London Fashion Week was the talk of the city February 16-20. Local and international fashion icons were traveling the three-mile radius of LFW visiting shows, presentations, special events, and parties over the course of these well awaited 5 days. The home base of this biannual event, ‘the Store Studios,’ was just a quick walk down the Strand from the Courtauld, and I was fortunate enough to attend thanks to the generosity of my extended family who lives in London.
A long and winding red carpet escorted you immediately through the ‘designer showroom,’ a space comprised of small boutiques of over 150 British and International designers. Rich with a diverse collection of garments and accessories, the showroom provided the space for selected designers to showcase their work and products. I spoke with a number of designers about their collections and inspirations, as the majority of them were posted-up each day in their respective spaces chatting with LFW visitors.
The lounge on the second floor overlooking the Thames was lush with foliage and flowers. The marble tables and the large cozy couches provided a restful and refreshing space to work, recharge, and re-caffeinate in between events.
Downstairs, the ‘BFC Show Space’ was home of presentations and shows throughout the weekend. The Autumn/Winter 2018 presentation by Paula Knorr was dramatic through her use of bold red and black colors, and the addition of metallic and sequined fabrics. The space fluctuated between pink and white light, and between music and live spoken word, creating an all encompassing sense of drama and illusion—enhanced even further by the sequined carpet/faux-runway that ran down the middle of the space. The garments of Knorr’s collection were extremely tactile and presented a number of various juxtapositions, playing with transparent and opaque fabrics, fitted and loose silhouettes, and ruffled, fringed, and sequined textures. The models all had dramatic makeup and hairstyles, and were accessorized with metallic ear cuffs.
In addition to ‘the Store Studios,’ there were designer presentations and shows at numerous venues around London throughout the week. Unfortunately, this time around, I missed the Queen’s guest appearance…
Held just before London Fashion Week in February, the International Fashion Showcase (IFS) is a series of installations organised by the British Council and British Fashion Council that feature the work of emerging designers from different nations. This year’s setting was Somerset House, where each country’s exhibit responded to one theme, Fashion Utopias, in the context of Utopia 2016: A Year of Imagination and Possibility at Somerset House Trust, the Courtauld Institute of Art and King’s College. Through thematic exhibitions and connections to cultural institutions, the IFS showed how fashion could signify more than Fashion Week runway shows or commercial practices. It illuminated makers creative processes, broadened to connect to various interpretations of ‘utopia.’ This unexpected merger of commerce and curation worked to heighten viewers’ questioning the definition, and artistic and cultural significance of dress. Further, through the participation of Courtauld Dress History research students in a study day, the IFS sought to explore the historical and theoretic resonance of contemporary design.
Traces of history were what drew me to Isabel Helf’s wooden bag display (from her collection “Portable Compulsion”) in the Austria installation, as I walked through the exhibition before my talk at the study day. The bags recall medieval reliquaries, in that they house precious hidden contents and are precious containers themselves. Like the many reliquaries that were imitative of architectural spaces, such as a 13th-century reliquary shrine of St. Martial, the bags were conceived to relate to architectural space and furniture. Some affix neatly onto tabletops or, through their 90-degree-angle bases, rest atop flat, stepped surfaces. Helf designed these coordinated interactions to function in the cramped spaces of contemporary city life. In contrast to narrow spaces, I found that through their very miniaturization, they communicate the possibility of human potential. Likewise, Cynthia Hahn has noted that portable reliquaries promise to, in the words of Susan Stewart, “open […] to reveal a secret life […] a set of actions and hence a narrativity […] outside the given field of perception.” As I experienced at the IFS, the bags too elevate wearers beyond the mundanity of daily life through an intimate handling process.
Once opened, the possibility of narrative or creation is offered through the bags’ contents, built-in writing implements and other everyday objects, which are designed to fit perfectly in removable slots, all made from the same wood. Helf worked with a carpenter to learn the traditional joinery techniques such as dovetail and finger joints that hold the bags together. She explained to me that when two things fit together, whether in terms of the bags’ placement against architecture or their own construction, individuals experience satisfaction. For Helf, this feeling also results from the bags’ ability to “order” belongings in small spaces. Echoing the ideas of Frank Davis, they could be seen to work as sartorial solutions that counter the confusion and ambivalence of modernity. Thus, while harking back to distant moments, they reveal contemporary problems and offer a psychological and spatial utopia in their miniaturization and capacity for precision, multifunction and order.
Davis, F. (1992) Fashion, Culture, and Identity, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago.
Hahn, C. (2012) Issues in the Making and Meaning of Reliquaries, 400-circa 1204, University Park, Pa: Pennsylvania State University.
Stewart, S. (1984) On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University.
Under the glass roof of Paris’s Grand Palais, a protest is taking place, a procession of women, signs held aloft, calling for female empowerment, as they stride confidently past the large crowds they have attracted. Its setting is a monumental screen print of a typical Parisian rue dubbed the ‘Boulevard Chanel’; its demonstrators, eighty models centered around such high-profile names as Cara Delevingne and Gisele Bündchen; the props, quilted megaphones and handbags dripping in Chanel iconography.
Indeed, the finale of Chanel’s Spring-Summer 2015 ready-to-wear show possessed all the ingredients for a potent collision of fashion and feminism, yet it left many a critic cold and confused as to its underlying intentions. A prevailing mood of discomfort regarding Lagerfeld’s seemingly hollow hijacking of the feminist cause for publicity purposes immediately permeated the international press, giving rise to concerns as varied as they are, perhaps, unfounded. While some dwelled on the apparent hypocrisy of this multi-billion dollar luxury brand’s attempt to promote a liberated individualism by way of exorbitantly expensive garments, others bristled at the narrow spectrum of ‘ideal’ female beauty represented by the designer’s casting of professional fashion models in the role of feminist activists. Protest signs carrying such slogans as, ‘Tweed not Tweet’, ‘Ladies First’ and ‘History is Her Story’ were widely derided as empty and naïve attempts to exploit the gravity of a highly topical social issue. Journalist Alexander Fury even went as far as to suggest that the show had been the very ‘artifice of anarchy’, a noisy, fussy publicity stunt lacking in any real, honest political statement.
But as debates raged over potential misinterpretations of that significantly weighted word – feminism – and accusations of trivialization poured forth, the very point of the show itself appeared to have been not just overlooked, but also largely, and sadly, missed. The true stars of the show were, in fact, the clothes themselves, which formed, in the words of Vogue’s Suzy Menkes, a ‘back-to-Coco parade’, one which confirmed that the dynamic spirit of the label’s fiercely independent female founder still endures, nearly a century after its sartorial debut. Gabrielle Chanel herself was fashion’s greatest inadvertent feminist. She bestowed a freedom of movement and gender blurring right to comfort and function upon women, whose experiences of dress had, thereto, been characterised by restriction, adornment and submission. This specific collection’s layering of menswear-inspired elements (boxy tweed jackets, wide-leg trousers and sailor stripe knits) atop feminine basenotes of florals, unusually vibrant prints and classic Chanel monochrome palettes travelled to the very heart of the brand’s unique heritage, while, simultaneously, allowing the image of the modern, active woman to be effectively reimagined and updated for a post-Coco society.
It is important that such a presentation is not taken out of context as, after all, it seems illogical to dismiss the theatrical spectacle of the show’s format as mere ‘publicity stunt,’ when the very function of a fashion show is that of self-promotion and commercial endorsement. Unlike the design philosophies at the root of the Chanel brand, gender equality debates can arguably never truly be timeless, as constantly shifting social mores require them to move and morph with their times, never standing still. Therefore, to accuse Chanel of presenting a reductive view of diluted feminism seems a step too far, and the very fact that it is engaging in the discussion at all should be applauded. Fashion, viewed through the lens of feminism is likely to remain a problematic concept on many levels, but it should be recognized that attempts to exclude it from the conversation would only be counter-productive. The most negative aspect of feminism’s fraught relationship with fashion does not lie in the sartorial embrace of what it means to be a modern woman, in any era, but in the fact that the two spheres are being forced to uncomfortably co-exist as conflicting and contradictory ideologies. Lagerfeld’s riot of a show may not have brought about longed-for permanent change, but it has taken us one step closer to breaking down the seemingly obligatory boundaries between the two by, at last, allowing them to assume a much-needed dialogue that is imperative to the future success of both.
The expression ‘enfant terrible’ seems to crop up frequently when Jean Paul Gaultier is mentioned. Since the founding of his fashion house in 1976, the designer has become known for collections characterised by a canny, yet humorous take on current affairs, and a high degree of craftsmanship. As of September this year, Gaultier will exclusively focus on his haute couture line, which he launched in 1997. The designer cited increasing commercial pressures and the rapid pace of the ready-to-wear industry as contributing factors in his decision. He also expressed the need to satisfy his desire for creative experimentation and innovation through his continued work in couture. Gaultier’s brand, backed by Spanish perfume company Puig, will be kept afloat financially by the sale of the designer’s popular line of fragrances, and a soon-to-be developed beauty range. It has also been suggested that the designer may venture into the world of interior design and pursue creative collaborations.
The closure of Gaultier’s ready-to-wear line has come at a time when the growing pressure on designers is frequently discussed in the fashion media. Following a series of unexpected deaths and public meltdowns, some journalists have identified the increasing rate of global fashion consumption as the root of the problem. Additional shows, including, pre- and cruise collections, aimed at keeping buyers interested all year round, have considerably increased designers’ workload. There are those, such as Azzedeine Alaia, who have refused to participate in this gruelling system, although up until now his was a rare example. Will Gaultier’s decision, which goes a step further, to focus on one aspect of his clothing design, inspire others to follow his lead? Although this is not a likely possibility, the move does indicate a changed state of affairs in the fashion industry. While in recent years many feared the death of haute couture, now the consensus seems to be that it has instead become the last vestige of Fashion with a capital F. Haute couture is exempt from a direct commercial pressure, because it has become the essence of a fashion house and an artisanal heritage to be preserved. Lavish shows and rarefied craftsmanship are cultivated in order to produce a brand DNA that consumers can vicariously buy into when purchasing cheaper products. It is not surprising therefore, that a designer with a high fashion education, such as Gaultier – he began his career working at Cardin and Patou – should choose to shift his creative focus and brand strategy.
Despite the difficult issues that contextualise Gaultier’s departure from prêt-à-porter, his final spring/summer 2015 collection was anything but a solemn affair. Instead, we saw a theatrical farewell in the form of the ‘Miss Jean Paul Gaultier Pageant’, which showcased the most iconic designs of the brand’s history. The ten-part extravaganza featured Gaultier’s signature nautical, striped shirts, asymmetrically cut, sharply tailored gender-bending suits, and a tamed version of the cone bra, in the shape of a corselet dress modelled by Coco Rocha. A lively assortment of characters, from Lucha Libre superhero wrestlers, footballers’ wives sporting paisley, sequins and denim, to boxers-cum-cyclists confirmed the designer’s love for all things related to popular culture. Gaultier has a history for challenging norms of taste, beauty and gender, therefore it was a shame that references to some of his more controversial collections were missing. It would have been good to spot a few men in skirts, for example – perhaps his most daring contribution to fashion history. Although models of all ages graced the runway, a greater diversity of gender, ethnicity and body shapes would have also spoken more clearly of Gaultier’s fashion legacy. Nevertheless, this final collection was an apt celebration of the end of a chapter in ready-to-wear’s history.
As part of a special series this week, we give our reactions to the recent fashion weeks…
One of the most striking aspects of the current fashion weeks’ coverage is the shift of focus away from the catwalk and onto the streets surrounding the venues. Many posts from style.com, for example, headlined with street style, rather than designers’ latest showings. The dynamic between clothes, settings and photographers has gradually shifted emphasis, from professional models, in designer clothes, carefully shown to convey the latest season, to celebrities on the front row and, in the last few years, to a carnival of self-styled visitors, who perform for the cameras and each other. So, what and who are fashion shows really for nowadays? And who is watching whom?
Fashion editors – who move between the various players in this scenario – act as a conduit to the wider public through print and digital media, and bridge this move from centre to periphery. Whereas most editors used to be fairly anonymous, their every outfit is now commented upon, as they mirror bloggers use of self-presentation to build a distinctive identity. In each case, the way they dress has become a focus – a way to ‘democratize’ fashion, with the editors adopting street style tactics, as a means to assert their authority, and compete with the mass of ‘amateur’ fashion commentators.
As bloggers renegotiated the ways fashion was communicated at the start of the century, access to new styles via the Internet, and a closer, more direct style of writing and, importantly, photographing new styles impinged on traditional media. Using your own body as a way to display emerging trends appears more direct and linked to how the wider public uses fashion.
Ironically, couturiers originally tried to keep the press out of their shows – wishing to control access to their designs and the timing of their release. Now, changes brought about by the Internet, combined with recession-led conservative styles on the catwalk, have shifted the gaze again, and blurred lines between professional and amateur, design and performance.
Hot Fuzz: Shrimps
The newly launched girly and kitsch faux fur label Shrimps, the brainchild of 23-year-old LCF graduate, Hannah Weiland, made its debut on 12th September at London Fashion Week for Spring/Summer 2015. Rainbow-coloured beautifully-crafted fluffy pieces inspired by the Flintstones, Muppets and Popeye the Sailor provided a humorous and invitingly tactile contrast to the more austere creations seen in other collections. Enthused by the pop-art witticisms of Eduardo Paolozzi, sixties style and British humour, Weiland showcased furry mid-length coats with horizontal contrasting stripes, oversized clutches adorned with pearls, luxurious collars in hot pink or orange, and fur-trimmed biker jackets, all of which were made from the synthetic fibre modacryclic. ‘Why wear real fur when the potential for luxe faux fur is so rich and unexploited?’ quizzed the designer. The label makes faux fur, which, while not cheap, costs considerably less than the real thing – the ‘Wilma’ striped faux fur coat is currently £595 on Net-a-Porter and is made more desirable with its bright colours, pastel hues and overall silly charm. ‘Perhaps my obsession with fluffy animals is the reason why Shrimps came about — I’m imitating the animals I grew up with’. But with stockists Net-a-Porter, Avenue 32 and Opening Ceremony all queuing up to place orders for spring, the names of items, which include Pluto, Mabel and Dulcie, don’t seem quite so silly…
Dark Naturalism: Beauty at New York Fashion Week, Spring 2015
Many of the beauty looks featured at New York Fashion Week displayed takes on the city’s impeccably groomed, understated trademark style, and Derek Lam and Vera Wang’s respective shows were no exception. Shiny curls softly bounced, though with a subtle irregularity and loosened nature that prevented them being uniform and kempt. Faces were left fresh and dewy, lips glossy but in natural hues, and eyebrows full and merely brushed. The fine plaits that peeked out within models’ hair as they moved down the Vera Wang catwalk, quietly conjured an air of refined rebellion, encapsulating this insouciant individualism.
This was furthered by the shades of violet that were washed over the eyes in each show. At Derek Lam, brown eyeliner, and mauve lipstick smudged onto the lids avoided a classic, explicit finish, and merged the product with the skin. The purplish tones were emphasised with mascara of the same shade. At Vera Wang, similar tones were apparent in a heavier manner, here without the definition of mascara. Colour surrounded the eye and was extended below the lower eyelid, creating a sunken effect.
While praised by media coverage for injecting colour, the shadows’ considered placement and thorough blending create not so much a colour pop, as a suggestion that they are part of the skin, and therefore represent bruising: in-keeping with the rest of the looks’ naturalism, but focusing on an unconventional and controversial condition of the skin. They recall the haunted, hollow eyes that prevailed within the ‘heroin chic’ look of the late 1990s, when fashion images depicted models styled as drug abusers, their rake-thin bodies and lack of vitality enhanced by a haze of smoky shadow. Just as at the end of the last millennium, the suggestion of violence is never far beneath fashion’s seemingly impenetrable surface.
As part of a special series this week, we give our reactions to the recent fashion weeks…
“I love New York, I’m a New Yorker, I can’t imagine living anywhere else” – video, DKNY S/S 2015
The city of New York has played a role in the shaping of American fashion since industrial professionals such as Eleanor Lambert and Dorothy Shaver worked to promote original American design in the 1930s and 40s. As the site of the country’s garment industry as well as, in advertisements, a prime space of imagined consumption of clothing, New York became synonymous with fashion over the course of the twentieth century. Since its creation in 1988, DKNY, the less expensive extension of Donna Karan New York, has utilised the city as a tool of branding. DKNY even defines itself, according to its current website, as “the energy and spirit of New York. International, eclectic, fun, fast and real.” And the presentation of DKNY’s S/S 2015 collection on 7 September in Lincoln Center began with a video that visualised these ideals. A rapid patchwork of faces, clothed bodies and minute details of New York spaces – from the subway to wire fences and graffiti-covered brick walls – the video set the tone for the show, which presented models of various ethnicities in sporty and colourful garments. Styled by Jay Massacret, the models conveyed a quirky femininity in their A-line skirts and boldly patterned garments. They painted a portrait of style found, according to the video, as “you walk down the streets…different energies, different styles…a lotta noise, colours.” The show thus extended the definition of New York to its outer, less affluent spaces. And the models, dressed in sweaters and neoprene bomber jackets, recalled 1990s B-girls. With their sunglasses, foam stacked trainers, and gelled baby hair and braids (conceived by Eugene Souleiman), they commemorated inner city street style – today a part of American fashion heritage – and the specificity of this image to New York.
Audrey Hepburn’s Granddaughter Emma Ferrer Makes Her Modelling Debut
Fashion has made no secret of its fascination with Audrey Hepburn. From the mid-1950s films Sabrina (1955) and Funny Face (1957), which dramatised the gamine actress’s transformations through Hubert de Givenchy’s couture, to subsequent pronouncements that a new model has something of her eyebrows or quality of movement, fashion has remained entranced with Hepburn’s delicate, extraordinary face and waif-like, ballerina body. The latest model to be cast in Hepburn’s mould is her twenty-one-year-old grand-daughter Emma Ferrer. Ferrer, who to date has been an art student in Florence, is moving to Manhattan and embarking upon a modelling career. Her debut into fashion was the September issue of Harper’s Bazaar, where she was photographed by Michael Avedon, the grandson of the famous Richard, who worked with her grand-mother. Although Ferrer, has been ballet-trained like her grandmother and shares her deportment, she is not Hepburn’s doppelganger in either appearance or life experience. Nevertheless, in the photo-shoot, she has been made to adopt Hepburn’s characteristic poses, for example: her face in profile and tilted up to exaggerate her neck-length; or in a Funny Face style frieze-frame of quirky spontaneous movement. There is something sad and forced about asking a young woman to literally take her grandmother’s position, and in my opinion, the photo shoot is too derivative to be inspiring.
Still, the fashion industry’s interest in Hepburn’s granddaughter indicates that it values a model’s symbolic value in addition to her physical attributes. One speculates that when Lanvin asked Ferrer to make her catwalk debut at their Spring Summer 2015 show on September 25, they wanted to exhibit not only her beauty in their clothes, but the aura that manifests in her blood-relation to Hepburn. It’s too early to tell whether Ferrer will follow the successful path of Georgia May Jagger and other descendants of fashion royalty, but first, her collaborators have to allow her to emerge from Hepburn’s shadow.