it’s all fun and games as london fashion week gets under way
As the spring/summer 16 women's shows made it to London, designers from Gareth Pugh to J.W. Anderson questioned the consequences of fun.
If the avant-garde reputation of London's fashion scene was ever put to the test, it was the season its epicenter became a parking garage in Soho. Fashion week's former home was Somerset House (a royal residence, at least on paper) and before that the Natural History Museum (that small Victorian masterpiece), and there was something quite brilliant about witnessing the first collections of Gareth Pugh in a tent outside the latter ten years ago: his trash bag creations backed up by youth-generated hype so thick you could cut it with a knife. The contrast between that imperial building and those DYI collections embodied the irreverent but cultured British fashion spirit, which paved the way for London Fashion Week as we know it today. So you could understand that Gareth Pugh approached his new stage at the Brewer Street Car Park with a certain irony. His show notes highlighted Soho's "high-speed gentrification" as a "setting for a showdown between creativity and commerce: a battle royal between the drag queens and the developers".
Pugh himself has lived in Dalston for years, an area that's currently experiencing the early stages of that same process. Backstage he said he's being kicked out of his studio building, because "they want to redevelop it." And so, his show let the drag queens claim Soho back from the tourists and nouveau riche member's club subscribers in a trademark Gareth Pugh fetish ball of what he called "discos, drag queens and poppers", some covered - like the runway itself - in armor made of real pennies, a kind of dismal memento mori in the midst of all the fun. It was, you could muse, the storm before the calm: a demolition party of sorts, like when people wreck their houses for fun before tearing them down. (Rumor has it Brewer Street Car Park itself is set to become a shopping mall in the very near future, so perhaps it was only appropriate.) The message behind the madness: "It's kind of like a carnival that rolls into town, and it's very fantasy and that's what fashion should be about," Pugh said.
Fun. It's something Anthony Vaccarello does with a passion, but after his Versus show on Saturday night he made no secret of the fact that fun, much like one of his other trademarks, sells. "Versus has to be fun, not pretentious. It's clothes. At the end of the day, it's selling tomorrow so I want people to understand that it's a product, but a fun product," he said. The collection, which went on sale online just hours after the 9:30pm show -- fast fashion style -- was Vaccarello on top fanboy form. It was all appropriately dark for the somewhat stripped-down rock 'n' roll vibe he's created at the Versace diffusion line, but there were big hints to the Versace he grew up with. "I think I made a copy of it, like a Versace Medusa dress that Erin O'Connor wore in the 90s. Guilty pleasure," he quipped. The Los Angeles trip, which inspired Vaccarello's eponymous fall/winter 15 Americana collection made a guest appearance here, too, in the shape of palm tree prints you didn't really see coming in a Vaccarello production. But they too were dark, and an homage to the archives. "Istante pineapple prints," he said, referring to Versace's old diffusion line, and backstage everyone from the 80s swooned.
There's no way that Jonathan Anderson's over-dimensional puff sleeves at J.W. Anderson weren't meant to be fun, and the references they inspired among the show-goers certainly contributed to it: from Pat Butcher to those polygamist prairie women in Utah. Reading way too much into it, the communal dress element in that last reference was interesting in the day's big picture of the tension between avant-garde and commercial, mainly because both - at the end of the day - are adopted so heavily by the trend cultures of each of those poles that they become communal dressing. The typically brilliant Michel Gaubert soundtrack had Fran Leibovitz talking about Andy Warhol talking about fame, and the cheekily mainstream inclusion of Justin Bieber and Rihanna hits more than hinted at a comment about mainstream culture on Anderson's part, as if the, for him, far less complicated references than normally used in this collection - a Keith Haring print amongst them - were his way of saying, "if it's got to be commercially viable, let them eat cake; let it be fun."
At Sibling, the backside to all the fun - leopard prints and colors taken from Sobranie cocktail cigarettes - wasn't the fear of the gentrification of avant-garde or mainstream taking over the world, but something entirely more personal. The death only last month of the amazing Joe Bates, one of the label's three designers and husband of Sid Bryan, made the show an emotional rollercoaster. Cozette McCreery and Sid Bryan, however, remained faithful to the optimistic spirit of Sibling proving that fun is a state of mind.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Jason Lloyd Evans