London Fashion Week: Torn between Romanticism and crises
Two retrospective exhibitions currently showing right beside each other in London somehow caught the mood of the city’s five-day fashion season, which ends this Tuesday evening.
Staged inside the Tate Britain art gallery, they were a dramatic study in contrasts: Edward Burne-Jones, the great Pre-Raphaelite painter and the Symbolist who composed visions of great heraldic beauty; and Don McCullin, the legendary war photographer.
Something of that search for unparalleled beauty amid catastrophe was apparent Saturday night. When one of fashion’s great artistic duos staged a very cool Maison Margiela happening in the Serpentine Gallery, where those in the know witnessed some truly beautiful imagery.
Named Reality Inverse, it was the latest fashion meets art tag team between John Galliano and Nick Knight. In hyper saturated color it was a visual dialogue, capturing the Galliano’s most recent ready-to-wear collection for the house of Margiela, made in metallic fabrics that change color as they fold or bend.
“It was all about the amazing materials that John came up with. We shot it in negative film, so as you moved around it kept on coming up with great effects,” said the agreeably modest Knight.
The Paris brand presented the six-minute video in two forms. First on a huge screen that barely seemed to fit into the central show space of the gallery inside Hyde Park. Then on a dozen virtual reality goggles which guests could wear, while sitting on revolving Vitra chairs. Colliding and beautiful images that we suspect Burne Jones would have adored. In a brilliant juxtaposition, DJ Jeremy Healy picked Roy Orbison’s "In Dreams" as a soundtrack, his tremolo voice an ideal contrast.
“We shot it all in over here in the Park Royal studios. But it was burnt down two weeks ago,” groaned the great photographer.
Myths and legends were apparent too at the latest show by Mary Katrantzou, whose collection, entitled Universal Pictures, was inspired by the Ancient Greek philosopher Empedocles, referencing earth, wind, fire and water.
The result was grand coats in marabou feathers and ruffles of tulle that were meant to represent nebulous supernovas. Which seemed right after Natalia Vodianova opened the action dressed in one such coat. Her Instagram handle is Natasupernova, after all.
Macro-photography of the fissures of the earth used in nighttime gowns and leather intarsia jackets trimmed with crystals. If that sounds rather too much, it’s because it was. Katrantzou, a great designer on her day, looked like she was trying way too hard.
Two days later, another former rising star of UK fashion, Scotsman Christopher Kane showed an odd fetish collection where many of the tops and coats came with words like Rubberist or Looner painted on them. Made in rubber, latex and plastic the garments were interesting, not particularly attractive. Quite frankly, ever since Kane separated from the giant French luxury group Kering he has seemed somewhat lost. Indeed, almost in crisis.
A decade ago, Kane and Katrantzou were the rising stars of the scene in London. But it’s a city which keeps on producing raw talent, ready to eclipse the industry leaders.
One of the city’s greatest fashion institutions is Lulu Kennedy, the founder and driving force behind Fashion East. Quite frankly, and with the great respect to my French cousins at ANDAM, Hyeres and the LVMH Prize, no other regular talent discovery organization has a better track record than Fashion East. This season, again, Kennedy, found two important new voices.
Gareth Wrighton showed Arcadian-meets-dystopian images on remarkable knit sweaters, blousons and cardigans, worn with trousers finished with track stripes. They all looked great, and captured the two forces rippling through London; the search for beauty amidst profound fears for the future of post-Brexit Britain and an ecologically endangered planet.
While Charlotte Knowles, a duo formed by Charlotte Knowles and Alexandre Arsenault, mingled together swimwear fantasies, lingerie, hyper strict tailoring and Lycra gear into some amazing and unsettling hybrid garments. Marking the runway debut of an important new duo.
Just like the whole weekend of London fashion, a very strong season marked by contrasts throughout.
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