MIXING PRINTS used to be one of fashion’s most reliable “don’ts,” right up there with wearing white to a wedding and pairing knee socks with Birkenstocks. But this spring, clashing is positively encouraged.
Though it’s far from easy to get, say, striped shorts and a paisley top to peaceably coexist, designers are doing a lot of the work for us by incorporating wildly different prints into single pieces. Christened “pattern blocking,” it’s a trick designers like Duro Olowu and Mary Katrantzou have been experimenting with for a while, but it’s about to be everywhere: Dries van Noten, Chanel, Giambattista Valli, Lanvin, Gucci and Mother of Pearl all sent stylishly pattern-blocked looks down the runways. Recently, First Fashionista Malia Obama stepped out in Havana in a print-on-print floral dress by Asos, a suitable salute to the first day of spring.
Even so, how do you wear a pattern-blocked dress and not feel like you’re sporting a patchwork quilt—or the remnants of the sale rack at Anthropologie? “It can be overwhelming,” admitted Roopal Patel, fashion director for Saks Fifth Avenue. “You’re drawing a lot of attention to yourself.” To tone down the flashy, clashy eclecticism, add a neutral to the mix, said Ms. Patel, whether it’s a denim jacket or crisp white shirt. Should you be a more-is-more sort inclined to ramp it up, ransack your wardrobe for an embellished handbag or a pair of print shoes.
At Coach 1941, British-born executive creative director Stuart Vevers offered up Liberty of London-like florals filtered through a “Little House on the Prairie” lens. “For spring, I liked the idea of dreamy, super-American prairie florals quite randomly patched together,” he explained. “We mixed nostalgic florals with graphic animal prints inspired by surf and skate-culture style.” The delicate patterns in his pleated dresses and printed-leather saddle bags share a harmonious scale and an “electric” color palette that make these pieces effortlessly eccentric, yet oddly coherent.