great expectations at london fashion week
At the height of London Fashion Week, the irreverent designers who made it great ten years ago proved their now so business-savvy bones are still a little bit twisted.
On a grown-up British fashion scene where the young designers who created this golden era of London Fashion Week have now all celebrated their ten-year anniversaries, store openings and book deals, it's nice to see there's still some eccentricity left in fashion's city of experimentation. Their clothes may sell to richer and more settled women than they did in the past, but their references are as mad as ever. Erdem presented a mid-century idea of the young, struggling Old Hollywood actress heading from audition to audition, trying to make a living.
"She had her office job during the day but had to put on her best shoes for her auditions," he said backstage, referring to the interchanging flats and heels paired with tattered 40s suits and contrasting sparkly dresses. It all sounds innocent enough, but in Erdem's world it never is. Referencing All about Eve and Rebecca, there was an unsettling naivety about his woman this season — much like the manipulated female characters of those silver screen classics — reflected in the tumult of the set at the blacked-out Old Selfridges Hotel: pianos turned over, chandeliers on the floor, hotel furniture scattered everywhere. Her life was in shatter. For all his beautiful floral dresses, Erdem never tires of a sinister Hitchcockian undertone and this was his wicked addiction at its best. Little do the women who'll end up buying these dresses know about the danger and disorder in this Hollywood fantasy, and they shouldn't. That's all part of Erdem, the evil mastermind's genius manipulation.
At Sophia Webster, two of Mrs Danvers' — the evil housekeeper in Rebecca — fellow fictional anti-heroines took centre stage. A tribute to the decayed depravity of Miss Havisham of Great Expectations and Lydia Deetz of Beetlejuice, the designer had asked Edward Meadham — who closed his much-loved label, Meadham Kirchhoff, two years ago — to interpret each shoe in her collection in a dress that could have been worn by those women. She couldn't have picked a better designer to capture their ghostly romance and give added life to her collection of delicate embellished sandals, some of which were rather grander than that description suggests.
For Meadham, who first saw David Lean's Great Expectations as a little boy, it was the perfect assignment. For London Fashion Week, which misses and lacks his work more than words can describe, it was the best surprise return ever, and a genius move on Webster's part. "People keep asking me, 'What are you going do now?' Oh please fuck off," Meadham said, typically detached. "I was really ill, then I was recovering, then I was lost, and now we're here," he said of the past year, much of which he spent in hospital. "I think there's a general perception I was in a mental hospital — I wasn't. I felt much better in hospital, but that's not why I was there. I don't feel so bothered about things anymore. Isn't it funny how nearly dying gives you a new perspective on everything?"
His guest appearance at Sophia Webster — who should put those dresses into production along with her shoes — reminded guests how vital it is that we find a seasonal platform for Meadham so his incredible talent doesn't go to waste. In an experimental fashion city fast becoming gentrified, London needs his twisted, brilliant mind more than ever. Speaking of twisted minds and Victorian eccentrics, they both played muse to the Joseph collection where Louise Trotter mixed the high and low of the era's female dress, working in corsetry, full skirts and great big coats in a powerful exercise in how more avant-garde fashion really captures an audience in these times of seriousness.
Roksanda Illincic was evidently of a similar mindset, jazzing up her trademark 70s-by-way-of-the-40s silhouette with a sumptuous and slightly dark opulence she'd observed in The Night Porter and in the eccentric image of Deborah Turbeville, the famed fashion photographer. At Burberry Prorsum, Christopher Bailey followed with nods to the Mitford sisters and the Bloomsbury Set in a slightly bohemian and very British collection that also riffed on his military outing for men's. Great eccentric women are key to the world of Christopher Kane, who embodies his generation of London designers. There was something nostalgic about the pricelessness of his reference for this collection, in a way that reminded you of those early years of London Fashion Week, a decade ago, when these irreverent new designers would create the most beautiful things out of the most preposterous ideas.
"I've been obsessed with hoarders and women who are collect-a-maniacs," Kane said after show, which was based on the notion of "lost and found." These were odd women; social outsiders, who collect cardboard boxes and live primitive lives, but are queens of their own worlds. Kane transformed those cardboard boxes into camel coats, and used appliqué and embroidery to represent hoarded objects. It was a comment on the throwaway culture of fashion, which is currently going through a kind of revolt against its overworked cycle where high fashion now virtually has to compete with a high street that churns out new copies every three months or less. "I'll never compete with high-street, I don't want to compete with high-street," Kane said. "Pre-fall is one of those things I really can't stop, because I have wholesalers and I need to keep up. I don't have a thousand retail stores. But it's a shame that these shows are not on the shop floors for longer and are not seen as much."
At Pringle of Scotland, change was in the air, too, as Fran Stringer — previously of Mulberry fame — made her debut as womenswear designer for the 200-year-old knitwear brand. Her plan of action? "It's taking the twin suit and turning it into a modern silhouette, so it's not about the cardigan with the t-shirt, it's more about the trouser with the sweater," she said after the show, which beautifully fused the heritage feeling Pringle has to have with a starker sense of modernity.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Mitchell Sams