Brands and designers throw around the ‘stay-at-home-glam’ term for a year now, but most of the time it just feels forced and like a desperate attempt to sell eveningwear. However in case of Ashish‘ autumn-winter 2021, this notion of glamour in times of global pandemy is honest and at last makes sense. Ashish Gupta has the solution to fashion’s sweatpant-mania: simply offer garments that enable the consolatory comfort that we’ve grown fond of in isolation, combined with the communal joyfulness we’re aching to emanate. This collection fabulously demonstrates that comfort and joy can be mutually inclusive and mutually enhancing. When he was a student at Central Saint Martins, Gupta said he picked up this excellent line: “An evening gown should feel as comfortable as a T-shirt, and a T-shirt should feel as special as an evening gown.” And while he can’t recall where the line came from, he explained, “I’ve always carried it with me. So I always design my clothes to not be physically restrictive in any way. Even things that look body-con are cut on the bias and are super soft. Everything has pockets and zips, and there is never any corsetry; I think you should wear clothes you can slip out of very quickly and easily.” Shot in glamorous Finchley here in London, and impressively intricate to consider on the rail in Gupta’s house, this specific collection also seemed deeply easy to quickly get into, both as wearer and watcher. Gupta said the formula of its creation was to consider patterns and visible textures that have, through their history, the power to generate positive and comforting associations – “like when I think of tie-dye, I always think of beaches and holidays” – and then go to town on them via the sequin sequencer. The joyful result is the product of intense labor: a tie-dye long sleeve, for instance, took two Ashish employees two weeks to embroider by hand, once the exact order of sequins had been drawn and sorted. This collection also ran riotous gamut across the spectrum of so-called formalwear and so-called casualwear, two other categories whose perceived opposition seems increasingly anachronistic and redundant. Happily enhanced by these fantastic Sam McKnight wigs, this was a collection in which every piece of every look was made to enable joy and comfort in most conceivable circumstances. If these ’20s really are going to roar, Ashish is bringing the noise.
For some designers, the pandemic brought a sense of freedom, and also let them really rethink how to do things. Jonathan Anderson is an example. “I do not want to be bound by the idea that we have to show 60 looks, that we have to do this thing, that it has to be presented this way. I want to be able to have the freedom. I’m enjoying the freedom at the moment that we’re not part of the vehicle. And I didn’t want to put pressure upon pressure on my team – the last six months have been a nightmare. I said, ‘Let’s just focus on getting 19 fantastic propositions.’ I don’t want urgency. I want to just put it out when it’s ready.” Continuing with a format established several seasons ago, JW Anderson presented its women’s autumn-winter 2021 collection in the form of nineteen double-sided posters shot by Juergen Teller in addition to a video message from Jonathan Anderson. This season’s presentation is a curation and juxtaposition of Jonathan’s passions: art and fashion. Alongside the nineteen looks of the collection are portraits of Dame Magdalene Odundo DBE and Shawanda Corbett and their works. Anderson uses his fashion platforms as creative outlets for people he finds inspiring and wants to introduce to his audience. The designer got to know the internationally lauded Odundo when she loaned him pieces in 2017 for the “Disobedient Bodies” exhibition that he curated at the Hepworth Wakefield Gallery, a show that sparked comparisons between art forms and fashion forms (“I really look up to her. She’s one of the most important ceramicists of the 20th century”). He discovered the young American Corbett at the Corvi-Mora Gallery in London last summer. Corbett, who was born with one arm and without legs, creates vessels that she has described as “stand-ins for people,” as well as dance performances. “I went into that room, and there was nearly a landscape of people talking to each other,” he remembers. “It was incredible to feel the power and influence objects can have on you.” In both Corbett’s work and Odundo’s practice, he feels a physical connection. “This is about an exploration of two artists’ work, my own work, and the idea of the body. And that is what clothing is about.” For Jonathan the collection was an attempt to “boil everything down to beauty, silhouette and pose.” It is an exploration of volume, a recurring theme in JW Anderson womenswear collections, with a focus on totemic structures. Knitwear expands into extreme, cocooning shapes. The everyday becomes surreal in prints on trousers and tops. The body, grounded on sturdy boots with chain embellishment, is celebrated as a vessel. Like the art and the images, the fashion is “curated” (one of Anderson’s favourite words, both at his London-based brand and Loewe). The combination of art and fashion this season is embodied in hand-knit and woven blankets (four hand-knit blanket styles featuring works from Odundo and Corbett can be pre-ordered on the brand’s website) and the entire presenation is “one of the most personal projects I have ever done,” as Jonathan summed up.
Erdem Moralioglu delivered a mesmerising collection. He is at heart a dramatist, forever living for theatrical moments. Conceived in the realm of ballet, his Erdem autumn-winter 2021 collection freeze-framed a dancer’s wardrobe between the stages of rehearsal and performance. “When I was working at the Royal Opera House, that was the moment I found so exciting: the dancers shifting around, criss-crossing, half-dressed in what they wear during the day and half-dressed in their costumes,” he said on a video call with Vogue, recalling Corybantic Games, the ballet he created costumes for in 2018. Incidentally, the contrast between a ballerina’s everyday dancewear and her ornate costumes served as a rather poetic illustration of our impending transition from domestic dressing to dressing up. The exquisiteness of feather-embroidered 1940s jackets, Swan Lake headpieces and plumed skirts, giant opera gowns daubed in night-time florals, and jewel-encrusted shirts came as no surprise. The gray ribbed knitwear fashioned into dramatic skirts that moved like pleats, into softly cinching cummerbunds, and body-conscious tops that had the elegance of eveningwear but the tactility of the comfort-wear of lockdown. With similar duality, he elevated ballet slippers onto stilted platforms that gave his silhouette an air of fetish. Perhaps that feeling was spurred by the narrative that underpinned his story: the relationship between Rudolf Nureyev and prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn, whose on- and off-stage wardrobe also informed proceedings. “The contrasts, the dichotomies of a dancer… that Hitchcockian self-possession and drive for perfection,” Moralioglu paused. “I find the psychology of it interesting.” Perfecting a look – a sculpted sleeve, a nipped-in waist, a little plumed hat, a pair of neat red slippers – seems shocking in our home-bound reality. It was pleasant to be reminded of that feeling.
In London, the new-gen designers thrive. Emma Chopova and Laura Lowena, the design duo behind Chopova Lowena, have always fused traditional folklore with sportswear, and this season they keep on building their style vocabulary. For autumn/winter 2021, they put emphasis on the ‘uniform’. “We were looking at the tension and strictness of school uniforms, but then the freedom of the vigour, colour and nature of horse jockeys and their riding attire,” they say of the brand’s most “challenging” collection yet. The designers traditionally use deadstock material sourced from Bulgaria, and this season they’ve added in some new fabrics and techniques. “We’ve used an appliqué, which is more like the horse jockey shirts… graphic shapes.” Buttons, meanwhile, were sourced from the biggest English button factory remaining in Nottingham. Having sewn about “70 per cent of the collection”, while adapting to “making linings and patterns”, the pair is making resilience and adaptability a cornerstone of their rising, sustainability-forward brand. Also, love the voluminous, patchworked dresses with ruffled sleeves!
Simone Rocha‘s autumn-winter 2021 collection is brilliant – and it took us to the darker side of the designer’s off-kilter, romantic universe. Amidst the frenzy of the upcoming H&M collaboration (one of the best in years coming from the high street giant), the designer appears to have doubled down on the codes upon which she established her brand, with the themes that defined her early collections re-explored and elevated anew. Her debut collection, inspired by teenage rebellion and tucking tracksuits under her school uniform to go and smoke cigarettes in the alley near her house, set a blueprint for her world which has been expressly reasserted this season. Over a decade later and biker jackets and leathers appeared for the first time on her runway, in a manner that beautifully reflected the subversive femininity so key to her work; a distended, oversized knit worn with heavy brogues and satchel directly evocative of times spent in alleys. “I really wanted this collection to have a lot of clarity, a lot of identity,” she told Vogue. “To look at the codes which felt very me.” She continued: “I was working my femininity into a harder, more protective shell; working with fragile fabric which would explode out of it.” So, from beneath cropped leathers bloomed layers of tulle; pretty dresses harnessed to the body; heavy patent bovver boots laced with pearls. Some exceptionally fabricated 3D satin roses managed to maintain a somewhat imposing presence and, rendered in a waxed cotton khaki jacket, appeared almost utilitarian. “The petal of the roses and the spike of the thorn,” is how she described it – a sentiment which might sound trite were it not so expertly executed. “We all feel very kind of internal at the moment; I wanted to look after that fragility, but give it a harder shell. I like how, at the beginning of the collection things appear tight and closed, but throughout the collection, the woman blooms open until the leathers are just strapped on. The shell breaks down, but the tulle keeps its strength.” There’s melancholy, yet there’s plenty of hope – a cocktail of feelings we all might going through now, and Rocha captured that just perfectly with her pack of goddesses and fairies. It’s no revelation that Simone Rocha’s accessories are a standout. But this season they make you drool: porcelain cameos turned into earrings; crumpled leather rose bags; a new floral iteration of her classic chandelier earrings; thick-soled shoes with scalloped platforms. Love, love, love!