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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Sharp Femininity. Emilia Wickstead SS23

When Emilia Wickstead began researching ideas on uniforms and the work of visual artist Man Ray, it didn’t take long to join the dots to the spirit and style of Lee Miller, a regular reference point on Wickstead’s mood boards. “She’s the consummate polymath: artist, muse, model, surrealist, journalist, Vogue photographer, and the first female war correspondent,” said Wickstead. As the London-based designer explained, this collection touched on the many facets of Miller’s career but at the forefront of it all was her determined independence and freedom to move across those different worlds. At its most obvious, the idea of uniform was evident in oversized shirting with neat boyish collars and utilitarian flap pockets, rendered glamorously in sheerest organza, and beige wide-leg trousers in silk satin, not workaday cotton. Miller’s sensuality and her love affair with Man Ray were explored via off-the-shoulder shapes, a glimpse of underpinnings, and a feeling of unraveling – of fabrics peeling away. One of the most interesting references was how Wickstead approached Miller’s pioneering photography techniques. Miller and Ray discovered solarization, a process that gives photographs a ghostly, glowing, and surreal quality. Wickstead took this as a way to experiment with prints. Her painterly florals on silk were blurred and became further distorted overlaid with printed organza; the effect, she noted, was as softly focused as a Vaseline-smeared lens. Pleats were also warped – either stitched back or falling in rebellious folds rather than rigid, linear formations. This was a collection with all kinds of shapes and silhouettes, from rigorously fitted and immaculately tailored to easy and loose, from ultrashort to long and narrow gowns with trains. Others were full and floor skimming. Overall it was feminine and formal but with a spicy undercurrent of edge and modernity. It’s this clever and precise balance that ensures Wickstead’s clothes don’t veer too far one way or the other.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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All About The Body. Christopher Kane SS23

Christopher Kane does “sexy” like no one else. But his “sexiness” hits different. The spring-summer 2023 collection was about the body. Literally. “I’m dissecting a woman. Dissecting her in the best possible ways. It’s forensic. In a good way!” And it was definitely about his own body of work. Here were Christopher Kane’s clinical obsessions, his taste for dodgy materials mixed with sweet-and-innocent ones, his chainmail and cup-cake shapes and his frank praise of sensuality, all metabolized in new ways. Dresses with clear vinyl body-brace straps with inset lace bra cups were the highlights of the line-up. Pretty pastel organza and white lingerie-lace edged skirts, doubled up into loops – another show-stopper. Then bouncy little mini-crini dresses of a Kane kind, suspended from geometric panels he described as “sliced with a scalpel.” Scottish cashmere cardigan-capes underlined the tension between sexy and regal. Kane printed a nurse’s dress and sheer twinset with pink roses. Was that an echo of the floral stickers he’d used 10 years ago, in his spring 2012 show? Well yes, but no. “Flowers are symbolic of love and death. It was all these things: celebration or condolence.” That is life. One of the flower-embedded vinyl dresses had a cutout pair of medical-illustration hands wrapped around its middle as a belt, a woman creepily turned into a human plastic-covered bouquet.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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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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