Aquatic Wonderland. Versace SS21

As we are somewhere in the middle of the fashion month, two camps of designers can be noticed: the ones that take the realistic, pragmatic approach, and the ones that prefer escapism in midst of a crisis. Donatella Versace is in the latter group, as she takes us to her aquatic wonderland for spring-summer 2021. The Versace line-up was really good this season (and you know I’m not the biggest fan of the brand), but it was the model casting that truly stole the spotlight. Seeing the gorgeous, body-positive models – Jill Kortleve, Precious Lee and Alva Clair – in the Versace fantasy-land was a inclusivity moment that sadly isn’t a usual sight in Milan (except for Fendi and Marni, which invite different models to their fashion shows for a couple of seasons now). Hopefully, Donatella will keep it up. What about the clothes? In the imagined ruins of Atlantis and water currents streaming down its projected walls. Versace goddesses and gods wore starfish, coral, and seashell motifs from Gianni Versace’s ‘trésors de la mer’ collection for spring-summer 1992. They were ready to take on a new reality like the Rebirth of Venus herself (starring Adut Akech in the title role, of course). Versace, who described the collection as having “an upbeat soul,” said her challenge was to give fashion meaning in a historical moment like this. “I wanted to do something disruptive and to break the rules because I think that, what worked a few months ago, does not make any sense today. Creatively, that meant finding a way to bring the DNA of Versace to a new reality and to people who have undergone a deep change.” Clothes-wise, it’s a fun, high summer venture: it was, on the women’s as well as the men’s side, high-octane sporty cocktail-wear for an optimistic future. In all its sea-centric detailing, it also had its moments of ingenuity: micro-pleated dresses trimmed with twirly ruffles, which bounced like jellyfish in the waves walking down the runway; crazy cascading skirts layered like the lips of shells; and a bag constructed like a big fortune cookie.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Marnifesto. Marni SS21

Usually, Marni‘s Franceso Risso takes us to a fairy-tale, where everything has a sort of out-of-this-world meaning. For spring-summer 2021, his collection is strikingly grounded. And literally, out in the world. “I don’t want to make any statements about this show, but this is the idea of it: the people, the individual stories, the lives, the awakenings, my awakening, and the connections,” Risso said in a press preview. “Lockdown felt very oppressive. I have a big dog, and whenever I’d go out, I had police sending me back home. It was strange; bad,” he recalled. While they sounded funny, stories of the Marni studio “making things at home with blankets [and] curtains, [and] dyeing things in their bathtubs” had a more introspective rather than creatively explosive impact on Risso’s approach for his spring proposal. The events of 2020 made him feel caged and powerless. The fragility of freedom was at the heart of this collection. After he finished it, he sent looks to friends and family around the world: Los Angeles, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York City, London, Milan, Paris, Dakar, Shanghai, and Tokyo. In a digital showcase livestreamed from all of those locations, his diverse cast of non-models performed what Risso called his “Marnifesto”: “An experiment of collective neo-humanism, which is so individualist, but actually, this has been collective. It’s celebrating Marni not through the I but through the we,” he explained. It was, quite simply, unity in diversity: Through live-recorded everyday scenarios like walks through traffic, trips to the park, band practice, or grocery shopping, it was an illustration of how we’re less fragile together. Working on the collection, Risso had pulled his most-loved pieces from the Marni archives, re-created them, took them apart, and stapled them back together in new ways. If that was an illustration of fragility versus strength in itself, so were the constructions: unraveling knitwear, de- and reconstructed tank dresses, a rigid, box-fresh leather jumpsuit about to get crinkled. It all felt somewhat “charity shop,” but that inevitably comes with the territory of fragility. Twenty-five coats had been made out of outerwear from old collections, patched together and painted with poetic words sent to Risso by friends through correspondence over the past season. “I can’t talk about hems and drapes and stripes,” Risso said. “I’m more inclined toward thinking of this as a work that’s been more collective than ever. It’s devoted to freedom, self-expression, to celebrating the hand that painted all those objects that create the canvas of Marni.” He didn’t just mean his studio, but the wild and wonderful characters who fill his unconventional mind, and indeed his nonconformist reality. Given the platform of his livestreamed video, they made Risso’s at times outlandish creations feel more real. Emancipated from the staged situation of a runway, you could actually see how the Marni universe manifests IRL.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Values. Fendi SS21

Silvia Venturini Fendi‘s solo vision at Fendi is sublime – so I really wonder why she has appointed Kim Jones as the co-director of the womenswear. Well, I know why – he’s done commercial magic at Dior Men, so why not do the same at Fendi… But back to Silvia’s spring-summer 2021 – again, it’s incredible and it appeared to be a great start of live-slash-digital Milan Fashion Week. It felt so delightfully Italian, as if taken straight out of a Fellini film. The show opened with prints of photographs taken during lockdown by Silvia Venturini Fendi from her bedroom window, which was a nod to the domestic life we’ve all inhabited in the last couple of months. It closed with Leon Dame and Paloma Elsesser amongst those swathed in snuggly satin quilting and pale lace embroidered linens. “This reminded me of Karl,” said Fendi pre-show: “He had a love for bed linen, he had a big collection.” The loungewear and pajamas and floaty wood-printed caftans had a follow-on relationship to last season’s ‘boardroom to boudoir’ collection; “but here,” said Fendi, “she was a little more… sweet.” Much of the collection was cut in barely-dyed but beautifully embroidered linen, a fabric Fendi said she had chosen thanks to its simplicity and sustainability. Runway bags ran from a sweetly naif rattan version of a child’s beach bag to a wicker picnic basket that was a nod to Fendi’s wonderful recent menswear ‘gardening’ collection, co-designed with Luca Guadagnino. And the model casting was amazing, as well: Karen Elson, Maty Fall, Ashley Graham, Eva Herzigova, Yasmin Le Bon, Jill Kortleve and Penelope Tree were all part of a cast as diverse as the swathe of reminiscence Fendi was mustering in this collection. Naturally there were some sections in fur. Maty Fall wore a loosely woven coat of nappa and mink over a floral-pressed romper, while Aliet Sarah a striking skirt of shaved mink ‘lace.’ “I wanted to talk about values,” she explained. “At this time to just talk about fashion seems not enough. I wanted to talk about the values that are behind fashion, and I can tell you that there are a lot. In my family we have always put great meaning into what we do. Here I wanted to achieve clothes that are about the moment, but which also are part of your life, for your life.” By presenting clothes and accessories that whispered of past manifestations of Fendi’s history Silvia was also looking to a future in which garments function as cherished furniture, ever more redolent with memories and meaning in a long and fruitful life.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

And Some More Colour. Colville SS21

Colville is a quiet, yet steady player. Its founders Molly Molloy and Lucinda Chambers are industry veterans, but they keep their label – consciously or not – under the radar, as a sort of niche place for the insiders. Besides the designers’ obvious flair for color and print, the more vibrant the better, the unifying principles at Colville, it seems to me, are comfort and joy. As women, Molloy and Chambers know those two things are interlinked; you’ll see a preponderance of upcycled trainers and track pants in these look book pictures. But their dresses, too, have a sensuous ease, tied effortlessly with ribbon at the waist or at the nape of the neck above an exposed upper back. Those shawls, locally sourced and dyed by the Tzotzil ethnic group in the Chiapas region of Mexico, are the collection’s hero pieces: they would wake up any outfit, or home. A jacket pieced from a patchwork of traditional Indian bedspreads is similarly colorful, with the feel of a keepsake or heirloom. The pandemic might have made their work more challenging, with Chambers in London and Molloy in Milan, but their spring-summer 2021 line-up shows no signs. Where other brands are shrinking or outright collapsing, Colville is expanding. “There is a kind of level playing field, where if you’ve got a strong story to tell, you get a voice. And that’s a wonderful thing,” Chambers reflected. “It doesn’t matter how much money you have to chuck at it anymore, you can’t buy your way out of this. It has to be about what you’re making and the love you’re putting into it.” That’s the thing you want to hear and read!

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Paint The World. Christopher Kane SS21

Similar to Victoria Beckham this season, Christopher Kane took the “less is more” path: less clothes and less looks result in a well-edited, meaningful line-up of truly intriguing garments. In Kane’s case, however, it’s been reverting to painting with multicolored glitter as he did as a kid that’s got him back to who he is. His flagship in Mount Street was turned into an exhibition space on the day of the collection’s presentation, filled with easels and canvases and imagined portraits of girls that he’d made obsessively during lockdown. Grouped around on mannequins were vibrant prints that made the jump from pictures to coats, dresses, shirts and t-shirts. Everything is painted – an idea that parallels with Katharina Grosse’s artistic practice, where she’s painting the world around her. “I haven’t painted for 14 years,” he said. “You know, in (the pace of) business, it’s chronic. At the beginning of lockdown, it took me a good month to say, I can’t sit here watching TV all day. I needed to do something. So I went out in the garden and just started painting, not caring whether what I was doing was crap or not. And then I started enjoying myself.” He made paintings of “brats – the girls I love, who’ve always inspired me,” gouaches of his nieces Bonnie and Tippi, and a more abstract impression in sage green sparkles of his sister Tammy. The idiosyncratic technique goes straight back to when he started making drawings in glitter pen of his mum at home in Newarthill, outside Glasgow, at the age of 14. Christine Kane encouraged both Christopher and Tammy, her youngest children, to be as creative as they liked at home. Instead of getting mad at them when their hours of painting and gluing on the sitting-room floor ended up ruining her best carpet, she just removed the carpet and let them get on with it. Going back to that feeling of making for making’s sake, without the pressure of thinking he was designing for any prescriptive outcome, was freeing. He began forming abstract shapes: “circles, voids, mouths” from whirling layers of acrylic paint and glitter. “Then I came up with a process of combing the paint. And then adding stripes. They became like my mindscapes.” In the end, having thought at first they didn’t want to make anything at all, Kane and his sister began transferring some of the work onto duchesse satin, Tyvek, and cotton, and a small summer collection began to take shape. Out of the big pause came something humming with energy, revealing a side to Christopher Kane’s creativity he might never have had time to rediscover and which he’d probably never have shared. As one of the restarts of the season, it felt intensely personal – something speculative, self-reliant, and not meant for endless reproduction. And most of all: “from now on,” said his sister, “we’re streamlining, editing before we decide to put something out into the world.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

A Classic Romance. Erdem SS21

In Erdem‘s world, nothing has changed – at least, at a first glance. Here, women are still dressing up and wear magnificent dresses that have a romantic, elegant side. But the period of confinement did have an impact on Erdem Moralioglu. It reads like a mad experiment: Erdem Moralioglu in his London house for four months, with denied access to the museums and libraries that oxygenate his storyteller mind, and throw in a Susan Sontag novel. “It begins with three people dancing on the lip of a volcano,” the designer said of the collection he authored and drew in quarantine. Inspired by The Volcano Lover, Sontag’s portrait of the 18th-century beauty Emma Hamilton, who married a volcanologist obsessed with Grecian vases and had a passionate love affair with Lord Nelson, this was how Moralioglu coped with everything that happened this spring. “There was something about this odd time that we’re living in, and the idea that there is something so much bigger than all of us that controls everything,” Moralioglu said, drawing a parallel between crises past and present. “It’s beauty in a time that’s very ugly, and the idea of creating something decadent with an underbelly of something poor.” He expressed that sentiment in a meeting between formal and informal: a trans-historical voyage that referenced Grecian nymph shift dresses through the lens of the puff-sleeved empire silhouette, a sprinkling of Nelsonian regalia, and a cameo by Susan Sontag’s post-modern cardigan. Many of his embroidered muslin and organza dresses and 18th-century floral jacquard numbers were treated with crinkling effects to evoke a sense of “poor,” which means something quite different in Moralioglu’s dainty world than it does to the rest of us. But within the folds of those fabrics, there was a feeling of resourcefulness, which illustrated the idea of beauty in a time of uncertainty. Some pieces looked as if they’d been spliced with other pieces, Nelson’s admiral jackets and grosgrain regalia had a scent of thriftiness about them, and opera coats seemed to morph into khaki utility-wear. Then, a sturdy denim bottom popped up, posing as a chic pencil skirt. But still, Erdem is all about eveningwear. “I get asked the same question: Are women’s tastes and wants changing now, given the situation? On the contrary, we have a customer who’s still buying special pieces. It’s the want for something you can wear in five and 10 years. As I enter my 15th year doing this, the most thrilling thing is seeing someone wearing your work from 10 years ago. I’ve always been obsessed with permanence,” Moralioglu asserted. “When it feels like the end of the world, doesn’t someone need a pink moiré hand-embroidered gown?

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Less Is More. Victoria Beckham SS21

The good thing about lockdown’s effect on fashion this season is that some designers did their best (or were forced) to focus on the essentials. Less new clothes results in less looks, and less looks means smaller collections. And we really don’t need stuff that is just “out there”, without a bigger reason behind it. Victoria Beckham‘s spring-summer 2021 line-up, which is just 20 looks, not a regular 40-50, might be one of her strongest in a while. “I found the whole thing liberating. Everything changed this season and it reminds me why I fell in love with the industry in the first place, all those years ago when I used to do smaller presentations and narrate through them,” Beckham said. “We weren’t in a position to have 10 fashion stories and narrow it down to one or two. We had to be very focused and strategic. I’ve really enjoyed coming to work. So much. That sense of freedom is what my business needs right now.” If recent Victoria Beckham collections were all about business-ready elevation, here she loosens up the silhouette and offers clothes that are easy, versatile and comfortable. Floor-length jersey dresses caressed the body rather than constricted it. She loosened the waists of maxidresses and allowed them to drop. Her 1970s tailoring felt more lenient in form, and she described the season’s super-flared trouser, split at the back, as “puddling on the floor.” Cutouts felt sensual rather than strict. And the colour palette? It’s delightful – just look at the first look’s clash of burgundy, pea-green and classic beige. “I can honestly say there’s genuinely nothing I won’t wear here, and that’s not always the case with a runway collection,” she admitted. “Sometimes you do create a silhouette for the runway.” As for the post-lockdown fashion landscape, Beckham said this collection was ultimately about sensing the winds of change: what women will want to wear on the other side. “In lockdown, I was wearing a lot of denim, a lot of t-shirts, shirts,” she said, name-checking components that all appeared in her new season proposal. “I was not doing an elasticated waist and leggings.” Less is more – and can be oh so stylish.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

J’Ouvert. Maximilian Davis SS21

Maximilian Davis – remember this name, as I’m sure it’s going to be big in the next couple of seasons. Fashion East’s newcomer, Davis has stepped onto Lulu Kennedy’s platform with the confidence and energy of someone who’s certain that the time is right for what he has to say. “Black people must be in charge of their narrative. I see them in such a regal way. I do elegant clothing and tailoring. I want to take people out of the idea of wearing streetwear because that’s not how I see them,” he told Vogue on a Zoom call. “That’s a message I want to put across, and that’s what I want to stick with for the duration of my career.” It’s uncommon, to say the least of it, to see a young designer with the forethought to articulate such a long-term purpose. He spelled out why. “Race has been such an issue for years, but I feel that only now are people wanting to learn more about it and are willing to support different races and try to make this world a better place. And I think now is the time to share my vision, to help support and educate people.” His debut collection, entitled “J’ouvert“, is an ambitious mission to bring sophisticated modern fashion to the fore, while simultaneously uplifting the history of Trinidadian Carnival that is intrinsic to his identity. “My grandmother passed away this year,” he explained. “She came to England from Trinidad and became a nurse. We went there every year. For me as a child, I saw Carnival as one big celebration, but I wanted to look more into the reason we were celebrating. I discovered that in Trinidad enslaved people were set free in 1834, but before that, they had performed for their slave masters. Carnival came out of their liberation. I wanted to put that imagery into my tailoring, comparing 19th-century history with the cutout garments that are worn at Carnival today.” Look one, a jacket that fuses a white frock coat and waistcoat worn over a miniskirt with a slashed waist, crisply encapsulates exactly that. Further on, halter-neck tops echo “aristocrat’s cravats” – an idea brought into the present from his research about Jean-Baptiste Belley, a Black Caribbean activist who was involved with the French Revolution. The aim and the energy, he laughed, overtook him as he made slashed calfskin dresses, an elegant black crepe fishtail gown, and a hip-slung knee-length skirt, decorated with goose biot feathers. He worked on menswear: harlequin prints and a tuxedo that honors his father. “My Dad wears suits every day. When he went to Trinidad, he had these suits that were oversized, loose, and easy. I think there’s a place for tailoring for men that is relaxed, refined but easy to wear.” All this was achieved “mostly in my bedroom, in lockdown,” Davis concluded. But he hasn’t been alone. The launch of Maximilian has been backed up by photographer Rafael Pavarotti, the super-stylist Ibrahim Kamara, and film director Akinola Davies, with music by Suutoo. Against the background of Black Lives Matter, this dauntless new British cohort of talent is making sure that progress in fashion is ever-expandingly real. As for me, he Davis can land at Mugler right away.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Beautiful. Simone Rocha SS21

Simone Rocha‘s beautiful spring-summer 2021 line-up was actually this first collection that truly made me gasp this season. It’s amazing how this independent designer builds her visual language with every season, making clothes so distinct and consistent, yet never boring or monotonous. As many labels, Rocha didn’t have a fashion show, but a presentation in a London gallery for a few editors. And while other collections this season might have a problem of being ‘on their own’ – no runway, no fabulous show venue – Simone’s clothes are so good and considered that they do the talking. Still, she loves a real show. “I’m not going to lie: I’ll be the first to say I love runway shows,” Rocha told Vogue. “Now that the pace of shows has been stripped away, I wanted to find a space to represent that. It’s important to me to find a way to physically share the collection, just for the silhouette, texture, and weight of it. Clothes are made of cloth, and emotions, and they come to life on a body.” Those garments check all the boxes. “Sobering and exploding, pragmatic and foreboding,” were key words Rocha said she’d scribbled in her notebook at the start of it. She’d also pulled up Richard Prince’s erotic Bettie Kline images and paintings of Nell Gwyn, mistress of Charles II, with her celebrated jewel-bedecked bosom on display. Close up, the layers held little messages: on tulle veiling, patterns of castles; in the broderie anglaise, the label’s monograms. “Castles in faraway places,” she laughed. “I think that’s the escapism we’re all craving.” And everywhere, there were the pearls which are now her signature, as headdresses, breast outliners, and scaled up in 3D to form a bag. Some of the models held a few of these bags, and the overall feeling of it was sort of magical, out-of-this-world. This might be the wardrobe for a modern-day Venus – take that white, caped gown or all the layered outfits that simply stun with all the details. I will say it once again: beautiful!

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.