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How zips and buckles went from functional to fashionable

“This cape had a hook and she wanted a tie, and she wasn’t able to open it with her hands. That’s all there is to it. Madonna, as we all know, is very difficult.” So said Giorgio Armani, attempting to explain the singer’s recent Armani-clad tumble at the Brit Awards. Clearly, fastenings on clothes matter. But in recent seasons they have moved beyond their position as functional items – and occasional sources of wardrobe malfunctions – to become style statements in their own right.

The rise of the statement fastening began last autumn at Celine, where white and yellow buttons created diagonal patterns on black and grey coats, then popped up on buttoned-up jumpsuits, sculptural metal fastenings and visible poppers for spring. If buttons brought a warm, organic feeling to Celine – a fashion house best known for pared-back minimalism – at Louis Vuitton the fastenings were as racy as the Sticky Fingers album cover. Large exposed zips appeared on coats, dresses and skirts for autumn, with eye-catching exposed flies on trousers were spring’s key motif.

A model wears jeans with an exposed zip at Louis Vuitton’s spring/summer 2015 show. Photograph: PIXELFORMULA/SIPA/REX/PIXELFORMULA/SIPA/REX

Two of London’s most influential designers, JW Anderson and Christopher Kane, also have long-standing fascinations with fastenings. Last season, Anderson’s buttons looked like tea strainers and flowers. Kane prefers chunky seatbelt buckles, which close his handbags and coats with a satisfying click. At the latest round of catwalk shows, for autumn 2015, Victoria Beckham showed oversized tortoiseshell buttons and buckle-loop belts. At Prada, there was an elegant rash of contrasting buttons, while Loewe presented diagonal zips and harness-like loops. Fastenings are brilliant for the high street, too, adding detail with minimal expense. Key pieces for the spring including Topshop’s baby blue cashmere jacket with back and silver exposed zip and Whistles’ caramel-coloured sarong skirt held together with a big black button.

Christopher Kane’s seatbelt bag. Photograph: Linda Nylind

There’s certainly something in the air, according to London College of Fashion creative director Tony Glenville: “The Musée des Arts Décoratifs has a button exhibition at the moment,” he says, “showing how designers from Chanel to Dior used buttons to create balance or diagonally emphasis the line on clothes.”

But really, he says, the current mood is all about designers moving on from the recent minimalist trend and mining the 1970s for inspiration: “Think of the zip dresses of Azzedine Alaïa; the frog fastening and braid used by Yves Saint Laurent in his ‘Russian’ collection, and the whole idea of trimmings and fastenings supporting a look. In the 1970s, design houses developed the idea that if a jacket has slightly more buttons or fastens slightly higher, the silhouette is immediately transformed.”

A model on the JW Anderson menswear catwalk for autumn. Photograph: PIXELFORMULA/SIPA/REX/PIXELFORMULA/SIPA/REX

Of course, this is fashion, and all fastenings are not equal. A lascivious back zip, from the nape of the neck to the bottom of the hemline, is a bit of a no-no in style circles, recalling the ubiquitous high street copies of Roland Mouret’s spectacularly successful 2005 range. Aside from that – from duffle toggles to buckles inspired by climbing carabiners – fastenings are viewed as a neat way to bring a range of references to clothes.

“Unique fastenings certainly add to the beauty and intrigue of a specific piece,” says Natalie Kingham, buying director at designer boutique Matchesfashion.com. Like any ardent fashion fan, Kingham believes that much of an outfit’s desirability lies in the details – even if the wearer is the only one who knows they are there. “For next season, Erdem had some beautiful gold poppers inside his garments but it wasn’t something you’d see externally,” she says.

That said, with the ever-influential JW Anderson referencing the 1980s at his latest womenswear show at London Fashion Week, the 1970s influence could already be on the wane. There could be tricky days ahead for koumpounophobics, if fastenings go Dynasty: bigger, brasher and a lot less subtle. In any case, one thing is clear: it’s not just the clothes you wear but how you do them up that counts.

When fastenings attack: Madonna falls at the Brit Awards Photograph: Samir Hussein/Redferns

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