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What’s fall’s hottest trend? The LBLD (Little Black Leather Dress)

Olivia Fortson
ofortson@charlotteobserver.com

The Little Black Dress, known simply as the LBD, is getting an update with a capital L. The classic dress popularized by Coco Chanel back in the 1920s is now taking form as the little black leather dress.

The trend took off in 2011 when actress Jennifer Aniston created a sensation at a red carpet movie premier in a simple version. The sleek silhouette – coupled with the surprise of an all leather dress – was all it took to launch a look that’s filtered down to wardrobes across America.

Hannah Blanton, a nurse and instructor at Y2 yoga in Charlotte, was among the first women on the local social scene to wear a similar look when she donned an Iris & Ink leather dress to host Carolina Art Soiree, a May fundraiser she founded. Since navy is the new black, she chose a dark color called midnight navy.

Her friend, artist Windy O’Connor, saw it online and told Blanton she had to buy it. “I thought it was edgy yet still simple, super comfortable and easy to accessorize,” Blanton said. “I can create so many different looks with it. I can dress it down with boots, throw on a cardigan, or spice it up with jewels like the Stella & Dot necklace I wore with it to the fundraiser.”

An added bonus? Her husband loves it. “He thinks it’s classy and that it fits me like a glove. I didn’t have to have it altered.”

For fall 2013, the all-leather version has morphed into being part knit and part leather.

Ginny Torreson-Berk, the New York City-based representative for Layfayette 148 New York, says the leather/knit combo is a more versatile, wearable alternative for many women. She was in Charlotte recently for a fall trunk show at Paul Simon Women, where longtime customer Ann Tarwater was asked to be a model.

One of the outfits worn by Tarwater, the wife of Carolinas HealthCare System CEO Michael Tarwater, was an LBLD from the line. The store also carries LBLDs from other brands, including Yoana Baraschi.

Torreson-Berk says an all-leather dress can be difficult to alter and clean. The beauty of adding knit material is that it’s more wearable in warm months and is forgiving to the wearer’s figure, especially when the leather is used as inserts to visually trim the body and add waist definition. It all adds up to a style that’s more cross-generational. “It makes young women feel sophisticated, and it makes older women feel youthful and trendy,” Torreson-Berk said.

The style is so popular almost every fashion line or store has jumped on the bandwagon. Most are a mix of materials including leather.

From bargain retailers to those that sell fine womenswear, there are numerous LBLD options to choose from. Prices vary depending on whether it’s faux or real, how much leather is on the dress, and the quality of the materials and craftsmanship.

At a fashion event at SouthPark mall in August, Danielle Davis wore a knit dress with faux leather trim that she found at Forever 21 for around $30. “I knew leather dresses were trendy so I wanted one, but I didn’t want to spend a lot.”

Higher end versions are usually in the $250-$450 and up range.

Kristin Jackson of Neiman Marcus at SouthPark mall thinks the key to the LBLD is to find great quality dresses that will wear well and be easy to accessorize.

She recommends taking your cue from the style and tone of the leather. For an edgier dress, she loves a great bootie and a multifaceted colorful necklace to add dimension. For a softer, more feminine leather dress, she suggests a lace or suede bootie, or pointed-toe pump. “I love a great animal print shoe or handbag with a leather dress,” she says. “Don't hesitate to mix your prints for added interest.”

Experts expect the look will be around for seasons to come. If the LBLD isn’t your style, Jackson says all women should think about incorporating leather into their wardrobe in some fashion. Her favorite is the leather biker jacket paired with a dress, pencil skirt or skinny pants. “Think of the leather jacket as something that takes the place of a cardigan or blazer as a topper that can take you from day to night.”

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