Buckle Up. Christopher Kane Pre-Fall 2023

No one does “sex” and “sexy” like Chistopher Kane. His pre-fall 2023 is yet another reminder that the London-based designer owns this territory. The collection’s main character is a buckled strap. Broad, big, buckled straps are bound around the shoulders, necks, and hemlines of mini-shifts and coats. In one case they formed the entire upper body of a dress. Bondage and fetish might be the words we’d automatically reach for here, but not so fast. To Kane, the heavy-duty strapping, combined with reflective yellow, neon green, and orange fabric is more bound up with “uniforms, security, police women, and school lolly-pop ladies.” This season the designer indulged himself with circular cutouts, creating some of the most captivating eveningwear of the season. Circles roll through the naked waist of a long black column, and then wickedly expose two half-moons of flesh above a built-in bra. Kane points out that the collection will start dropping in April, so he’s also found room for “clothes to wear to weddings, cocktail parties, the things you need for summer.” There are little white dresses decorated with hand-drawn micro-flowers, patchworked from organic-shaped “blobs.” Flounced skirts in highlighter orange or lime have hems which can either be buttoned up in front, or left long. All-in-all, it’s a collection that covers a lot of bases, yet still looks inimitably Christopher Kane. By now, he’s accumulated a big playbook to draw on.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Stripped-Back. Raf Simons SS23

Raf Simons presented his spring-summer 2023 collection in London, during a sort of mini-fashion-week (this week we’ve seen shows by Alexander McQueen, Roksanda and a couple of other British brands) that accompanies the Frieze art fair. The designer planned to show during the regular LFW, but the news of Queen Elizabeth’s death made him postpone the show. While other designers in London presented collections during the mourning period, most of them kept a respectful temperance – minutes of silence, quiet soundtracks. Simons’ rave-like outing just wouldn’t feel right at that moment. And in result, the collection gained a lot from being off the hectic fashion schedule. It really felt like the “moment”. A thousand young people, students, artists, designers, musicians, DJs, and fashion types, all pressed together in the chaotic spirit of euphoric togetherness, watched the show happening on a runway that minutes before was a bar. “I decided to come to London last year, because I felt the energy was incredible,” Simons declared. Post-Covid, post-Brexit, he observed, “you feel London, and the country is a hurt animal, but it’s an animal that’s ready to go out. There’s something positive within the negative. I saw it again, this week, going to galleries. Somehow people mix up here, start conversations. Coming to the city, the streets, the community is always inspiring.”

Acting at the edge, in the margins has always been the grounding of his brand. These gritty, dystopian times feel a lot like Raf Simons’s underground beginnings in the 1990s – it took him back to his memories as a kid of jostling with friends, faking tickets to get into fashion shows. “So I thought, let’s not do that. Let’s just invite everybody instead. I didn’t want a show for 300 people sitting in rows. This is a show that’s pure democracy. No hierarchy. A London explosion of youth, life, dancing, and being together. So,” he added, “I was thinking a lot about the body, in relation to dressing up and going out and performing.” As a brutal note-to-self, he embedded prints of scrawled works by the late Ghent artist Philippe Vandenberg on t-shirts and dresses. “They’re cruel words, like ‘Kill them all and dance.’ But he didn’t mean killing people – he meant killing things that you’re doing creatively in order to move on and explore further.” On charged the bar-top show, a propulsion towards coolly minimized tailoring and dancer’s leggings, inspired by classical ballet, partly an upshot of his recent collaboration with the New York Ballet choreographer Justin Peck. The onesies Simons had co-designed with Miuccia Prada reappeared, but this time shrunken into ‘bodies’ – knitted, or as string vests or shirts. In general, there were many Prada-isms weaved into the collection, but kept in a more raw manner. There was an impression of legs, of sexiness, energy – and with it, a new kind of chic coherence. Looks that have turned a corner from away logos, labels and clunky oversized shapes. A lot of that was down to the cut and evident quality of the gray and black tailoring – hip-length jackets with sawn-off sleeves, trousers reduced to slit-sided miniskirts, pleated shorts, narrow coats, even some simple knee-length skirt suits. “I didn’t want to do deconstruction in a complicated, conceptual way,” he concluded. “I wanted something very stripped-back, very reduced. Not overly styled and overdone.” Still, it was simplicity with substance; a collection strong on plain, almost traditional knitwear, multi-strapped kitten heels, and a Raf Simons wardrobe that is as obviously attractive to women as men. His night in London might have devolved into a long after-rave that Simons and hundreds of students and fans won’t forget, but as far as fashion’s concerned, the main event was his clear-headed consolidation of the directness and modernity that’s refreshing the direction of fashion now.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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First Sight. Alexander McQueen SS23

Sarah Burton‘s latest collections for Alexander McQueen are her best offerings for the brand in years. Spring-summer 2023, shown off-schedule in London, is no exception. In a transparent bubble that had landed in the middle of Sir Christopher Wren’s 17th century landmark, the designer presented a thrilling ode to the eye. “The eye is the most unique symbol of humanity – each one is like a fingerprint; each one is completely individual,” she said, explaining the enlarged prints and raffia-fringed images of irises, pupils, and eyelashes embedded in dresses and spilling over a trouser suit. That thought gave her the impetus to begin to grapple with layers of themes that the house of McQueen has always been concerned with: nature and technology, deep history and present fears. “It’s sort of about seeing things again,” she said. “Not walking around with your eyes shut, your eyes down. Just seeing each other, recognizing each others’ humanity. Caring about each other.” But against that, she also meant that having open eyes on the world means taking on terrors. Burton recently re-read Orwell’s 1984. “That played into it as well: how do you find human contact in the world we live in, in the world of technology?” Besides the bold decorative narratives, out came clean, sharp tailoring. Look two: a revival of McQueen’s bumsters, with a cropped tuxedo jacket cut into sharp points at the front and the rest of it balanced to swing at the back. There are generations that have never heard of bumsters – Alexander McQueen invented that explosive downward shift of pant design in the 1990s. But the red-hot relevance of torso-exposure, and clothes designed to expose slices of naked flesh needs no explanation to new eyes. The references to the touchstones of the work of her late boss felt timely in this collection. Sarah Burton is designing in a different world, but the themes she brought to bear, and the skills inherent in the house resonate more than ever today.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Goth Summer. Burberry SS23

For Burberry‘s spring-summer 2023 collection, Riccardo Tisci seemed to have many ideas. But in the end, the overall result was messy and unedited. It came as a surprise, because his recent offerings for the British brand suggested he finally found the right track. After five years in England, Tisci (so often labeled “goth” by the fashion press) has gained a better understanding of the intricacies and eccentricities of British society – such as the beach and summer culture that inspired his spring collection for Burberry. “British summer is very different to anywhere else in the world, because Britain is basically built on big cities on the water. That means you really see people dressing on the beach, because you never know when it’s going to rain or when there’s going to be sun. The beauty is the goth on the beach, like these kids we filmed the other day,” he said after the show, referring to the show’s goth-tastic teaser filmed in Margate. “Or, you’ll see a wedding, or someone who’s gone there at lunch time to read. It’s all different personalities.” Since Tisci brought a more sensual spirit to Burberry, its swimsuits have risen to best-seller status. That fact, mixed with his homage to the beach-going goth, created a collection of swimwear fusions and hybrids. Press release is one thing; in reality, the concept looked too awkward and clumsy. The model casting, featuring Naomi Campbell and Karen Elson, didn’t help in elevating these clothes. Swimsuit elements like bikinis and bathing suit cut-outs were entered into dresses and tailoring, which simultaneously incorporated the trademarks of the goth wardrobe: lace, netting, perforation, gothic fonts, and crinkled negligees. De- and reconstructed outerwear evoked the dress codes of the industrial corner of the goth population, with dissected hoods and sleeves tied around the waists of trench coats and three-piece suits with big-buttoned gilets replacing the traditional vest. After Burberry canceled its original presentation during London Fashion Week out of respect for the national mourning period that followed the death of the Queen, Tisci squeezed the show in on the Monday between Milan and Paris. Presented in a naked warehouse in Bermondsey – the London Contemporary Orchestra lined up in the middle of the space – it unfolded in complete silence before the soprano opera singer Nadine Sierra broke out in a poignant aria. It wasn’t until the finale that the orchestra joined in. “It was a moment of respect. She was the queen of the world – every country respected her,” Tisci said.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Labour Of Love. Richard Quinn SS23

Richard Quinn offered and very fitting a moving show as for London Fashion Week’s finale – an unprecedented kind of fashion week, done during national mourning. The designer’s response to Queen Elizabeth II’s death pushed him of colorful, multi-floral prints to prove, in tribute to her, that he can also make as elaborately and extensively in black. The first 22 looks, many heavily veiled in black lace, were made by Quinn and his core team of six, and 20 show-time helpers, day and night, in the 10 days since the Queen died. “It was almost cathartic for us to put all of our emotions of mourning into it,” he said. “We wanted it to have that kind of real craftsmanship, the beauty of royalty, and to try to turn all of the shapes and embroidery that we do into that kind of that idea of uniform dressing up they did when her father [King George VI] died.” Quinn, of course, owes more of a debt to the late Monarch than any other designer in London fashion history, since she came to his debut show in 2018 and presented him with the first annual Queen Elizabeth II Award for Design, her legacy for emerging fashion designers in Britain. He changed the set he’d planned, draping the walls in black and playing fragments of video footage of her young days on screens inset on a suspended central installation. Quinn pulled out all the stops on multiple silhouettes for that section: black swing coats, his translations of fitted 1950s formal dresses, vast capes in lurex, a velvet tunic dress with a big glittering jeweled brooch. All the model’s faces were either completely obscured in floor length lace veils, or masked in point d’esprit netting. Under one, a tiny black crown was visible.

And then, well, it was on with part two: the show that should have been. That had been intended by Quinn to be spun around a concept about public surveillance. There were CCTV cameras bristling from the central ‘chandelier.’ The Queen video screens switched to live footage of the audience. Then came renderings of multi-colored bulbous-topped bodysuits, his signature floral coats, feathered polka-dot embroideries, a pair of short bejeweled capes. Understandable if that part didn’t have the chance, or the atelier-power to fully make its point. All the young minds and hands at Richard Quinn had been devoted to proving they were equal to showing up for an historic moment. The black put it in the shade, in a good way. The finale however, brought back the lace veil in a hopeful way: a bride, in white, with a huge spray of flowers. Weddings have become a mainstay of his business since Elizabeth II gave him his first boost. He can thank her for that, too.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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