dead poets society
On the Sunday of shows in London, designers drew on British poetry and passion.
After a New York Fashion Week largely ruled disappointing by those who braved the arctic conditions -- on both the sidewalks and the catwalks, you might say -- the designers of London offered some poetic British solace on the Sunday of shows. Nine months pregnant, Sarah Burton had long known she'd be taking her show from Paris to the city in which she worked on her first Alexander McQueen show twenty years ago. Much in the spirit of new mother Simone Rocha the night before, Burton was feeling the swaddling embrace of the bedroom.
"She's wearing a slip underneath and she's wrapped herself in a duvet. She's sleepwalking, basically," she said of the season's Alexander McQueen character and the pink down outerwear that closed the show. Perhaps preparing for the months to come as she goes on maternity leave, Burton had been thinking of women who come alive after dark, or "flowers that bloom at night," as she called them in usual McQueen lingo. Her collection was a reflection of the many codes of the bedroom, from lullaby sweetness (those pink duvets) to glamorous loungewear (the long sheer dresses) to undergarments (corsetry over flouncy night dresses) and the sexy boudoir mood that was present all the way through. Covered in twinkling embellishment, it was the stuff dreams are made of. If she had a sexy lingerie line, it would be called Burton's Bedroom.
British poetry is always on the syllabus at McQueen, and so was the case at Preen where Thea Bregazzi and Justin Thornton made Edith Sitwell their muse. The eccentric poet would certainly have appreciated their next move: in their creation of what Bregazzi called "poetry groupies," she and Thornton looked to California in the 70s and coupled Sitwell with Cherie Currie of The Runaways, fusing two very different but revolutionary female icons. "They were so free and open and exploring everything," Bregazzi said of Sitwell and her gang of poets, "and the same with these young girls in America. They were so free and raw."
The idea of poetry groupies translated into rock 'n' roll flower children in dark, floaty florals—then streetwear appeared, emblazoned with the word 'Bird' (equal parts poetic and cheeky) and little Victorian veil details, before a sense of glam grunge finished the show in punkish but girly velvet and sequin dresses, with Smells Like Teen Spirit fanfaring the weekend's birthday boy, Kurt Cobain, on the sound system. It was awesome. For Johnny Coca's debut at Mulberry, the Spanish designer -- formerly of Bally and Celine -- approached the brand from its most natural side, namely the Britishness that's always been synonymous with the house founded in Somerset in 1971.
Rather than trying to reinvent the identity of this British institution, its new designer did exactly what most of us had hoped he'd do: what came natural. That, of course, was British street style. Not the kind you see outside fashion shows, but what women in West London do best: impeccably tailored coats and jackets with a strong military accent, statement knitwear such as rollnecks that unravelled into knee-length net dresses, and shoes and bags with a distinctively contemporary feel—in this collection, courtesy of an outdoorsy approach, which was a huge part of the collection overall.
The English are practical creatures, and Coca hit the nail on the head. For Mulberry, the future's looking bright this morning. Over fifty years of pretty much constant growth, it's something Sir Paul Smith knows a thing or two about. But for the legendary British designer, this point in his career isn't about expansion but about the identity and recognition of his legacy and its future. In a time once again influenced by the 70s, he's finally claiming back the influences repeatedly used by other designers, which were historically trademark parts of the Paul Smith aesthetic. (Photo-print, generous appliqué, and the 70s tailoring silhouette that's virtually everywhere right now.) "It was revisiting my roots, really, because I was observing what's going on out there and I thought I might visit my archive and have a look," he quipped backstage, a twinkle in his eye.
In the collection and production, it was evident where Sir Paul is headed. Presented at the holy grail of modernist architecture that is the Royal College of Physicians, what's always been his visual world was easily established. The intro to "Under Pressure" kicked off the soundtrack, ticking off the Bowie box -- the man who was so vital to the universe of Paul Smith and his personal life -- before he rolled out a mannish suit with a single red stripe woven into it, nodding to his signature multi-stripe that's hard to come by these days, after Sir Paul started restructuring his business and getting rid of elements he deemed too predictable.
Throughout the collection, those nods to the legacy were aplenty -- not least in an apple motif that referenced his first photo-print from 1982 (a time when no one did photo-print) -- and the designer made his point: he didn't create one of the biggest fashion businesses in England by resting on his laurels, and he isn't going to now. Let the reinvention begin! If Sir Paul chose David Bowie as his British poet, for Mary Kantrantzou it was Shakespeare. Her collection found its frame in Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet and its vibrant Venice Beach setting, decorating Shakespeare's electric universe of star-cross'd love with motifs found in rodeo and various other Americana, reminding us of the wonders a little British poetry and passion can do.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Mitchell Sams