>Thom Browne is for me a bit like the marmite of NYFW.  Or whatever yeast-y spread equivalent that would be.  Oh wait, Americans don’t put yeast-based spreads on their toast.  Which just about affirms my point about Browne’s singularity.  You either love it or you hate it.

There’s an established patter to his shows now that people are either enthralled by or cynically roll their eyes over their theatricality.  There’s a theme.  There’s an elaborate set.  There are pre-ambling dressed ushers dotted all around to flavour the mise-en-scene (this time, it was one pair of suited and booted legs sticking out from underneath a house a la Wizard of Oz).  Then Browne works and reworks his theme, ramming it down your throat until you’re almost suffocated by its presence.

That’s not a slight on Browne by the way.  Give me suffocation any day over sleep-inducing haze.  I’m grateful for Browne’s solidly singular stance, existing in its own microcosmic realm, crafted to death and worked until there’s no work to be done.  People might ask: “Well, what’s the point of it all?”  The point is in its very existence.   To push it, when others don’t push.  To appliqué, patch and embroider all those Japonaiserie motifs of pagodas, cherry trees and Edo-era women into submission – all those hours of work presented to us in a snail’s pace, thanks to the geta-brogue platform hybrid shoes.  To present his uniform at its most elaborate state, which of course will then filter down into the natty shrunken jackets, skirts and shirts that sit on neat rails at his stockists (although in recent years, Thom Browne’s show pieces have been making their way into the real world).

Whether its batty funereal Victoriana or Kill Bill-lensed Nipponica, the extremity is such that it’s hard to ignore.  Even if you err on the hate camp.  Everyone at least will have left wondering.  The grand dame sensei, in her jilted bride veil and sinister eye-patch closed the show and went to the head of the classroom.  Were these beautifully bound-up students about to be punished?  What insane act will take place within this wooden husk of a classroom?  Only Browne knows the ending.  Both lovers and haters were left hanging.

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You know how it goes down during fashion week. I start penning for other people like my life depends on it so here is an expanded version of the piece I wrote for Dazed Digital on the poignant Givenchy show that took place last night:

“It was a celebration of my ten years at Givenchy but more to the point, it was a celebration of life.  How we all arrived together an made Givenchy happen.  How friendships carried us through. On this day, it had to be about love and doing something on the street.  It had to be something real, something for everybody and not just seventy people.”  That was an ambitious missive for Riccardo Tisci to pull off for this one off Givenchy show staged in New York’s Hudson Park on a pier.  Sharing and love are big words to throw around for a fashion house but perhaps by not shying away from the memorial of 9/11 and constructing the show around this difficult day, this would be a moment that would get more eyeballs properly glued to what was happening just by virtue of how universal the themes were.

It also felt significant for Givenchy to open the fashion month, with a show that was deployed with what has been seen as a game-changing tactic.  Earlier in the week, Vanessa Friedman had written a piece in the New York Times about the restructuring and reshaping of New York Fashion Week to facilitate the broadcasting of fashion shows to the world. Pierre Rougier, owner of PR Consulting was quoted to say: “This heralds the officialisation of fashion as entertainment.”   And entertainment is what this Givenchy show was, even on this sombre occasion.  It will go down as a watershed moment when fashion at the highest level (and it doesn’t get higher than a historic French maison) truly reached out to a more widespread audience, as people watched the show on screens erected all over the city from Soho to Times Square and of course the lucky 800, who had signed up for a ticketed spot on the pier to experience the show collectively with the eyes of the industry and friends of the house.

Fuelling public demand will be an agenda that even the loftiest of brands will find hard to resist and it made you wonder whether eventually one day every fashion show will be ticketed with public allocations.  Could it even potentially be a bonus revenue stream for houses – maybe a thousand quid for a frow seat?  Fashion week being up for sale is nothing new but this Givenchy show demonstrated that being physically present at a fashion show is certainly the final frontier, up for public consumption.  Last night, we saw a gesture of generous goodwill towards the public that clearly worked.  The eager onlookers gasped, cheered and clapped at every strategically timed celebrity arrival (with Kimye of course eliciting the loudest cheers) and their enthusiasm is infectious – something that feels rare in amongst the seasoned (and somewhat jaded) fashion crowd.

Still, notching up likes and hashtags and pushing clothes didn’t feel like the true end game here. We weren’t there to witness celebrity fuelled performances or brash razz-ma-tazz with easy-on-the-eye Insta moments.  The two columns of light beaming up from Ground Zero reminded us of that.  Backstage after the show, Marina Abramovic, Tisci’s artistic collaborator on the show, who was responsible for creating the performance piece that preceded the show admitted it hadn’t been their original intention to show on the anniversary of 9/11.  “We were given the date and so we had to deal with it and of course it was a difficult day to deal with. So then we really created all the ideas for the day.”  With guests arriving more than an hour before the show began, there was plenty of time to take in the pertinent and moving performances high up on plinths.  A man climbing slowly up the stairs, which represented “new hope and a new beginning.  Another holding two young trees, which Abramovic likened to the twin towers, sprouting up from the ground once again.   “The most beautiful one for me was the woman underneath the water,” said Abramovic. “Water is very important. You have to clean yourself, you have to forgive and put the pain behind you.”

You couldn’t help but recall another instance where commerciality collided with the universality of love.  Coca Cola’s groundbreaking 1971 “Hilltop” ad, widely regarded as the most well loved ad of all time, featured a harmony-seeking multicultural crowd, much like the uniting of five religions in the soundtrack of the Givenchy show that scaled from a Hebrew prayer to a rendition of Ave Maria.  The pairing of perceived spirituality and a fashion brand could have so easily left an uneasy taste in your mouth but by centering the show around such fundamental pillars of life as love, peace and hope for the future, it was impossible not to be touched by the sentiment.  Lest we thought we were drinking the Givenchy kool aid, Tisci himself was clearly drunk on love. “This was a very honest collection. It was a collection full of love especially as the main inspiration was the bride and groom. I’m in a very romantic moment of my life right now and I’m very blessed.”

With the exception of a smattering of haute couture looks, heavy with the most ornate of leather patchwork, shell like beading and gradiated feather work, the collection was a-flutter with slip dresses and the lightest of lace in black and white.  The womenswear looks had a vulnerability to them with their lingerie nuances, counterparted by the menswear and the tuxedo tailoring.  What we saw might have been straightforward reworkings of a bride and groom’s attire but the love being promoted went beyond a man to woman heterosexual bond but also expressed the love between man and man, woman and woman, friend and friend, family and family.

That expression of love carried on late into the evening. Later that night, at the afterparty staged in a refashioned car park, over 2,000 invited guests (again fuelled by public participation) flocked towards illuminated lights spelling out “I believe in the power of love.”  Sobriety gave way to full on revelry with Leigh-Bowery esque drag queens and fi-erce dancers writhing around on cars, inviting a deluge of selfies and Snap Chat vids.  You couldn’t quite tell what you were walking into with almost zero Givenchy branding present.  You could barely detect the LVMH presence and that went down like a treat with the crowd.  Tisci set out to share the love and that’s exactly what we got.

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“If you get the right bag, an It bag, a hit bag, your label moves into a different league.”  So said the fictional British designer from that guilty-pleasure read from years back, Fashion Babylon by Imogen Edwards-Jones (free e-book to skim read if you want to kill a few hours).  Since publication nearly ten years ago, bags have certainly shifted away from requiring a waiting list sanctioned “IT” status but certainly having a hit bag within your brand’s arsenal is still an enviable thing and in some cases, does move a label into a different league.

When Christopher Kane launched a fully fleshed out range of safety buckle bags two seasons ago, it neatly coincided with the different league that Kane had entered as a brand backed by Kering.  It’s no coincident that the first you see when you walk into Kane’s new-ish store on Mount Street is a wall of his buckled beauties sitting neatly on perspex shelves.  They also grabbed your eye on the catwalk at his precisely sensual A/W 15-6 show, where over half the models came trooping down clutching a buckled bag of sorts.  And so this season sees the Kane’s signature buckle – a feature trickled down from his explosive Central Saint Martins MA graduate collection from nearly a decade ago. – fastened over ruffled totes, metallic mirrored leather box bags and rucksacks (MatchesFashion have a few of the metallic spangly ones).

I happily took the printed croc cross-body bag, made electric with spherical corners, inspired by DNA structures and paired it up with that very first point of inspiration – a bandaged and lace dress from that breakthrough Christopher Kane collection, which was a recent find on eBay.  Ok, it isn’t a dress to pig out on dumplings in but I’m filing this one under the “archive” category.  I thought about the sort of tropes too that Kane’s work has produced over the years.  The buckle is one visual signifier of his work but so are textures like velvet, metallic tinsel and various treatments of leathers and patents and generally taking you aback with the unexpected.  Buckle up.  The next phase of Kane’s trajectory will surely be one hell of a ride.

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IMG_9853Christopher Kane bandage dress and Comme des Garcons striped top

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IMG_9976Louis Vuitton jacket, Rochas shirt and Topshop Unique dress

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IMG_9950Christopher Kane sheer shirt and vintage Courrèges velvet dungarees and O Thongthai bracelets

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IMG_0012Xander Zhou tinsel jacket and Ammerman Schlösberg coat

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Some designers speak with lashings of references to “I” or “Me”.  Some use the brand associated “we”.  Erdem Moralioglu talks about “her” and “she”.  “She” is the girl or woman (or someone in between) that is in Erdem’s mind constantly, as he designs collections and builds sets around her.  For A/W 15-6 she was an eclectic American ingenue with a charmingly scatty apartment filled with issues of Paris Match, with typewriters, record players and stiff drinks lying about (designed by artist Robin Brown).  She’d go about her way in a cacophony of shaggy tweeds, frayed chiffon contrasted with metallic brocades and fine lace in rich plummy shades of pinks, purples, greens and reds. 

That deliciously tactile collection now hangs in Erdem’s debut flagship store on South Audley Street.  More than just a retail space, this is the place where “she” would hang out.  I love how the space is about “her”,” said Erdem, as we sat down on a comfortable teal velvet conversation chaise that dominates the basement of the store.  “It’s her Mayfair piedà-terre.  We looked at it forensically – what would it smell like, what would she look at?” 

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Erdem, together with his partner Phillip Joseph or architecture firm P. Joseph, took an obsessive look at every material and object that would grace this former rug shop as the Mayfair surroundings and the past of the store informed the interior treatment.  “Philip was dealing with some beautiful bones in the store – it was part respecting what was here and then part injecting a sense of the personal into it,” explained Erdem.  This is where Erdem’s “she” gets to really expand her world of interiors through the prism of the designer’s imagination and personal taste.  “She” would be reading books on horticulture and photography.  “She” would hang up a mixture of art spanning from early 20th century oddities by German painter Dodo to Andy Warhol sketches to David Hockney collages to watercolour portraits by British sculptor Daniel Silver.  “She” needs a lot of green in her life and so oversized house plants become the focal point as soon as you enter the store and downstairs, there’s a fern-filled greenhouse growing in the subterranean tiled spaces.  “She” has the most spacious changing rooms I’ve ever seen in order to try on Erdem’s dresses, complete with velvet banquettes and a vague view of the world outside through traditional glass tiles. 

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“We were really keen on the space feeling individual and warm,” explains Erdem.  “I didn’t want it to feel gallery like.”  Even the custom duck egg blue on the walls goes against the norm store grain to have clothes sit in sterile fashion against white walls.  At this point, Erdem’s “she” pops up again in his thoughts.  “I want to understand how that silk carpet feels underneath her bare feet.  What chair would she sit in?  Maybe she’d make breakfast here wearing that dress…”

These all sound like fanciful details that might be lost on the average customer but as our interview progressed, an impossibly chic lady and her teenage daughter gingerly hover around Erdem.  She’s eager to tell him how much she loves his clothes and the store.  She’s a discerning customer who can separate her fil coupé from her flocking.  And she, like many of Erdem’s well-to-do clientale will appreciate those Harper Alto chairs and Michael Anastassiades light fittings.  The face to face interaction with customers is already g-ing Erdem up, as this first store will undoubtedly tell him even more about who “she” is.  “We had our first sale within the first hour of opening last week.  I literally handed her the shopping bag.  She bought a brocade top and a dress and I said “Thank you so much for being our first customer!” 

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This stretch of Mayfair, from South Audley Street leading up to Mount Street is fast becoming a destination for the success stories of London Fashion Week as Christopher Kane, Nicholas Kirkwood and Roksanda are already present, with Simone Rocha and now Erdem joining the fray.  For Erdem, the history of the area was as much of a draw as being associated with the luxury brands that have set up shop here.  “Mayfair was the only place we looked at. There’s a wonderful history to this area.  Coco Chanel lived round the corner.  I love that Thomas Goode is across the street.  It’s wonderful to share the same area with those British designers but also Celine and Balenciaga.  It’s testament to London Fashion Week and how diverse the talent is here.”

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That diversity prompted me to ask Erdem a question that could easily be mis-construed.  Since setting up his own label back in 2005, Erdem has worked hard on a signature style that doesn’t shy away from unabashed femininity or prettiness – qualities that perhaps London’s edgier designers eschew.  How has Erdem dealt with standing out on his own and following an aesthetic path that maybe doesn’t conform to London’s subversive standard?  Ten years ago, either you were all black or a raved up neon club kid.  It was fuelled by those parties like Boombox and Ponystep.  If you look at my MA collection, it’s my handwriting.  If I wrote something punky, it would always be pretty.  I love the idea of taking prettiness and fraying it and twisting it somehow.  Certainly at the beginning, it was harder to get people to understand what you were trying to do and I did march to my own drum a bit.” 

Sticking to his guns and standing out has clearly paid dividends and the legions of fans, who rave about his clothes as well as this beautiful jewel of a store are testament to that.  As an independently built up business without outsider investment, how far can Erdem go?  “I love the idea of opening up more stores.  This flagship store could apply to a store in New York or a concession.  It will grow and I find that exciting.  There are also areas in the collection that There’s still so many places for her to go.”  And where “she” goes, many will follow. 

Erdem flagship store now open on 70 South Audley Street, W1K 2RA

Erdem’s A/W 15-6 set and collection:

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