History. Erdem SS23

Erdem‘s spring-summer 2023 collection captured an important moment in time. The last moments of the show – three models walking, their faces and full-skirted ball gowns fully veiled in black tulle – felt like a page being inscribed in the annals of British fashion history. This was a show on the eve of the state funeral of a monarch who had reigned for 70 years. This finale, slowly walked through the grand colonnades of the British Museum, did indeed feel like a dignified, loving farewell to Queen Elizabeth, from a fashion designer who has researched and referenced her long before now. Looking at history and being a museum, gallery, and library geek is totally Erdem Moralioglu’s modus operandi. His first show was in the V&A. He’s had a long relationship with the National Portrait Gallery. He spends days in the London Library. And actually, this collection—as he explained afterwards – had to do with his fascination for the behind-scenes work of museum conservators. “It’s so funny, because I started the collection research here at the British Museum actually, and taking the design team to look at how they were restoring 17th century etchings; or how they might deal with restoring a tapestry or a Dutch Master.” At the V&A, he was inspired by seeing the crinolined structures the conservators built to slowly, painstakingly put the decaying fragments of an 18th century gown back together – and by the dust-sheets they use. And by happenstance, those dust-sheets were already translating themselves into the veils he wanted to show. “It was this idea of, if you study an object or dress so closely, over such a long time, do you start to become that thing?” A romantic, vaguely crazed projection of ideas onto imagined characters: this is Erdem all over. It produced all the kinds of sweeping shapes, prints, and embellishments his customers love: a grand sweeping trench-ballgown with a train, the appearance of fraying hems, a touch of antique-contemporary undone-ness. There is a lot to think about in Britain about the passing of an era. But then again, as his work – and the existence of all the British museums proves – the momentous significance of the past is never gone.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Harnessing An Emotion. Simone Rocha SS23

Simone Rocha‘s collections are never just “pretty” or just “feminine“. There’s always an underlying, slightly dark, raw energy behind them. “This collection was very much a reaction to the last few years. It was very much harnessing an emotion that felt like this kind of powerful, feminine statement.” Her harnessing literally went into the parachute tapes threaded through dresses and big, bubble-bomber jackets. She demonstrated how the tapes can function to change the shapes of garments – making something long or short, or giving it a different volume, according to mood. There were lots and lots of airy, pale white-beige-pink layers of tulle, what looked like a pink wallpaper print of flower-wreaths contrasted with a punkier strand of army green, tough aviator pants, and deconstructed corsets. And then, there were veils. Rocha has used veils powerfully before, more in contexts that have hinted at weddings and christenings – echoes of her upbringing in Catholic Ireland. Now, they were flounced, tiered constructs covering the heads and shoulders of women and men. There was a strange coincidence of fate in that. Considering what to do as she was absorbing news of the death of the Queen, Rocha was afraid that the audience might take the reference as a last-minute reaction; but in fact they were part of her own creative origin story; part of her instinct for going back to reconnect herself with the forces she’d been channeling as a student – a rebel girl beginning to grapple with her attraction to history. “There’s definitely pieces within the collection that I think people will feel potentially a response to the current situation. Because my original inspiration, back at Central Saint Martins, was this old tradition of the people of the Aran Isles, where women would dye their petticoats red and wear them on their heads in a funeral procession. I almost took them out at one point. It was touch and go. Then I thought no; because to me they represent this idea of ceremony, but also the vulnerability of it.” She’d also recalled them because she was starting with menswear (yes, finally!) – throwing the veil over the head of a boy was an early gesture in her process. “I wanted to work into this beautiful masculinity, and really think about the juxtaposition to everything I’ve done within the last decade with women, and see how that world plays out in the crossover between the two.” The dynamic had men wearing fragments of petticoats, styled with utility pieces and black tailoring. As Rocha found, creative ideas can’t be contained; she let a sense of the toughness flow over into her womenswear. With great, and emotional, effect. That’s what brought the audience to its feet. “I think clothes are sometimes an escape and a release,” Rocha reflected. “ And then I think I think they’re the reality. What can they be in that reality? For me, it was about making something protective, and healing, and an urgent sense of wanting to go forward.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Refined Sexiness. Nensi Dojaka SS23

It’s rare to see a relatively young brand like Nensi Dojaka having such signature and consistent vocabulary of style codes. The London-based designer’s evolving label of sophisticated sexiness continues to stand out for its refinement. Close up, the sensitive construction of Dojaka’s work, with its tiny rouleau straps, asymmetrical suspension and delicate trimmings, is so obviously in a class way above the world of cheap stretch imitations that have hit the market after the designer went viral. For spring-summer 2023, the designer said that her starting point was thinking about using lace, the shimmery qualities of silvery lurex textures and palest pink sparkles, and as always, inventing newer things to do with chiffon. She never talks concepts or narrative, only about fabrics – her work is evolutionary, never theme-based. Her micro-focus is only on supreme fit, and perfecting the beauty of each piece. Against the illuminated backdrop of a white space, all of her lingerie skills in creating cutout shapes with intricately invisible boning and bra-cups edged with fragile frills looked immaculately accomplished. She moved forward with some of the best slip-dresses of the season; a tiny bit ’90s grunge-influenced, but for a new generation. She switched things up with a few cycling shorts and jeans contoured in two shades of denim, the latter worn with a black tailored jacket over a bra which was inserted with cutout hearts (a recurring motif throughout.) Then, the show-stoppers: three long, sinuous, virtually transparent chiffon evening dresses – beige, black, and one in a combination of dark cranberry and pink. They had trains. Dream silhouettes guaranteed to put the name of Nensi Dojaka on many a red carpet.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Subverted Realism. JW Anderson SS23

Jonathan Anderson is high on surreal, escapist and subverted fashion he has been delivering lately, and his spring-summer 2023 JW Anderson collection is one of his best yet (I really can’t wait to see what’s to come at Loewe in a couple of days). But then, the direction Anderson is taking isn’t that far from reality. In the middle of Soho, on the most packed London Saturday night of all, the show’s guests were plunged into the Vegas video gambling arcade (the location was just next door to his JW Anderson flagship store on Wardour Street). His models made a short walk past marshals, crash barriers and hustling crowds into a place where people go for the thrill of gaming the random fates of fortune. A big, metallic bubble of a dress symbolically took in the whole of the scene in its distorted silver surface: flashing screens, views of the audience perched on stools. Everyone laughed delightedly and lifted their phones. “I like this idea of a transient moment in time. I’ve been exploring this for several collections,” Anderson extemporized afterward. “Are we falling into our screens, becoming our phones? I think it’s really like an alternate universe, and there are layers and layers and layers to it. I think it’s probably about realism. I don’t think it’s about futurism. It’s more about a reflection of ourselves somehow.”

In his frank observation of the state of human consciousness in a disorderly world of events, it’s as if Anderson has turned the bizarreness of chance itself into his medium, and he’s playing with it. Parts of the collection, the prints of goldfish in plastic bags, a map of the planet, pictures of palm-fringed beaches and sunsets, were lifted “from stock digital pictures you find on the internet and can buy for a dollar.” Then came a halterneck top made out of old computer keys – a person half-merged with their machine. In this topsy-turvy world, chunky sweaters might also be worn upside down – why not? But Anderson is simultaneously in the mood for straight-up clarity. He also showed long charmeuse lingerie lace-trimmed slips and draped T-shirt dresses with plenty of hip and torso exposure. Exactly like life these days: one thing can come along after another without warning. This past week, as the whole world knows, Britain has had to deal with the death of its monarch. So did Anderson. On an emergency British Fashion Council conference call with fellow designers, he was the one who took a decisive lead in rallying the community’s resolve to carry on with London Fashion Week for the sake of small brands who couldn’t afford to cancel. And then, to mark the moment, he sent out a black T-shirt printed with a graphic commemoration of Her Majesty The Queen as his finale. All was not quite as it seemed, though: he said it was a replica of the posters which have gone up on bus stops all over London. Marking the significance of a passing moment of history with an image of an existing image. How very JW Anderson is that?

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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