years. Heavily consorting to the old is new trend, it was the Paris Fashion Week in 2018, which created a huge stir and uproar alike for the design stalwarts for their stupendous outfit collections, through which they celebrated this bygone era. Vivienne Westwood, Elie Saab, and Hermes ensured that the stoic buttoned-up Victorian-style juxtaposed against the uninhibited sexual prowess of the British Punk genre throughout the winter-fall season.
From traces of Gothic revivalism to a frou-frou gown designed in a lightweight manner, and the gigantic red flame baroque tulle hat; to Saab’s ‘dark romance’ staples consisting of high necklines, statement bell and Juliet sleeves, circumscribed shoulders and ruffles galore- we relived the lacquered age, semi-transporting us back in time.
Over time, we have noticed some fashion trends have made their way back into our closets, but with a novel twist. All features that scream of being ‘elaborate’ such as frills, pleats, chantilly and ruffles among lots of other fineries have been donned by several distinguished personalities from top-notch actresses and the likes.
It is no surprise that these garments defined the ‘Romantic Era’- the brush of satin sashaying as you waltz in your prim, proper and sophisticated gown, with a dapper, well-groomed jacketed partner leading your way.
Read on to know more about the designs dominating the Vogue covers and runway, alike:
Corset: Often touted as a waist-reducing undergarment, corsets for women provided an illusion of a long, lean torso, with a cinched waistline. Made of sheets of stiff linen, they were laced at the back in considerable quantities, so that it would provide a woman with a quintessential hourglass figure (they had quite the body ideals, we must say). From hourglass to ribbon, wasp and S-shaped corsets to clinchers and bustiers, they were meant for various body types. Riddhi strongly believes that today, ‘comfort is of utmost importance.’
A trend popularised by Kylie Jenner and Deepika Padukone is to pair an overbust corset, which is strapless over an oversized white shirt and boyfriend jeans for girls. Also, known as the ‘Reverse Layer’, it looks absolutely edgy and spunky. Another iconic trend that has emerged is to hone a more androgynous style and pair a classic pant suit consisting of a blazer, with a neutral corset if you want to keep the look minimal, or add a pop up colour if you feel playful. Imbibing our culture, we Indian women have been inspired to rock a corset blouse with a traditional six-yard saree. Not only does it look ‘élégante’, but also unconventionally intrepid.
Ruffle Love: Screaming of high octane drama, this trend is by far the most romantic notion of the Victorian era dresses. Trimmed layering being helmed as a key feature, either on the sleeves; a lace or a luxe fabric dress or a skirt, this style looks resplendent and jaw-dropping. According to Riddhi Jain, ruffle sarees, a style popularised by fashionista and designer, Ridhi Mehra looks so feminine. Her personal favourite is the ruffle sleeve saree blouses from Jade’s collection. An experimenter herself, Riddhi Jain completely lives by this style. Intricately embroidered lace, frills and ruffles add texture, flounce and an ostentatious element, uplifting an entire outfit. To play it down, maxis with ruffles and pleats make for a chic, cutesy and a vibrant brunch option.
Sleeves: The tightly fitted engageates or the bell sleeve dresses are making a huge splash in the high fashion world. They looked swoon-worthy when designed as white lace or velvet ball-gowns. Today, they are widely used as a gallant dress, giving off an easy-breezy vibe, and are extremely popular among wedding ateliers (Remember, Kate Middleton’s white Alexander McQueen trousseau?). Puffed sleeves give off boss-woman, corporate vibes, and adds the dramatic vigour; if you team it up with trousers or a pencil skirt and heels, you will be ready to conquer the world. Pair a bell-sleeved dress with a pair of mules or heels, and you’re good to rock that ditsy look. Similarly sleeved crop tops paired with a skirt or skinnies look amazing.
Heirloom jewellery: From diamond crowns and tiaras to broaches and earrings, Queen Victoria loved her bijouterie. Touted as symbolic and sentimental pieces, Victorians prided themselves in owning their share of pearls, diamonds and rubies, and passing it down to their succeeding generations. Jewellery inspired from this era, was seen in the Givenchy SS12 collection by Ricardo Tisci in the form of crystal-encrusted septum rings and collarbone-skimming earrings, while Dolce & Gabbana created a stir with their gem-enshrined jewellery. Eminent for its Gothic influence, dog collars, chains and chokers, with designs consisting of bats, crucifixes and serpents (hello Bvlgari), are seen by elite designers or replicated in the hip hop jewellery genre and fusion jewellery. Embellishments are also encrusted on couture outfits (Ralph & Russo signature). Some of the timeless pieces iridescent with some of the crowned jewels also look gorgeous with Indian wedding wear.
Being a fashionista herself, Riddhi Jain fully accepts these trends put forth by us. She further added,
“From extra tiered lehengas and high collared and power sleeves, these norm-breaking statements are accentuated by many influencers. Loungewear labels like Florence Nightingales to even our umbrellas have frills on them”.
She, however, strongly opinionated that body positivity should be upheld today.
A SNIPPET OF THE VICTORIAN INTERIORS: INSPIRED RESURGENCE
Minimalist. Sleek. Breezy. Spacious. Absolutely not! The Victorian interior design style was an antithesis to our modern style of living. Have you seen the inside of the Buckingham Palace of London, either in real-time or in pictures? (Aren’t we all just guilty of getting a whiff of where the world’s most prominent royals reside?) Coming back, there are certain distinguishing features that we may have noticed. Oversized doors, woodwork, intricately carved panels, a tinge of maroon and gold, wainscoting panelling and a grand staircase with wrought iron. Yes, we are talking about the Victorian possibilities for design.
To give a quick history lesson, this decadent era was a time of great economic progress as it propounded the industrial revolution. An obsolete version of the infamous ‘American Dream’ for the Victorians, this time period gave a chance to the middle class to rise in status, which earthed in them the desire to emulate the upper-class lifestyle. In short, ‘excessive’ was the order of the day. Well, now, do you have any guesses for the current lingo for the same? Yes, you probably guessed it accurately- ‘Over the top’ or ‘OTT’. With certain fads coming back in vogue today, we think that it is of paramount importance to understand the distinguished aspects of such luxury home décor.
1. Colour: The colour palette was sophisticated to an extent, mainly involving a mix of primary and tertiary colours, thereby subconsciously bringing about some harmony. Jewel tones of burgundy, emerald green, navy blue and dark, mahogany brown dominated the first part of this era. Since having a fireplace at home or burning coal was a necessity, these colours aimed at hiding any meandering smoke or ashes. Later, people started opting for brighter colours and pastels such as grey and lavender.
2. Furniture and Upholstery: Houses back then were cluttered, and upholstery was for the champions- heavyweighted! Tufted couches in leather or rich fabrics such as satin, hefty silk damask and velvets filled up their spaces. Eye-catching tasselled curtains; probably what you’d see at an opera today, accentuated the window frames, and these dark colours uplifted the entire space. Reminiscent of a European fairytale, elaborate ornamentation was key. Bare rooms were considered for the ordinary, and therefore, art deco style was a rage. Overstuffed furniture was often embellished with gilt, mother of pearl or cloisonné to make the room vibrant and one of its kind. Maintaining a fine line between outlandish and delicate, this genre proved to be quite cosy too. From delicate frills, flowers, lace, china rugs, and the knickknacks, to the jumbo sofas, cabinets, windows and mirrors, a sweet cacophony resulted from this contrast. The concept of Christmas and Christmas tree decoration items became popular during this time.
3. Architectural features: Stain glass paintings etched on the windows, involutedly carved window panes, extravagant art décor for homes, busts and souvenirs, encaustic tiles, captured family portraits or prints, and most importantly, antique items for home décor- all screamed of this age. One mainstay back then was definitely the multiple wallpapers for various rooms, such as the floral print, geometric style, and ‘lincrusta and anaglypta and trompe l'oeil ("fool-the-eye")’.
Patterns replicating a biblical scene was painted as art for wall décor or carved on the ceilings. Also, inspired by different cultures such as the Greek and the Renaissance Period, several factors were imbibed. Marble flooring, and dark wood work with dadorails, skirtings and architraves embodied the artistic taste during the 19th-century timeline. Lighting in the evenings tended to be dimmer, mainly due to the use of candles. A symbol of opulence definitely was the glass-ornate chandelier. A popular concept back then was to have a ‘parlor’, which translates to our living rooms today.
Etiquette, decorum and social refinement were definitely a class apart in that erstwhile era.
An uber-talented Interior Designer, Natasha Aggarwal of the Studio NACL has a profound love for ‘all things design’. Being an alumna of Domus Academy, Milan, she has trained under pioneers such as Mr. Pinakin Patel. She was also a finalist at the Times SHE women entrepreneur 2020 award (Home & Living), with her work being recognised by several Design journals, both locally and globally.
After going on an imaginative quest, it’s time to come back to the present. Dishing out her expert advice, Natasha Aggarwal of Media NACL gave us some exciting insights about this norm, which we hope helps you redefine your design decisions. As we are more caught up in the corporate bustle, and are more functional in nature, what we need is an alchemy of the traditional with contemporary. She strongly abides by the quote, ‘home is where the heart is’- a safe space where we can be our authentic selves. Our space organisation, selection of colours and materials are all markers of our personality markers. A maximalist may by default be touted as vibrant and chirpy. She personally feels that keeping our modern sensibilities in mind, we use these aesthetics in a ‘constricted fashion’ only to detail and design spaces.
Some trends that Natasha is rooting for to make a comeback are the “Victorian dressing areas, along with their ornamental details, mouldings, storage units and frames”.
The black and the white coats add a quirky statement. To add some hue; she believes that “we must return to using pastel shades such as onion pink or mint green”. Classic furniture pieces attributed to its bulky silhouette are being revamped merely by adding embellished handles or knobs- a quick fix. To conclude, she mentioned that such house décor also includes unifying “antique brass and minor accessories, fabric and tasselled lampshades”.
If you want to incorporate Victorian chic décor in your house, but are confused to find a starting point, then do not worry- We’ve got your covered. Read on to know a few modern ways of managing this juxtapose:
1. Embrace the vintage feel: You can do this by pairing the old with new. Marble flooring, can be off-set with a wooden fireplace, or a granite table can have some antique accessories, which may be brass-laden for instance.
2. Invest in a Statement Mirror: An ancient relic, this can be a style statement in an otherwise airy, decluttered room with indoor plants and modern equipment around it.
3. Antique it up: In a white room, decorate the space with some antique furniture and traditional light installations to create the modern Victorian vibe.
4. Allusion: Spark up the space with that one defining piece from the Victorian silhouette- a freestanding tub, for instance. Teaming up a Victorian Bed frame with a present-day pillow and duvet can be showstoppers. Use encaustic tiling in one section of the house.
5. Let your accents do the talking: Utilise your built-in accents such as crown mouldings, a fireplace or the stain glass video with novel furniture around it.
6. Cluster your space: Look for inspiration from a home décor blogger, and creatively cluster your space with new accessories to give it the maximalist feel.
7. Victorian Silhouettes: Emulate this era by incorporating the plush headboards, lofty couches with leather or velvet, cushioned furniture along with other alluding factors.
8. Colour schemes: Play around with greys, blush hues or a stark mahogany or navy blue. Another splendid idea would be to place wallpaper in floral, chintzy or geometric print. It will give your house a spirit, and a ditsy character.
Giving our nod to nostalgia, we definitely believe that this interior style, which is an institution in itself, is back with a bang and here to stay. Just like its feel, Victorian décor is for the bold, experimental and fearless beings.
Article By: Bhakti Parekh
Having recently completed her Master's in Counselling Psychology, Bhakti is fascinated by the workings of the human mind and several related modalities. However, being an inherently creative individual, she has always been drawn towards art forms, especially, writing, music, and fashion. She is a trained singer and also comes out with her own covers from time to time, and is currently developing her fashion and music blog on Instagram. She has a flair for writing poems and has recently started a page on Instagram, which goes by the name of @midnightmusingsbybhakti, which allows her to express her innermost musings.