At every Fashion Week, some young designer trots out an unwearable outfit. It makes the headlines, wins the social media shares, and confirms for many that fashion is, at heart, elitist and out-of-touch. But can radical fashion ask profound questions about life and society? We look at some autumn/winter 2018 looks to find out.
There’s oversized and there’s oversized – and then there’s Italian-born student Paolo Carzana who sent models down the University of Westminster BA catwalk so swamped in humongous layers of distressed coats, jackets and trousers that they looked like landfill brought to life. Even more startling: enormous empty suit-like structures that swayed over models like ominous ghosts. According to Carzana, however, the silhouettes are symbolic protectors, fighting on our behalf against the people in power. “Carzana created an intriguing, thought-provoking collection, which merges fashion and art,” explains Joyce Thornton, a senior fashion design tutor at Westminster. “It’s a personal and emotional statement against the abuse of power.” Two looks for the price of one, then.
For fashion writers, gender stereotypical clothing can be frustrating. Just why exactly do men have to wear trousers – those sartorial tools of purpose and activity – while women contend with the impracticalities of a skirt? So when a designer comes up to challenge those assumptions, like London College of Fashion’s Masters student Yingyi Lu, we can only say: great. Chinese-born Lu was inspired by 19th-Century toy dolls. “By exploring gender stereotypes in this way, it is very exciting to see how they were used as a starting point to explore the boundaries of masculinity,” says José Teunissen, dean of the School of Design and Technology at London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London. “And it’s fascinating to see how a female designer from a different cultural background interprets a western heritage and actualises it into contemporary menswear.”
Vin + Omi
Why wear a little black dress when you can wear a big pink one? This huge pom pom (above, centre) closed the show at Vin + Omi, a progressive and conceptual design house dedicated to creating new, planet-friendly fabrics in a luxury environment. To date, the brand has 11 eco-textiles to its name, including those made from recycled plastic from ocean clean-ups and an animal-kind leather made from chestnut skin. The dress – actually a cape coat – is made from the fleece of 10 llamas, family pets who live natural lives and will have natural deaths. “We want the dress’s wearer to understand the ethical no-kill history of our fleeces – and to appreciate that high-end fashion can be eco and wearable,” enthuses Vin, one part of the artistic duo behind the brand. “We want them to be able to wear the dress to a fancy party or say, “forget about the party”, stay home and fall asleep in it.”
Scan the front row at Pam Hogg’s latest show and the look is mainly bemusement. Not surprising: in between candy-coloured latex trenchcoats, Hogg showcased her signature catsuits – as worn by Kate Moss, Lady Gaga and old friend Siouxsie Sioux, among others – in a range of barely-there fabrics. Judiciously placed patches – another Hogg staple – only emphasised that the models’ skills in depilation were nothing short of high art. Hogg has a long pedigree of work, a Masters from the prestigious RCA and a post-punk heyday in the busy 1980s. So what, exactly, is she saying with her super-sheer catsuits? That you’re powerful, that you love your body and a bit of fun, and that people can either take that or leave it.
The opening act of February’s London Fashion Week was the phenomenally talented Matty Bovan, feted for wrapping, knitting, bunching and pulling all sorts of fabric swatches into extravagantly structured garments. The ethos is hand-worked and low-fi (Bovan works out of his parents’ outhouse); the effect is dystopian and futuristic. So far, so utterly contemporary. So why the helium-party-balloon-filled headdresses that finished the show, designed by Stephen Jones and worn with mashed-up ballgowns? “It’s about carrying the weight of the world on your head – but in a light way,” Bovan told Vogue.com at the time. Given that the collection was dedicated to his beloved grandmother, who passed away last summer, maybe that makes sense after all.
London Fashion Week wouldn’t be complete without as least one fashion student playing fast and loose with the traditional boundaries of the human body in his work, and using the catwalk to air political grievances. This season, it was the turn of Central Saint Martins MA fashion graduate Edwin Mohney, born in Buffalo, New York, who set social media ablaze with his swimming-pool skirts, pacifier dresses and ‘Trumpettos’ – heels encased in rubber masks of President Donald Trump. Those heels, together with the designer’s stated intention to "make fashion great again”, should give audiences a clue about Mohney’s inspiration. Central Saint Martins actively encourages progressive thought and boundary-breaking. Mohney nailed it.
You expect surreal fashion to appear at the shows of the idealistic young designers – but on the most glamorous runway of the season? Hardly. That’s exactly what Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele delivered on the label’s autumn/winter 2018 catwalk, when he turned the show into an event of Game of Thrones-style magic and fantasy. Models stepped out, carrying immaculately-crafted models of "dragon puppies”, iguanas and snakes; with faun horns and third eyes; and, finally, with life-sized replicas of their own heads. By then, the knitted balaclava with attached long, blue, fluffy hair looked boringly quotidian. Michele’s typically elusive show notes were no help, citing an exploration of the “Gucci cyborg, biologically indefinite and culturally aware.” A call for greater acceptance of diversity, perhaps? Whatever the intention, the evocation of another world was a welcome relief from the strident commerciality of so many other luxury brands – which is ironic, because with Michele’s at the helm, Gucci’s profits are soaring. Maybe weird pays off after all.
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