The Youth Quake: Maritime, Magma, and Sorry-Free Sex

September 16, 2014 • Fashion

What’s in a name? A lot, it appears. Recent studies have suggested that using your middle name can trick people into thinking that you’re more intellectual than you really are. J.W. Anderson is praised for just that: cerebral, considered designs that swathe around the body in glorious defiance of the needle-and-thread specificity of Savile Row—thesis and antithesis. This season, the silhouette appeared to move inward, narrower, to what Suzy Menkes described as “tidy mademoiselle tailoring.” It looked uncharacteristically prim. Then, Anderson’s perverse disregard for proportions was evident in the minutiae, magnified: huge buttons that fell from models’ heads to their hem; angular sleeves, exaggerated lapels and collars, and those deflated leather wraps that weren’t quite belt, weren’t quite bustier.

Some models had floppy fishermen’s hats obscuring their faces. They weren’t entirely necessary, or purposeful. And, of course, lengths of rope pulled through these dresses held together disparate panels of the garment rather haphazardly. If only the editing had been so tight. One gets the feeling that a gust of wind could have pulled apart the whole thing. These nautical references were hit and miss (mostly miss), anchored in something too abstract. Anderson’s name has resounding cool factor, we know that. It tops the list whenever there’s mention of a particular new breed of iconoclasts emerging from London’s underground. But he can’t sail on his reputation forever.

J.W. Anderson (left) and Mary Katrantzou (right). Images from Style.com.

J.W. Anderson (left) and Mary Katrantzou (right). Images from Style.com.

Neither can Mary Katrantzou, whose dizzying, hyperbolic prints were a great initial idea that became her go-to party trick. Her only trick, I feared. This season, she’s resisted the lure of brash technology for something more elemental. Embroidered snakes slithered into complex, convoluted formations over sheer fabric; collared dresses were overthrown by hundreds of strands of beading, viral and veiny in their finish. Those two dresses with inky caviar beading, in particular, looked phenomenal. Their swirly necklines mimicked the gradual trail of magma under the earth’s crust.

The idea behind this collection, then, could have been eruption: the quiet accumulation of references, funnelled to finesse, expelled through the cracks in ancient rocks. Katrantzou realised this vision beautifully, covering the runway with glittered black rubber to represent lava. It was clever. But clever is rarely without clumsy. Those long gowns with detached panels, reportedly held together by fine horsehair, were overdone. They were overcompensating, too, for what was a misguided idea to begin with. There’s a celebrity wardrobe malfunction in there, resting dormant, waiting to erupt before flocks of paparazzi. Still, if organic evolution—of flora, fauna, or fashion—was her objective this season, she’s moving in the right direction. It felt new, if only for her.

New. There’s a word I haven’t used in a long time to describe Burberry Prorsum. Christopher Bailey understands the power of a name more than anyone on the London schedule, having led the British heritage brand since 2001. Not just a name, but also a title: He’s now chief creative officer and chief executive officer of the company. That, indeed, is a new development for any designer of his rank. The title of Bailey’s spring collection was “Birds and the Bees,” a lovely, innocent, romantic conjuring of provincial English summer. The colours were pretty, if not pretty predictable. A desperate distillation of the lush hues in any English garden, sun and soil permitting. Skirts were tiered with soft tulle; models’ waists were cinched, like tall bouquets, with the same fabric.

It felt too easy, too convenient. And clichéd—which was the problem here. Long coats were covered in loud, jazzy colours that resembled antique book designs. Those strapless dresses with ruched and ruffled tulle, though styled with sunglasses in an effort to make them “modern,” evoked a slapdash ’80s senior prom sensibility. Nostalgia in jest, but hardly the stuff worth committing to memory. It was one cliché on top of the last. Here’s another: spring is the season of revival and renewal. Flowers are entwined in that tradition, but the results are seldom surprising when designers consistently sow the same seeds. Like flowers, individual looks in Bailey’s latest collection were lovely, some even gorgeous. Together, though, they looked almost identical.

Tom Ford—fashion’s tallest poppy, wilted then watered—is back at London Fashion Week. His latest collection contained all the grit and glory that we could have expected. He presented high slits to reveal models’ garters and stockings, extending those leggy lines of his brand of serrated sexuality. Leathers were included for good measure, and for fond memories: on cropped jackets, flared pants, taut miniskirts; anything and everything that needed a trim, including these heels that gave models standing six-feet-tall a few extra inches because, well, why not? “Whatever the trend or feeling, I never lost touch of the fact that women want to look beautiful, tall and thin,” Ford told Elle in 2005. Nothing has changed.

Worth noting is that Ford has already had a career, a brilliant one—the kind that most creative directors spend decades chasing. Ford only just recently turned 53. The re-launch of his mainstream womenswear career is, perhaps, nothing more than a vanity project, petty amusement to pass his time when he’s not busy being rich. And it’s that incontrovertible impulse that makes his new work so convincing. He knows he can fail and still have a name; that there will always be a place for him in fashion, even if he’s off the main page and down in the footnotes. Nothing affirms that reckless abandon quite like a sheer long-sleeved top with black tape running side to side, barely covering the model’s nipples. One spray of “Black Orchid” and she’s good to go. She may even see one of Donatella Versace’s girls in any of London’s steamy nightclubs: they’ll spot each other from across the room, share a smirk, and then a spritzer.

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