Two clashing conceptual camps passionately promoted their ethos during London’s Spring/ Summer 2013 Fashion Week. One school admirably armed wearers with pragmatic, optimistic and professional attire. On this side, designers such as Kate Phelan (for TopShop Unique), Simone Rocha and Roksanda Ilincic outfitted women with elegant and realistic garb for combating today’s recessionary anxiety. In contrast, there was an explosion of fantasy, mania, and loud prints blasting on almost all other catwalks. One of the few bridges between London designers’ bombastic and rational agendas was a wealth of art references. Here are the top five British designers using sculptural allusions to enhance their range of thoughtful and thought-provoking work.
Roksanda Ilincic : Niki de Saint Phalle
The graciously groomed smock-dresses, cocktail shifts, and cardigans on Roksanda Ilincic’s catwalk were a refreshing reprise from all the chaotic prints clambering for attention throughout London this season. Yet, Ilincic claims her inspiration as Niki de Saint Phalle; the Godmother for extreme, sexy and effervescent concoctions of color and design. While other designers during LFW were more direct descendants of Saint Phalle’s psychedelic aesthetic, Illincic took her cues from the French sculptor’s biography as a young model and art student in the ’50s. In this spirit, the Belgrade-born designer’s trim, feminine, style revives classic Parisian student chic. This sensibility has run throughout Ilincic’s young career since she launched at Central Saint Martins with her refined demi-couture womenswear in crisp colors. For SS13, she worked with a select palette of black, white, navy, tangerine and marigold. She kept her cuts either circular, with coats and ballooning sleeves, or straight for slender dresses or ankle-grazing skirts. These neat, smart, garments leave wearers’ bodies in order while their imaginations are free to concoct mad creative orgies of color and form, like Saint Phalle’s joyful art.
Mario Schwab: Cathy de Monchaux
Mario Schwab’s cryptic responses to fashion critics’ backstage probing is a source of endless debate during London Fashion Week. Everyone knows that the shy London-based, Austrian-Greek designer thinks like an artist. He imbues his beautifully crafted collections with literary and cultural meaning that begs to be deconstructed. But this season most observers who struggled to place the distantly familiar sight of peach and pink layers and ovals outlined with strands of straight black fringe overlooked his obvious imagery. These dresses, along with versions in white and black, were less reminiscent of Native American iconography or bees (Schwab’s own explanation) than Cathy de Monchaux’s post-feminist sculptures of enormous vaginas. The anachronistic reference to pubic hair, created by the symmetrical strips of fridge framing softer exposed openings, might confuse viewers but Schwab’s (subconscious, perhaps) evocation of de Monchaux is perfectly consistent with his admiration for intellectual feminists and all strong women.
Burberry Prorsum: Mariko Mori
The upsetting news of Burberry’s corporate trouble in the Chinese market unnerved the fashion community during the catwalk shows, but Christopher Bailey’s SS13 collection remains among the most joyful, brilliant (in all senses), and interesting during Fashion Week. Prophetically, it is also the most overtly Asian-inspired. However, instead of making a gracious nod to Chinese culture, Bailey’s exuberant and elegant vision for Burberry Prorsum borrows heavily from both Japanese futurism, traditional dress, and Mariko Mori’s iridescent bubbles and coy femininity. High-tech fabrics, artificial fruit hues, and pod-like forms for coats, dresses, and caps evoke Mori’s otherworldly aesthetic. Tied and tightly wound dresses, tops and trenches recall the glamorous sexy cyborg/geisha look that Mori embodied in the ’90s. The impact on Burberry’s catwalk was refreshingly innovative and polished. Each piece had an unexpected sensuality, with surprising plays on proportions and unusual fabrics, such as a lace trench-coat belted with leather or a trench-like bolero jacket worn by Joan Smalls over a lace body-suit. Although the Japanese are no longer the world’s tastemakers, it is hard to imagine that a collection this polished and progressive won’t have global support.
Paul Smith: Alvar Aalto
Paul Smith, the quintessential English gentleman, presents an elegant ode to ’60s Scandinavian furniture and interior design for his SS13 collection. His billowing shift dresses, calf-length skirts, blocky blazers, and full, high-waisted trousers are remarkably soft and fluid. Yet his use of strong color and thick forms recalls Alvar Aalto’s wood stools and stiff canvas chairs. Like the minimalist Finnish designer’s timeless furniture, the pieces on Smith’s catwalk are sensible and pragmatic but also calming, durable and elegant. They are clothes for cerebral, mature wearers to rely upon. The firm primary colors are as reassuringly cheerful, without being frivolous. Soft black and white are used as support for the pure, uncomplicated reds, yellows, navy blues, and forest greens instead of making their own misleading statements. As for texture, there are swatches of satin and sections of sheer, which add whimsy with their sheen, but, overall, this is a solid collection for together people.
Vivienne Westwood: Folkert de Jong
Vivienne Westwood‘s “Climate Revolution“ recalls Folkert de Jong’s pigmented polyurethane foam tableaux. Her army of Grey Garden-party matrons projected a demented and slightly threatening sexuality and counterintuitive timelessness. Westwood’s women are as unnerving and subversive as the batty Beales, the sinister ladies that Laurence Harvey imagines during his hallucinations in the 1962 film, “The Manchurian Candidate“ or Folkert de Jong’s recreations of historical references. Yet, underneath their eccentricity, Westwood‘s women seem neither nutty nor manipulative. Instead, they all appear shockingly comfortable with their imperfections, seasoned sexuality, and defiance against frivolous fashion. Like the grinning figures in Folkert de Jong’s radioactively hued work, they dare viewers to discredit their deranged beauty.
Almost all Westwood’s models sported streaks of grey or full stiff grey helmet hair. They wore blue eye shadow, tangerine lipstick and chartreuse face-paint with the consistency and volume of oil-stick slathered on their faces by a grandchild. Many of the models wore strings of pearls tied around their necks with massive bouquets of flowers on their heads. Yet, their kooky styling only enhanced the intensity of their louche, chic, and confident appearance. Some shorts were tiny and skirts ranged in length, while a few hems were indiscreetly bunched up around models’ thighs. Although many of the cocktail dresses were classic and prim, Westwood maintained a vampish silhouette. Her collection‘s sexual spark came from its irreverent details, in keeping with her own fearless rejection of youth-obsessed beauty standards. Westwood stormed the scene at the end with a moustache, Littl’ Rascals-style black-eye and boxers under torn pantyhose to unfurl her “Climate Revolution” flag. But, her clothes carried a subtler meet of secret messages with prints presenting decaying landscapes, like those in Folkert de Jong’s toxic tableaux. Like de Jong’s creatures, Westwood‘s women looked like mutants after an acid rainstorm. Yet, somehow, they emerged well-weathered.