For autumn-winter 2022, Erdem Moralioglu imagined the night lives of four extraordinary women from Berlin’s 1930s arts scene. As silence fell upon a black box inside the Sadler’s Wells, a pianist took to a grand piano and began to play a dramatic solo. From the ceiling, pillars of dusty spotlights shot through the blackened-out room as Erdem’s austere, androgynous, unsettling – and totally beautiful – collection meandered around the arena. “I liked the idea that it was a club, and maybe they were on their way out, like ghosts. It’s the end of the night and they’re trailing away…” he said backstage, before detailing the historical influence that inspired the collection. Following the launch of his second men’s collection in January, Moralioglu wasn’t done exploring its muse, the photographer Madame d’Ora, who embodied the free and alternative spirit of 1930s’ Berlin in a time of political unrest. Imagining how her nightlife might have been, he found another four muses to join her: the painters Jeanne Mammen and Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler, and the dancers Anita Berber and Valeska Gert, who were all contemporaries of d’Ora and personified the cross-dressing, sexually ambiguity, and liberated identities of the time. “There was something about the effect of doing menswear, and the exercise of adding that masculinity into the collection, and maybe thinking of the extremes of femininity and masculinity mixed together,” Moralioglu explained, using Karen Elson’s opening look of a floral-embroidered black men’s coat with a black sequined evening scarf and big leather boots as an illustration of his intentions. It set a muted and reduced mood for the collection, which was mesmerising through an Erdem lens.
“Sexual Selection” is what Christopher Kane called his intriguing autumn-winter 2022 collection. All things sensual, erotic and kinky are Kane’s aesthetic vocabulary, and the latest offering is a sharp range of the designer’s favourites, as well as some new experiments. Coded references to mating behavior in nature – plants, animals, humans – have always been embedded in his work. This time, he drew a comparison between bird of paradise plumage and the blue-red-yellow of the tulle strips he draped into semi-sheer dresses – one of them had a black harness – with bodices laid over the breasts in the same material. That’s just for starters on Kane’s menu of fetish-y fashion play. He did it with outright skill in slick, black, wipe-clean cutaway dresses – pointy bras and gathered skirts suspended on matrixes of gold snake chains. There’s a fine line between sophisticated hinting at something and blatantly putting it out there. Wearers of Christopher Kane have appreciated his skills in that direction for ages. In these 34 looks, he’s done his thing – using double-take materials like wool faux fur, slinky gold chain mail, and white net drapes in all kinds of wicked ways.
Picture this: Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Pierre Cardin and “Matrix“, all on one spooky, audience-less runway. Only Raf Simons could pull that off. After pandemic collections that furthered his explorations of youth and distress (and sometimes youth in distress), for autumn-winter 2022, the tense, urgent shapes of his rioters and revolutionaries has dissipated into a silhouette that is abjectly elegant, with draped pleated trousers, slender cloak wraps, black blouson bomber jackets, and backpacks with silken trains. Set in a stately interior, with glass chandeliers and furniture draped in red fabric, the collection’s video looks like a scene from a brooding horror movie that would would chill you to the bone. That’s how Simons works: say nothing and project it all through the clothing and the environment. This season he gave but one hint about his collection: Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s 1559 painting “Netherlandish Proverbs“. The opening look, a blue cloak suspended from a hat designed in partnership with Stephen Jones, is almost a one-to-one remake of the garb worn by the painting’s central figure. From here, the hood-hats continue in luxurious colors, emphasizing the thinness of Simons’s silhouette. Surprisingly, the headwear, seen through a contemporary lense, makes you think of Cardin’s futurist ideas dating back to the 1960s. And now, here’s where things get even more eerie: prairie dresses made from what appears to be latex, worn with cloaks and long leather neckties (very Trinity). There is something undeniably kinky about the combination; fabrics and ideas taken from the bondage shop and stripped of their obvious hotness. Simons is best when he is in a clash, taking the obvious and making it strange, turning the serene into something suspicious, or electrifying peaceful shapes with a rebellious edge. These combinations are the oddest and most enticing facet of this collection.
Maybe the purpose of being a silent designer is to leave the questions unanswered. To provoke, not explain. Back to the painting. Art historical interpretations of the work cast the people in the town’s square as fools, acting out proverbs of the era like “banging one’s head against a brick wall,” or “the world is turned upside down.” What does that central figure in the blue cloak depict, the one whose very cloak opens this collection? A man who has been cheated on by his wife. What can we extrapolate from that? How could Simons relate? For a designer who rarely speaks publicly, he manages, always, to say a lot about himself, his life, his obsession in his work.
There’s something about Simone Rocha‘s collections that truly, truly makes you feel emotions – a rare thing in today’s fashion. The designer hoped her autumn-winter 2022 show stirred up an “arresting melancholy euphoria” for her guests. It surely did mesmerise. The darkly seductive collection, inspired by an Irish fairytale that has stayed with the designer since her childhood, is probably one of the best collections of the entire London Fashion Week. Rocha was inspired by “Children of Lir” – the dark and intriguing tale of Aodh, Fionnula, Fiachra and Conn Lir, who were turned into swans for 900 years at the jealous hands of their magical stepmother, is one every Irish child knows. But, for Rocha, it has always represented a particular kind of “melancholy beauty”. For the latest offering, she mused on the transformation from human to bird through the manipulation of her garments. Accordingly, wings seem to burst through nylon taffetas, while technical water-resistant padded nylons and patent leathers give the feeling of being wet. Velvet, last seen in Simone Rocha’s autumn-winter 2017 collection, makes a comeback because of the wonderfully melancholy feel it has when dyed a rich blue. A new woollen embroidery, called “Bloodline”, is hand stitched onto tulles and organzas, while eiderdown quilting also gives added texture to her signature voluminous silhouettes. From the new crystal-flecked balaclavas, ultra-long stockings and elongated gloves to the myriad layering ideas, this was the sort of clothing you want to wrap up in and listen to stories. Really good stories. There was also the jewellery: crystallised hair clips and pearly jewellery are the easily identifiable entry points into her world, and this season, they have been given the beauty treatment. Perched delicately around models’ eyes, the effect was one of water droplets, and totally mesmerising to look at. In Rocha’s hands, the wet-look becomes magical.
Richard Quinn’s autumn-winter 2022 show celebrates the golden age of haute couture. “Dark couture”, as he calls it, has informed the collection which includes oversized vinyl hats, cocoon-shaped separates and majestic feather dresses. Accordingly, Quinn explored styles that were more synonymous with fashion in the 1950s and ’60s than today. But with Richard, it’s never all prim and saccharine. The voluminous and ultra-glamorous florals were contrasted with the entry of a latex-encased dominatrix leading a human dog on a leash. The balance of lady-like and kinky is the label’s key signature. This season, one of Quinn’s most intricate designs this season is an embroidered hooded dress. Upon closer inspection, you’ll see that it’s actually engulfed in tiny feathers. Consider it Quinn’s love letter to those who adore the vivaciousness of his technicolour evening gowns. “It’s essential that we offer our bespoke clients something special,” asserts Quinn. After-dark dresses have also been fashioned from beautiful silks and 3D embroidery. “Setting an almost impossible task, then making it happen is what drives the team and I,” he adds. Still, it seems to me that Quinn got stuck in a loop. The latest collection is pretty much the same thing we’ve seen in his previous seasons. The untamed glamour is highly Insta-grammable and impresses the eye, yes, but I think the designer should try out some different directions in the near future.