for spring/summer 18, erdem imagined the queen in a harlem jazz club

He started with a picture of Duke Ellington meeting the Queen in 1958, but this season Erdem’s collection was light, grand and sexy.

by Felix Petty; photos by Mitchell Sams
19 September 2017, 12:40pm

The show notes for Erdem's spring/summer 18 collection consisted not of written words, but of pictures; The Queen meeting Duke Ellington in 1958; Duke Ellington at The Cotton Club; Dorothy Dandridge and Billie Holliday and The Queen all in similar dresses; The Queen at her coronation, and the Queen -- when she was just Princess Elizabeth -- dancing in 1947. There's enough associations to start unpacking there already.

At London's spring/summer 18 shows, the overriding themes have undoubtedly been a decadent feeling of ostentation and decoration (everyone from Halpern and Ashish to Molly Goddard and Simone Rocha) and questions of identity and community (Asai, Supriya Lele, Ashish, again). Erdem, in a way, bridged both. A Canadian via Turkey, living and working in London, his collection imagined the regal world of aristocratic London colliding with the jazz age of Harlem.

Not that there was much overt politics in this collection, but you can't print pictures of The Cotton Club -- where black people were only allowed in if they were performing on the stage -- and Dorothy Dandridge -- the first black woman to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress -- and not be reaching for or inviting some comment.

The Old Selfridges Hotel was decked out to resemble a jazz club in the small hours, when the guests have gone home. The pianos covered in a dust sheet, chairs stacked, last night's half-drunk whiskey still out. The models entered to the sounds of Duke Ellington's The Queen's Suite, the song he wrote for Queen Elizabeth after their meeting, pictured in the show notes. The clothes themselves imagined another meeting, between Queenie and Dorothy Dandridge and Billie Holliday, and the jazz age in general.

So what to make of the possible reception of a collection themed around the dreamt up trip of the Queen to a "whites only" club in Harlem, no matter the relationship between the Queen and Duke Ellington, or the Queen's love of jazz music. A more fruitful, interesting and exciting, conceptual take than the Queen in The Cotton Club would perhaps have been to envision Billie Holliday sitting on the throne.

It's hard to know, then, what, if anything, Erdem intended by that reference to The Cotton Club, especially as a quick Google search reveals its less salubrious elements. To be honest, I imagine Erdem didn't intend anything. But in this age where, no matter what you intend, everything instantly becomes problematic, called out, ripped through the online, hot take content machine, it's best to tread lightly and delicately when walking through delicate ground.

The cast was gorgeously diverse, the clothes as beautiful as you'd expect, somehow both lighter and grander than we're used too, and a little sexier. Less stiff and Edwardian, freed up by the latent sexuality and movement of those references to jazz. It was easily one of his best collections, which mixed those references together poetically, respectfully and nimbly.

This autumn, Erdem's set to drop a collaboration with H&M, which you can imagine will catapult his independent label to the next level of public recognition, because who wouldn't want to own these incredible clothes at H&M prices.

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