Suzy Menkes at London Fashion Week: Day Four
Botanical Brilliance at Erdem
“I was thinking about those Victorians who studied botany and travelled the world – they were a bit unhinged,” said Erdem of his leafy show, where exquisitely decorated lace dresses and jungle foliage patterns lead the designer to – in his own words – “open up”.
That spirit of lightness, freedom and adventure made for a powerful, even magical, collection, where any hint of the ladylike spirit on which Erdem has built his business was swept away by the jungle.
Everything worked towards freshness: flat sandals, evolving into spidery lacing up the leg, until more polite shoes with heels kicked in. The luxuriant undergrowth invaded the wooden board runway but also, metaphorically, the designer’s creative mind. The show was mostly about dresses, rich in decoration as a print, or when three-dimensional work appeared on the surface, so a skirt waistline might have plants spilling over the waist below a simple, semi-transparent top.
Other extraordinary effects included a bottle-green, feathered coat that seemed like lush grass, or, more poetically, a dress where a print of a Victorian conservatory window looked out on a green garden.
Was it all a bit too much – a jumble of a jungle? Not at all! Erdem dosed the vegetation with elegant dresses in black lace that might have just a few fronds cut into the edge of a collar. Interspersing the verdure were fresh broderie anglaise dresses, as though the Victorian adventurer had come home to sit on a terrace and contemplate the magic of the jungle.
“Let’s not go there,” said an emotional Christopher Kane backstage, as he spoke about his mentor and friend Professor Louise Wilson, to whom his show was dedicated.
He described how, after her sudden death earlier this year, he found a cache of photographs taken at the start of his studies at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design, where Louise coached and nurtured her students.In the images, his sister Tammy modelled dresses with coiled ropes that he had put together in their kitchen.
One thing that his mentor would surely have said to all her students would have been move forward, push ahead, never look back. There could perhaps have been something elegiac about this show – a noble celebration of Louise, so admired and loved throughout the fashion world.
But instead, there was Christopher taking up childish things, looking back to when coloured ropes were his story. This decoration still made for some smart, tailored looks and short dresses with the cords stitched around the body shape. But I searched in vain for that uneasy undercurrent of sex or perversity that once invaded Kane’s work. Bondage ropes? No, the clothes were much too ladylike for that. Were fabric horns of plenty spilling over with tulle some kind of fetishist message? Don’t know.
Of course, Christopher Kane has set such a high standard for himself that no collection could be bad. There were at the end shapely dresses in shimmering fabrics with narrow glitter rope artfully inserted; while a sophisticated black lace dress with red and white ropes seemed to attract the approval of Salma Hayek, sitting front row with her husband Fran?ois Henri Pinault, who is backing Kane through his Kering group.There was every reason for Christopher to feel subdued. So let’s think of this collection as a passage in a great designer’s history and a respectful wake for Louise Wilson.
Burberry’s bug world
There was no missing the insect influences crawling over the Burberry collection. First there was the colourful carpet with the word “insect” written across the runway and a drawing of a large and livid creature scurrying across.
Then there were the creepy crawly colours: the juicy red of lady bugs for an ethereal dress; wasp yellow for scaly paillettes; and for accessories that particular metallic, gleaming green of Egyptian scarabs
The clothes that opened the show were skirts in the lightest of mesh, the kind used as mosquito nets, offered up in many layers. They were topped off by closely-fitted denim jackets, while the feet were in that shoe fashion of the moment: sneakers. They too came in eerie insect colours.
The live voice of James Bay singing Christopher Bailey’s familiar choice of soulful music made the event seem poetic and intriguing.
But what did it all that have to do with Burberry the brand? Needless to say, the famous house check was nowhere on the agenda. But cut to the show’s kernel and there were raincoats, the waists tied in tulle as fine as wings and with a bee painted on one shoulder to keep the insect story going.
The energy was in the exceptional colours and the way they might be faded and shaded on the layers of net skirt, while bolder pieces spelled out “insects”, as on the runway floor.
Burberry shows currently feel that they are not just for the audience, even through the front row featured, among other A-listers, let’s-have-fun models Kate Moss and Cara Delevingne, the actress Naomi Harris and photographer Mario Testino.
But I couldn’t help thinking how great this “The Birds and The Bees” show must have looked live-screened in collaboration with YouTube. The colours! The glamour! The beautiful bugs! Full marks to Christopher Bailey for creating such an immersive experience and for making insects seem so cute.
Jewelled pasties to cover the essentials, anyone? Sheer black bodices and slithering silver tops? Sex, clogs, rock ’n’ roll?
“Fun,” announced Tom Ford, whose head cold made his sensual voice even more deep, vibrating and allurig.
Yes, it was back to Tom’s super-sexuality in the Nineties, with an injection of the Seventies for platform shoes so thick that the skinny flared pants were raised as if on a plinth. Teased rock-chick hair gave the models a tousled glamour.
Tom Ford’s calling card is that he makes clothes like nobody else. He appears on the London calendar as an international man of mystery who can apparently find an audience for sexed-up, almost pawn-shop looks, but with clothes in such fine fabrics and so beautifully crafted that they form a kind of sexual couture.
Everything fitted not like a glove, but like sheer black stockings, seen rising high on the thigh, flesh visible under a brief hemline.
Decency was maintained with the bell-bottom trousers, flaring out with a tinge of metallic green or pink and silver flowers on a black background. But when a top half ends at the diaphragm with two silver flowers strategically in place above, it is hard to recall some of the less full-on sexy ideas: say a smartly cut suede jacket with leather pockets; or a white dress with black veiling filling the cut-outs at the side.
The show was a roller coaster of seduction. Just when a gilded or silvered dress seemed almost decent, out popped a bondage top with strips of patent leather across the breast.
To be honest, it was all very Gucci, from its Tom Ford glory days. That is what this designer does. He knows his global super-rich clients. And there is surely a market out there for ageing rockers with big money, young, sexy wives and an urge to see a dress that is really an un-dress.
As a show it was fun and the Tom Ford message will vibrate around the world like… Well, a sex toy.
The colour blocks revealed at the Thomas Tait show were not all the designer’s own. Canadian-born Tait, who won the Mo?t Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH) Prize for young talent, had invited French artist Georges Rousse to bring his vision of colour to the post-industrial building called “The Vinyl Factory”.
The collaboration was intense, designed to align the work of the two creatives. This was fashion through the prism of art.
As models in dresses with carefully assembled geometric pieces passed by a pillar with deep canary-yellow paintwork, it was as if background and clothes were merging. Even bootees, with heels like open bird beaks, seemed artistic.
But whereas Georges Rousse’s work was solid and commanding, the dresses seemed wispy and insubstantial, with squares of thin fabric fluttering in red or yellow.
Part of the LVMH Prize is a year-long mentorship. After this initial flourish of ideas, maybe Thomas Tait can be persuaded to bring more normality to his graphic conceptions.
London fashion designers were the first to pick up digital print – and run with it. But now that every fast fashion chain has windows filled with gaudy, low-rent versions of pattern, designers Peter Pilotto and Christopher De Vos are creating, in their own words, “a craft beyond print”.
And craft it is. With window blinds tinted pink and blue, and panes of colour appearing on iridescent organza, the various shades on the runway were intense.
But with angular colour blocks mixed with voluptuous giant paisley prints, the effect of a slim dress – form fitting or loose – was still relatively simple.
There was even a Grecian tunic feel to some of the dresses, belted at the waist and worn with flat (colourful) sandals. Other dresses, or more tailored coats, were punctuated by buttons, which created other geometric patterns.
This was an admirable leap forward by the thoughtful designer pair, who refreshed their image without lurching from their chosen path.
Is there such a thing as wearable art? Throughout this new millennium, graphic patterns, geometric lines and colour blocks have been a part of modernist fashion.
What was added by Roksanda, as the designer now likes to be called? She had a runway with hoops and arching curves, artsy flashing lights – and clothes to suit.
Coral, royal blue and scarlet were the colours of cut-out pieces. (Was it the influence of Tate London’s Matisse exhibition, yet again?) Some of the dresses with flaps flip-flopping looked like a noble experiment. Others were elegant, as with a shrimp-pink tunic with a necktie effect in sky blue and red trousers.
The separates in strong shades were appealing because they could be mixed with neutral tones. Perhaps Roksanda’s London store and her feedback from clients will encourage quieter use of colour, rather than vivid looks from neckline to sandalled feet.