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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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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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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