Introduction To Bohemian Style

In Paris, back in 1966, Yves Saint Laurent became the first haute couture designer to release an innovative line of pret-a-porter clothing which placed more emphasis on creating ready-to-wear garments for the mass public rather than exclusive haute couture pieces which adorned the catwalks. The aim was to ‘democratise’ fashion, open it up to the masses, and also to introduce elements from garments of the lower classes into high fashion. The name given to this collection was ‘Rive Gauche.’

Rive Gauche literally translates as ‘Left Bank’ and refers specifically to the left bank of the River Seine in Paris. More specifically, the term ‘rive gauche’ refers to this area of Paris in an earlier era – during a period when artists, writers and intellectuals such as Salvador Dali, Toulouse Lautrec and Ernest Hemingway flocked to Paris to become involved in the free-thinking, all-embracing Rive Gauche community. The term ‘rive gauche’ immediately implies a sense of bohemianism, creativity and individualism as the left bank of the River Seine became the heart of intellectual and artistic life in 1900 Paris. However, it is important to point out that the description of these people as bohemian, individual and unconventional relates to their professions, lifestyles and ways of thinking, rather than their clothing. Nowadays, ‘bohemian’ in a fashion context throws up images of hippies, tie-dye and all-natural fibres (shudder!) – but Rive Gauche suggests a more muted, functional, down-to-earth look which still retains a flair of individuality – a kind of Urban Bohemia.

Recent men’s fashion weeks A/W 2010-2011, have shown that certain designers are taking inspiration from Rive Gauche/Left Bank influences for next season, and these influences have also filtered through to the high street. The essence of life on the Rive Gauche during the early 1900s was very social, and time was spent out on the streets with intellectuals and artists spilling out of cafes and bars, even during the Winter months. This meant layering was important for keeping warm, and big overcoats and chunky knits were essential. Another key feature of Rive Gauche styling is an eclectic mix of textures, fabrics and styles – for example, rigid structured blazers covered by over-sized trench coats and teamed with looser, chunky knits and layered trousers. Added to this are loosely-bundled, oversized scarves or alternatively, knotted neckerchiefs to give a distinctively French, bohemian twist. Rive Gauche styling possesses a kind of lightly-dishevelled rawness making it appear unfinished and nonchalant. The look is essentially an unkempt jumble of layers, but if done well – still retains a sense of raw and effortless refinement.

On The Runways

Urban Bohemian Trend on the Runways

Above: Images form the A/W 10 collections of IceBerg, Alexis Mabille, Hermes and Y-3

During the recent Fashion Week events for A/W 2010-2011 earlier this year, no collection epitomised the urban bohemian look more than Iceberg at the Milan show. Structured blazers covered by oversized overcoats and teamed with chunky cardigans show how key layering is to pull off this look successfully. Muted colours best represent this trend, with grey being popular and cream, navy and black also featuring. The addition of a range of scarves – from oversized chunky knitted scarves to large silk, pashmina-style scarves to nonchalantly knotted neckerchiefs – really adds a bohemian twist and offers a great way to inject some subtle colour. The fundamental rule to make the look authentic is how you wear the scarf; it should be bundled loosely, nonchalantly thrown around the neck to give an effortless ‘je ne sais quoi.’ Iceberg have really hit the nail on the head with this look with their choice of accessories – tweed baker boy and herringbone flat caps paired with battered, well-worn suitcases and floral brooches. These small additions bring out the eccentricities and creative aspects associated with this look and make the models look like they could have just strolled out of 1900s Montparnasse.

One of the biggest features of this look is scarves, and other designers have picked up on this. The Y-3 Yohji Yamamoto and Corneliani collections for A/W 2010-2011 both include oversized, chunky knit scarves, whereas Roberto Cavalli and Hermes opted for silk, patterned scarves, to add a splash of colour in an eccentrically European way. Collections by 3.1 Phillip Lim and Burberry Prorsum feature oversized, belted trench coats and layered chunky cardigans and jumpers, and Agnes B in their Paris show also featured some cape-style coats which really capture the essence of urban bohemian layers. In addition, one of the most interesting collections supportive of this trend was by a fairly new designer called Alexis Mabille (French – of course!).

Mabille’s collection included the typical oversized layering, use of scarves and also layering on the bottom half of the body with thick, tweed-style shorts over trousers and long johns. But what is most interesting about Mabille is that one of his aims is to create luxurious but less opulent garments, half-way between the high street and high fashion – to create a more ready-to-wear look for broader appeal. Technically this type of design is called ‘demi-couture’ or ‘couture-a-porter’ and faithfully echoes the original inspiration for Yves Saint Laurent’s pioneering Rive Gauche range.

On The High Street

High Street Look Books Featuring the Urban Bohemian Trend

Above: H&M and River Island A/W 10 Lookbook Images

More affordable ranges on the high street have also followed the trend, and in their August issue, Esquire magazine pointed out that the Topman Ltd. range has taken inspiration directly from the Parisian Left Bank look. River Island have also supported this trend but have given it a lively twist by featuring chunky knitted layering and oversized scarves in more vibrant shades of red and green. H&M’s A/W 2010 Lookbook has also clearly been influenced by this urban bohemian look and features knotted silk scarves, chunky oversized cardigans and belted trench coats. The cream and brown pashmina-style scarf is perfect for adding a flair of aloof, intellectual nonchalance and works brilliantly with the brown-grey herringbone blazer and trouser suit. And the great news is that on 16th September – H&M will finally be launching the internet shopping portion of its website – so purchasing online will finally be an option for the UK… long overdue if you ask me.

After the week of wet, unpredictable weather we have been having here in the UK, thoughts are begrudgingly turning towards Autumn/Winter for this year and I think the urban bohemian look is something that will dominate next season. The beauty of this look is that it is so simple and easily achievable, and it is likely that most of us already possess a few of the items necessary to successfully create the effortless, nonchalant, layered look of this trend. As Ernest Hemingway, one of the writers directly involved with the original Rive Gauche bohemian lifestyle, once wrote: ‘If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you.’ This is certainly true of the Parisian Rive Gauche trend which has continued to influence fashions and lifestyles since it’s birth in the early twentieth century.

Ben Jones

Trend Picks
  • ASOS Loose Oversized Scarf
  • ASOS Jersey Snood
  • Fred Perry Laurel Tootal Scarf
  • Silk Geo Border Necker
  • Cashmere-mix scarf
  • Knitted snood
  • Rick Owens Oversized Knitted Scarf
  • aT Oversize Scarf
  • Feather Print Scarf
  • Navy Wool Mix Trench Coat
  • Navy Laundered Trench Coat
  • Black Wool Mix Overcoat
  • Zambesi Antwerpen Duffle Coat
  • Zambesi Great Coat Exclusive to ASOS
  • CANALI Jacket
  • Mid Grey Melton Duffle Coat
  • Navy Moleskin Top Coat
Chunky Knits:
  • Cream Cable Front Jumper
  • HE by Mango Cable Duffle Cardigan
  • Raf By Raf Simons Chunky Knit Jumper
  • Polo Jeans Ralph Lauren Shawl Collar Heavy Cardigan
  • Diesel K-Punt Double Breasted Cardigan
  • Knitted cardigan
  • Rollneck jumper
  • Levi's Vintage Clothing Cable Knit Cardigan
  • Maison Martin Margiela 10 Handmade Cardigan
  • ALICE SAN DIEGO Long Knit Jacket
Other Items:
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  • Diesel Knitted Fingerless Gloves
  • ASOS Collection Herringbone Flat Cap With Paisley Lining
  • Fred Perry Slim Braces
  • Acne John Sweat Pant
  • ASOS Smart Retro Satchel