I’m far more obsessed with Renaissance Renaissance‘s beautiful collection than with most of the spring-summer 2023 offerings coming from big names. Picture this: a rebellious princess running away from her palace by the sea. She’s traversing the desert at dusk, desperately seeking a city where she’ll meet artists, writers, poets – free spirits who will release her own and unfetter her from the rigidity of tradition. This is the story Lebanese designer Cynthia Merhej conceived of while working on her delightful spring collection. This princess is detached from European traditions – rather, she comes from Tunisia or Morocco, she’s running away to a place like Cairo, and her path is guided not by European medieval signage, but by Jinns and Arab symbols (as illustrated by a print, shown in look 12, created by a friend of the designer’s and inspired by the mythology of the Arab desert). “I wanted to go back to the root of the brand, back to my narrative roots as a storyteller. I always found it easier to express very complicated ideas in a simplified way, a simple story,” Merhej said. The complicated idea du jour? “The brand is about this tension between tradition and wanting to be a free spirit,” Merhej added, referring to her mother and herself as an example of this push and pull, but noting this dichotomy can also exist within one person.
The designer’s lineup for spring includes a recently launched category called Atelier, under which she’ll produce one-of-a-kind pieces. Each garment is made in Beirut in her atelier using couture techniques. Merhej said that now that she’s established the commercial portion of her business, she wants to make sure she continues to push herself creatively, while at the same time finding ways of nurturing the decimated fashion industry in Beirut, currently in a state of rebuilding. The pieces are also sustainable in that they’re made from deadstock materials. The first of these pieces opens the lookbook: a naturally dyed cropped cardigan knitted in a large gauge with mohair and tulle yarn by Lindsey Smith, a collaborator. “The idea was to create these kinds of knits that look like they’re degrading, the leftovers of her dress that was falling apart,” Merhej said in reference to her princess and her arduous journey. Another piece is made by hand layering pieces of lace her mother has been collecting for 25 years. The most striking item in the collection is a reversible coat as seen in looks 3, 7, and 9. One face is taffeta, and the other is covered in gathered tulle. The coats underwent a few experiments like tea dyeing or sun drying, all to give them the texture and softness of a lived-in piece. Elsewhere, in the ready-to-wear, Merhej explores her tulle fabrications, most notably on a skirt made of cotton and covered in tulle, which she also designed attached to a ribbed knit top as a dress. Other highlights include ankle-length linen skirts, a pleated button-down shirt fitted at the waist (a common focal point in Merhej’s work), and a rounded kimono-sleeve tailored jacket, which is returning from last season given its success. Again, this is a truly beautiful collection, with subtle echoes of 1990s Comme Des Garçons and Romeo Gigli.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki. Don’t forget to follow Design & Culture by Ed on Instagram!
Going back to the roots, enjoying the simple things. In the uncertain times – and 2020 is a winner in this category – designers and labels yearn for a more organic approach, one that opposes mindless abundance. In her resort 2021 collection – which is more of a capsule really – Molly Goddard is serving her all-time signature, tulle dresses, in a more everyday mode. Molly’s clothes are as cheerful as ever, dresses and skirts made “in all the ways I can think of,” she told Vogue, with the smocking and ruffling techniques she developed as a student. The shirred polyester taffeta – this season in neon pink with burgundy velvet trims, or inky blue flounces – is “so comfortable to wear, because it just stretches with you,” she explained. “So you can sit down, lie about, do anything in it. I think that’s why people like it. Because you can wear these things in an everyday way, not just for parties.” True to her hands-on resourcefulness, the designer decided to keep things going during the height of the lockdown. “We all worked remotely, doing fittings on ourselves, which was quite funny.” She runs a tight and friendly business. “I didn’t furlough anyone. I thought it’s important to maintain our relationships with all the people who we rely on, the fabric suppliers and the local London factories who managed to keep ticking over, with people taking work home.” There’s knitwear, too, now – shrink-pleated stretchy sweaters and wool cardigans made in England. She’s also spent her time developing accessories: ruched bags made from her signature fabrics, and solid-but-perky leopard-spot and emerald green creepers in collaboration with the British brand Underground. And how does the designer see the future? Who knows whether there will be a usual London fashion week schedule this September. But then, do creators like Molly need those? “Really, I never meant to get into that whole fashion week thing of having huge shows and all the nightmare that goes with it,” she says. “Honestly, I’d love to get back to what we did at the beginning, just being able to do something that feels spontaneous and fun.”
Freeing your inner child through fashion began this season at Alessandro Michele’s Gucci menswear and recently has also appeared at one of my favourite labels in London – Molly Goddard. In lieu of a press release, Goddard sent out a throwback London street style photo as the explainer for her new collection. First published in Fruits, the cult Japanese magazine, back in 1992, the image features just the kind of cool-looking dad and daughter duo you’d expect find on bohemian Portobello Road: him in distressed denim-on-denim and a baker boy hat, his insanely cute sidekick dressed in a tiny ruffled skirt over jeans and a chunky knit sweater. “The little girl is me!” said Goddard backstage at the autumn-winter 2020 show. “I remember those times growing up in Notting Hill so fondly, and really wanting to get dressed up for the market and all the characters who lived there.” In this joyful line-up, you could trace the influence of her toddler self, starting with an exploding blue taffeta dress that was layered over a salmon pink cardigan and worn with chunky creepers, then topped off with a beanie hat that was topped with a giant bow (the accessory of the season is here!). Then, things got even better: Molly’s signature tulle dresses in crayon kept on growing in size, while her sense of layering made it all look somehow… wearable. Goddard showed menswear for the first time this season, largely inspired by her musician-turned-fashion-PR boyfriend Tom Shickle. “He always moans that there’s nothing for him to wear, so I made a suit,” said Goddard, laughing. The retro-leaning checkered tailoring she created had a nerdy sway about it, something you could imagine Jarvis Cocker might have worn in the 1990s. One of these Fair Isle cardigans, please!
Hello London! And again, I’m in love with Molly Goddard. Even though her spring-summer 2020 collection is all about her well-known signatures – dresses made of acres of tulle and delightful colour palette consisting of candy pink, lettuce green and bold blue – there’s a certain factor behind Goddard’s style that never gets boring. Her fashion is not about being precious or pristine. Those looks are made for summer picnics, outdoor walks, brunches with your friends… also, I’m really obsessed with Molly’s expanding selection of knits. The ribbed sweaters with big bows and ties at the shoulder are so good. And there’s nothing better than a classical black cardigan and a voluminous, sheer skirt in coral.