Milan has swept past me and we’re into Paris.  Finally, a breather of a day to think about a veritable themes that are emerging from the shows thus far.  I’ve typed “Prairie” multiple times this past few weeks in reference to shows, without really investigating what it means other than my own vague memories of scenery in Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman or House on the Prairie.  It’s of course an ecosystem that really only exists in certain parts of the world, mainly North America, rooted by temperate tall grass and controlled by a particular climate.  The prairie vibes at Coach also felt rooted.  You sensed a certain kind of authenticity when these girls with their patchwork florals and leathers walked out onto the High Line with low cut cowboy boots and bags visible through the planted grasses and shrubbery.  This is yet another facet of Americana – most notably depicted by Terrence Malick –  refracted and reinterpreted by Stuart Vevers.  Like the mirrored runway, which gave a trippy effect to this indoor fauna-filled catwalk, this was no straightforward pastiche of prairie nor was the theme heavy handedly flung at you.

You couldn’t help but think of Vevers’ mates and former colleagues Katie Hillier and Luella Bartley and their spirit that they imbued in their Marc by Marc Jacobs collections or going further back, Luella’s own eponymous line.   It’s perhaps that shared English lens which enables Vevers to see things like ditzy florals in a different way.  They were panelled into mini dresses alongside brushstroke prints.   Coats had childlike appliqué scenes of desert skies on the back.  These clothes fell in line with Coach’s repositioning not just as an accessories brand but one with a youth-fuelled fashion identity too.   Of course, the patchwork leather jackets and biker waistcoats, hardy bowling bags and mixed floral low cut cowboy boots were there to stake Coach’s claim as America’s one true leather house, which will be celebrating its 75th anniversary next year.  That history doesn’t feel like it’s weighing down on Vevers though, as these deftly put together ensembles walked along the former railway track of the High Line.   It was the kind of palatable prairie that felt right on the money.
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This week, the tills inside the Gucci store on Montenapoleone in Milan were going ker-ching, ker-ching, ker-ching.  It was heaving with people buying into Alessandro Michele’s new look Gucci. Figures may not be concrete just yet but on first sight, what looked to be a risky creative director move seems to be paying off.  There’s a buzz about Gucci and those feelings of warmth, emotion and tangibility, which I sensed from his first womenswear debut last season and the cruise show in May, are emanating far wider than one would first imagine when they were confronted by Michele’s vaguely awkward, pile-it-on curiosity maven muse.  I wrote a piece dissecting the S/S 16 collection for AnOtherMag.com, which I have tweaked slightly for the blog:

In 1654, French novelist and master conversationalist Madeleine de Scudéry created the Carte de Tendre, as part of her novel Clélie.  It was a map, based not on actual geography, but on pyscho-emotions, guiding one’s way through passages of patience and faithfulness before you can arrive at the final destination of love.  Scudéry was certainly ahead of her time, in terms of seeing the world not as a geopolitical one but one where feeling takes over and so this ground-breaking map became the perfect starting point and metaphor for Alessandro Michele’s latest collection for Gucci.  The mapped out Gucci-land and each area of its aesthetic sphere – be it double G logo handbags, horsebit loafers or seventies-tinged glamour – have been flooded with sentiment.  An aura of warmth has permeated this Italian stalwart house, as a willing audience including myself, is eager to don rose-tinted spectacles and see Gucci bathed with a new light.

It’s a mood that has seeped in not just because of mere physical garments but up close, it’s hard not to marvel at the sheer range of world-derived ideas and time-travelling motifs that flourish in what is Michele’s broadest collection yet for Gucci. The immediate appearance of the clothes reads vintage but the actual make-up of each garment shows a mind that takes voyages to whatever period or place it wants to go.  

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The Eye Has to Travel

Back in June at Gucci’s cruise show held in New York, Michele saidLuxury means that you show the way you dress with eccentricity. It’s almost like a new kind of jetset – instead of roaming around the world, you’re roaming with your clothes.”  For S/S 16, Michele was once again roaming with clothes but ones that simultaneously manage to globe-trot and span centuries in time.  The result is a collection bursting with pick-and-choose pieces that speak to individual desires. On the runway, the girl was perhaps a more demarcated character – defined by her geeky eyewear, girlish insouciance and otherworldly bookishness.  On the rails, it’s a feast of whatever takes your fancy.

Bucol silks mimicking 18th century French wallpaper were made up into suits.  Intricate Chinese embroidery adorned a 1970s Soul Train-esque satin tracksuit set. Mid 20th century geometric prints are interrupted by Japanese blooms.  Jewellery replicates the royal hands of Tudor portraits as well as shortened nail guards of empresses of the Qing dynasty (yes, I have read the Bijules copycat story although my initial interpretation was that they were inspired by something much older).

There’s an ambiguity to many of the pieces as Michele draws from so many eras and continents within one collection.  Is an embroidered flower and bird derived from India, Mexico or China?  Meercats roaming on a leather skirt could be from a Grecian pot or an African cave painting.  In the end, you can’t quite map out the exact locale or period. Moreover, Michele is an adept observer of periods and subcultures reflected and refracted at another time.  Like a studded biker jacket peppered with Gucci flora or similarly spiked up shoes, are likely to be inspired by a contemporary Japanese rockabilly’s interpretation of English punk, given Michele’s inclination to travel not with accuracy but with curious filters.

This is a reflection of our world today – recalling and referencing the past in the hope of eking out something new. In Michele’s case, the newness can be found in the warmth of feeling that his clothes and spirit have brought to the house.  And moreover this isn’t surface for surface’s sake.  As the bulging contemporary sector of the fashion landscape continues to churn out minimalist-lite product, based on vague notions of what is “modern” and “easy” today, Michele’s collections for Gucci represent one of the few lone voices that fights for clothes that are storied and intensely ornate.  It’s a beautiful protest for the magpies amongst us.

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Glamped up, Sexed Up

You can’t ignore Gucci’s iconic sexed up past under Tom Ford and its more straightforward iteration of sexiness under Frida Giannini but under Michele, his articulation on sensuality is more layered – and for the most part, more covered up. 1970s glam rock and psychedelia lingered all over the collection to bring his take on sexiness to the fore. The soles of the Terry de Havilland-style platform shoes were kissed by a suggestive teeth-baring lip graphic, that might have graced 1960s counterculture art. There’s a Carry On quality to some of the clothes as black sequin outlines created trompe l’oeil takes on peignoirs and lingerie and sheer tulle dresses in candy colours revealed the body without looking overt. Stars embroidered over a sweater like nipple pasties are yet another nudge nudge wink wink gesture from Michele. These glamped up lurexes, metallic leathers and glittering surfaces hinted at what lies beneath without being provocatively explicit.

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How the Garden of Gucci Grows

It was tipping it down with torrential rain when we arrived at the abandoned train station – a dramatic change up from Gucci’s usual boxed-in venue – but that didn’t stop us from noticing the lush and verdant greenery, sprouting up wildly on both sides of the runway.  That’s another handy metaphor for Michele’s Gucci.  This garden of his, once flourishing, has now been replanted with new seeds, but the soil is still the same.  The collection’s incorporation of Gucci insignia continues to grow in strength. The traditional flowers of Gucci’s Flora scarf print created in the 1960s blossoms all over the collection.  The navy and red grosgrain stripe from Gucci’s luggage streaks its way across this season’s bags and onto the opening green lace dress.  The double GG handbags this time were sprouted over with beaded pop art iconography.  A masterful GG leather and suede trench printed with painterly Fragonard flowers is perhaps the most representative of what Michele is doing with Gucci’s well-established iconography.

And in the process, Michele is also growing a language of his own as serpents, introduced in the cruise collection, snake their way around onto the backs of jackets and of course on to the carpet of the runway.  Michele’s own personal style traits make their way into the show with the consistently pressed down backs of the shoes and the loading up of rings on the hands.

There’s also a distinct nod to the post-war elegante era of Italian moda – a smart total look comprising of a coat, gloves, shoes bag, a hat and plenty of jewellery. Michele wholeheartedly embraces Gucci’s illustrious past as well as its status as a fashion powerhouse of Italy – two things, which could overawe designer. Somehow though, we find ourselves in a very intimate garden, with that serpent drawing us in deeper, as we’re tempted by the sweetness of Gucci’s fruits.

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On Friday, when London Fashion Week had commenced, I went up to an eccentric looking man, who I believe is known as Mad Alan in Soho – heavily tattooed with a penchant for an embroidered vest – and asked him for a picture. He’s the sort of guy, who I knew would give my DLSR in one hand, iPhone in the other hand a withering look, as he asked where’s it going to go and I replied with a vaguely sheepish tone, “Instagram”. “I don’t do social media,” he said with disdain. “But you’re beautiful and you have a nice smile so why not.”

I’ve been thinking about that first day encounter with Mad Alan a lot. The fashion moments that have stuck over the last few days have mostly been ensconced in Soho.  And they too have been representative of the sort of madcap characters that frequent or inhabit this storied part of town, which are also slowly giving way to hip restaurants with too many social media handles and establishments decked out with Farrow & Ball painted walls and marble surfaces.  Mad Alan represents the Soho that I caught a backwards facing glimpse of in my early youth but also of a time that I never experienced myself, when Blitz kids would be falling out of places like Le Kilt and Billie’s and squatting in random abodes in Fitzrovia.  Those are the collective memories (imagined or otherwise) of Soho that designers were tapping into, transporting us all away from the gentrified reality of Soho today.

On the first day of London Fashion Week, Ed Marler staged an off-schedule solo presentation in a courtyard right by Brewer Street, having just come out of the wing of Fashion East.  Perhaps away from the pressure of being part of an esteemed collective, Marler could then shine because this was by far his most potent presentation yet.  Entitled, “S.O.S.” Marler imagined it was the end of the world.  But instead of bleak rags of dystopia, Marler imagined his characters in the glamped up gear of ruffled up gingham, girdle-like cycling shorts with bra cups as protective knee pads, beautifully patched up denim and crumpled up brocade.  Add a sprinkling of tinsel on the edge of a beautiful red tweed jacket and a dusting of sequins and the end of the world doesn’t look so bad after all.  The forlorn and world weary expressions on the models’ faces told another story.  And it’s through a narrative driven presentation that Marler’s world could really be demonstrated properly.   They’re not dressing up for the sake of just looking good but as a way of expressing their fightback against the world.  It’s a heavily adorned mantle that they’ve taken on, in order to rebuff conformity.

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Down the road on Oxford Street in 100 Club, an institution that was recently saved by Converse, Le Kilt (named after that aforementioned Blitz hang out) designer Samantha McCoach presented her ode to her personal heroine Shirley Manson.  Stupid Girl worshippers all around the world can rejoice with this amped up collection of Linton tweed kilts as well as the introduction of a tailored two-piece suit and a mini skirt.  The deep saturated make-up of Manson’s Garbage days, her slightly racy get-ups that were a reaction to grunge’s androgyny and of course her Scottish roots are blended into a collection that definitely sees McCoach shift our perceptions entirely of the wee twee kilt.

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Thanks to Saturday traffic of London centre-bound revellers, I couldn’t make it in person to the Gareth Pugh show.  That was the my one real regret of the week but then again, I can’t blame the hordes of people for being drawn into the vaguely bright, vaguely sleaze-driven lights of Soho.  Pugh described the area as a “Disneyland” – a place for people to escape and be someone else.  Or at least that’s the Soho that Pugh remembers, from his days of studying in the former Central Saint Martin’s Charing Cross campus.  Or one that goes further back to Leigh Bowery, the legendary visionary, with whom Pugh was compared to consistently in the beginning of his career, when he sent out models engulfed in sculptural cubes and enlarged balls.  Pugh was harking back to that heady club kid spirits with clothes that are now infinitely more refined – bias cut candy-striped gowns, sensual basques, flared trousers, coats with shaggy fur collars and dresses decorated both with real sequins and one penny coins made to look like pailettes, which also covered the runway.  On the faces were latex masks painted to look like hyper drag Frank Sidebottom’s as the models’ true faces were never revealed.  Masking up and dressing up to escape the doldrums of day to day life is something that naturally ingrained into Pugh’s design DNA but here, the statement was more overt.  It’s a reflection on a deeper malaise that makes people write that slew of “I’m leaving London…” articles.  As a Londoner, you can’t help but be drawn to that.

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1139796Photograph by Chloe le Drezen for Dazed Digital

Deep inside the NCP Carpark on Brewer Street, away from the hum drum of the newly improved designer showrooms and official BFC show space, Kim Trager and and Lowell Delaney of Trager Delaney had a secret room to themselves where they were giving private shows of a very different sort to the ones that you might find in the basements of nearby Green’s Court.  To a soundtrack of George Michael’s Jesus to a Child, a dancer proceeded to give us an elegant pole dance.  As the song progressed, one core piece from Trager Delaney’s now seasonless pared-back collections would come on – a silk shirt, a perfect pair of black trousers and a boxy leather jacket.  It was a reverse strip tease that served to enhance the look of the clothes as opposed to gratifying us with sex.  It was a typically witty and subtle way of introducing us to Trager Delaney’s new modus operandi as they also have plans to open up their own store within a concept shop called… erm… The Store, due to open late this year, early next year on Lexington Street.

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0E5A8495Wearing MM6 coat and trousers, Danielle Romeril top and Louis Vuitton shoes

Fashion East took over Greek Street with their own collective homage to the weirdos of Soho by temporarily coining it Freak Street. They took over various shops on this narrow street, which created a bit of a fashion carnival vibe as people passing by wondered what was going on inside. Fashion East is at its best when it doesn’t feel too precious or polished and Greek Street was the perfect venue for the occasion. I wrote about Jenna Young’s label This is Not a Uniform not too long ago and I’m happy that she has made a leap by joining the Fashion East line up. Young carries on being inspired by her Blackpool upbringing where uniforms did indeed rule the streets. She ups the ante though with hand beaded bandana fabric, rouleau string vests, smocked chambray and faggoting on a striped t-shirt. Sheer pinafore dresses and satin halternecks stand bored by a ping pong table with Little Mix on MTV in the background. This isn’t the uniform that we know but it’s one rooted in reality.

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Across the road in the ornate rooms of the L’Escargot restaurant, another Fashion East newcomer Richard Malone also looked at his roots for inspiration, albeit in more abstract fashion. His mother’s Argos overalls and mini dresses reminiscent of aprons from old fashioned cook books. Artist Evelyn O’Connor’s strange plastic paraphernalia were dotted around the room, to represent ephemera of the mundane. Malone’s collection was a push and pull of contrasts between found dead stock fabric from a factory in Tottenham made up into couture-raquel frocks with frilled hemlines. Dusky pink nylon, made up into carefully constructed windbreakers, were yet another jarring textile thrown into the mix. The unremarkable elevated is a well established approach but Malone’s way of articulating his anti-gloss attitude felt new. Then oddness of it all made you think.

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Finally Caitlin Price presented her pared back take on raver’s gear, pitting the casual against the dressy with the use of silk taffeta and polyester. Price’s references stem from a rave culture that also has largely died a death in London. And it’s the London of yesteryear that is proving to be a fervent source of inspiration for the designers that have truly taken to LFW’s new abode.

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Transport for London Fashion Week provided by Mercedes Benz

I know I’m supposed to be posting about all those shiny brands that showed in New York but the ones that really lingered were the newer ones. There was a unifying spirit and in some cases, aesthetic amongst them that in my mind felt like a movement. I wrote this piece about New York’s New Breed that emerged this season for AnOther Magazine online:

New York is earning the right to call itself new again. Whether it’s the shift in fashion week venues from uptown to downtown, a renewed appetite for fresh energy or a growing apathy towards the Big Apple’s penchant for polished designers, a wind of change has blown and now a particular spate of designers have appeared, their voices resonating with a community disaffected with mainstream fashion. These designers are showing in low key, off-schedule shows dotted around the city, presenting an emotional connection rather than parading a perfect product: the antithesis to the hordes of commercially-minded brands in New York’s fashion establishment. Although this emerging group may have differing aesthetics to one another, they have one solid, common ground: the ability to reflect a tangible reality in their work, created through intuition rather than technical precision. It’s relatable and engaging and here, we explore this idiosycratic new breed of New York designers and why they’re challenging conventions in this make-or-break city.

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1137840Eckhaus Latta backstage photography by Rebekah Campbell for Dazed Digital

Dissent, Disenchantment, Disenfranchisement
When, a few years ago, Shayne Oliver broke into the industry with Hood By Air, his cut-up and raw-edged attire felt like an act of protest, worn by models who viciously vogued and stomped down the runway. Since Oliver’s ascent towards the fashion establishment, a young trail of labels has sprung in his wake and his previously underground contemporaries have also come to the fore. Akeem Smith, the longtime stylist of Hood By Air (who also styled the VFiles and Yeezy shows this season) explains that Oliver “set the tone that a young person, working with their peers post-recession, can do their own thing.” HBA shows created a forum, anchored by specific casting and performances, where we are confronted with issues of inequality in race and sexuality – both in fashion and the world at large. It’s a dialogue that has been building up through the power of social media and online commentary, and it’s up to the new and the brave to take on this mantle.

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1136817Moses Gauntlett Cheng at VFiles backstage photography by Evan Schreiber

This week, shows by newcomers Vejas, Vaquera, Shan Huq and Moses Gauntlett Cheng could certainly be interpreted as outlets for the disenfranchised, but they are projecting much gentler rallying calls to their audience. According to Smith, discontent with the dominance of celebrity culture and the lack of diverse representation across the entire media landscape are but two reasons why we have seen so many young designers spring up. “We don’t see ourselves, or what we aspire to, on TV. All the shows that showed pieces of subcultures are gone. I think these young designers just want to see the characters they present on their runways visible in the mainstream media; not just to put their cute top or dress on some celebrity.”

The young New York-based trio Moses Gauntlett Cheng – comprising of David Moses, Esther Gauntlett and Sandy Cheng – showed their S/S16 collection as part of the group VFiles show. Inspired by an Italian view of New Yorkers, they describe their work as “a response to our city, our families, our stresses and desires.”  One of those stresses is obviously financial – especially in one of the world’s most expensive cities.  “The only thing that daunts me is money – that’s my biggest stress,” says Vejas Kruszewski, a self-taught designer, who showed his second collection in New York this week but still lives in Toronto to ease production and living costs. By knowing what financial hardship is, Kruszewski can design clothes to truly reflect this reality. “People feel protected in my clothes. It’s just so hard to exist here, so it’s about making do with what I have.”

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1137121Shan Huq photography by Thomas McCarty for Dazed Digital

Shan Huq, who is also self-taught, spoke out for the middle American teenagers locked into mundane suburbia. Everyday shirts and tees were embroidered with musings like, “When I was a server at Applebee’s, my boss and I had a thing.” Over the soundtrack, a loud and brash advert from the chain restaurant Olive Garden could be heard. Huq seemed to be passing comment on American consumerism and the pecking order of a society which isn’t always a meritocracy.

But the collections of these new designers don’t necessarily have to be expressions of dissatisfaction; they’re also about portraying an uplifting, utopian ideal. So often fashion is presented within an extravagant, fantastical cocoon far removed from everyday experiences – but these designers are questioning the non-material part of our lives. How can clothes enrich our existence, as opposed to simply adorning it? Kruszewski’s S/S16 collection had his comforting clothes set in an Edenic retreat, where motherhood and fertility were celebrated. A baby crawled around the presentation, skirting streetcast models in toggled ruched dresses, MA1 bomber skirts aand utilitarian white tank tops. Whether it’s reaction, or dissension, or both, what these designers have in common is the genuine desire to reflect their surroundings and give their work a social context that an audience can connect with.

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1137259Chromat backstage photography by Paolo Musa for Dazed Digital

More Than Clothes
There’s a loose common aesthetic that one can feel across all of these designers – but its one that is hard to define because of the haphazard, homespun nature of the clothes themselves. Bi-coastal label Eckhaus Latta – perhaps the most established of this post-HBA wave – specialises in using deadstock textiles to create something oddly seductive. Key words for its S/S16 show were “spill” and “lust” – it wanted to make things look a little like they’re “crumbling around the edges,” revel in making the unwanted look desirable. “Our language is centred around not necessarily being polished,” says Mike Eckhaus. “We like things that feel worn. We like things that feel distressed.” These are clothes that aren’t about showing off the most innovative fabrics, the most ornate embellishment or the most technically complex cutting. An overly polished garment is, after all, the result of an expensive formal design education that few can afford these days. The run-down textures, down-and-out silhouettes and utilitarian feeling offer something more special and unique. “People would be buying into a nice piece of clothing,” says Kruszewski of his potential customers. ”But also something alternative to… everything else.”

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1137367Vejas backstage photography by Evan Schreiber

An Intimate Community
Going from one young designer’s show to the next, familiar faces appear repeatedly as you begin to notice the same friends of the designers turning up to all of these shows. There were also designers supporting other designers – some even walking in their shows, like David Moses (of Moses Gauntlet Cheng) appearing on the runways of Vaquera and Eckhaus Latta. These tight circles are created by both physical and digital bonds. “We are all a part of some online community, built through mutual ‘likes’ and friends, and maybe even a bit of sexual attraction,” explains Smith. Ruth Gruca, showroom director of young designer incubator VFiles, cites New York’s nightlife (club nights like Ghet20 Goth1c) as places where people meet and intertwine with people from other fields, bringing music, art, film and even food into the mix: “Everybody is entangled in different aspects of culture.  Everybody parties together.  To meet likeminded people, whether they’re in your field or not, really helps.”

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1138043Telfar backstage photography by Evan Schreiber

This cross pollination of worlds was best seen at Eckhaus Latta’s show where, once again, Dev Hynes created the lo-fi distorted soundtrack and artists like India Salvor Menuez, Juliana Huxtable and Claire Christerson walking the show and painter Annabeth Marks involved in the creation of looks.  They brought life to the clothes because they lead creatively enriched lives. This multi-displinary approach means designers can also be open minded about their modes of presentation as seen in projects such as Telfar Clemens’ collaboration with tech entrepreneur CultureSport and their anime epic that will be debuting later in the year; or Chromat’s tie-in with Intel to create a fascinating stress-sensing bra that automatically cools you down depending on your body temperature.  Likeminded, comradely and collaborative, these designers know that they’re better in numbers than by themselves, as befits a world increasingly dominated by a sharing economy. But it’s still not quite the utopia that some of these collections might suggest; they still have to exist within an industry that is tough for even the best designers to navigate. “It’s sink or swim here,” says Gruca.  “It’s harder, but really beautiful things come of that. I’m excited for what will happen next.”

 

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1138238Vaquera backstage photography by Dillon Sachs