Photo: Zoe Glazebrook for Vogue UK
Photos: Craig Arend for Altamira NYC
Photo: Refinery 29
If one could capture the essence of fashion – boil it up and then sieve it – how might the result be described? I like to think of it simply as: ‘dressing up’.
Of course perhaps the phrase ‘dressing up’ evokes images of pirates’ costumes, glittery shawls and sunlit childhood afternoons, rather than structured tailoring and catwalk shows. And yet, if one looks a little longer then the similarities begin to seep through.
Entering the courtyard of Somerset House, the first impression takes in small flocks of street style photographers. Their camera lenses are like beaks, snapping for 'the' outfit, 'the' person walking past who can be swooped on and asked, “excuse me, may I take your photo?”
Accordingly, plenty of those attending (including me) take it as a great occasion to dress up. Feathers, fringing, Marie-Antoinette - style taxidermy headgear. All this and more can be found striding across the cobbles. I enjoy it. Having the chance to spend a couple of days submersing myself in a world that celebrates and revels in style, plus observing all those who make diverse careers out of it, is fascinating.
In the words of my good friend, photographer Dvora, of Fashionistable (who is currently shooting for Vogue UK here), being behind the camera at London Fashion Week is like, “being in a sweet shop” – colours, textures and ideas abound everywhere. There are some who may see this as a negative - an opportunity for narcissism – but what’s the problem with enjoying conscious dressing?
My own experience of LFW is certainly enhanced by being able to dress creatively in outfits I don’t necessarily get the chance to wear every day. I may be there to learn, to observe, to take notes and photos and to pay homage to favourite designers - but I may as well have fun too. After all, many of the outfits I put on my blog might only be appreciated by the sheep in local fields or the occasional bemused walker who wonders if I’m really going hiking in heels and chiffon.
It thus seemed apt that a theme of ‘dressing up’ ran through many of the collections I saw. My London Fashion Week started with Paul Costelloe. I had caught a tube, run along the Strand and paused to change my flat shoes for lace-up, heeled brogues, before heading towards the entrance. It was an enjoyable beginning, with a collection that referenced the sixties. While I sat in the dark, my small notebook clutched in one hand, I tried to imagine how I would write about the clothes. The thought I kept returning to was the idea of days spent in grand houses playing hide and seek. Details such as ruffled necks and puffed sleeves gave it the look of a carefree afternoon of dressing up and playing charades. For me, Costelloe captured the innocence, cut and elegance of sixties styling – a decade that I am more than partial to.
Another element involved in dressing up is the creation of a narrative. My friend Ellen is my long-suffering model when it comes to assembling characters such as zombies or figures in paintings (see previous posts). Armed with the contents of my dressing up box, we have a great time whipping up fictional scenarios.
It's probably not surprising then that I find myself drawn to collections and shows with a very strong sense of identity and narrative - where the models are not only being dressed up, but also inhabit the spirit and story of the collection.
Perhaps the best designer I saw at London Fashion Week to illustrate this is Corrie Nielson. She certainly knows how to put on a show. Her latest: Arbiter Elegantiarum, was inspired by ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ mixed with oriental influences. It took place in what I assume was a concrete car-park, that had been appropriated for the occasion and kitted out with a panel of large, bare light bulbs hanging over the catwalk like a modernist chandelier.
The models didn’t stride – they sauntered – as the eerie music pulsed and camera shutters clicked like moths. What of the clothes? Folds of fabric cascaded in all directions like artfully re-arranged satin curtains, with acres of ruching, layering and pleating in between. My favourite piece was a green (I assume satin) jacket that fanned out below the bust like book pages or an elaborate ruff. It summed up the collection: the dramatic clothes that called to mind decadence and sumptuousness; the cuts that mixed together elements of Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen. They almost made me want to dress up as a china doll and wander around graveyards looking melancholy – but that might be going a little too far.
Watching various collections drew out threads of comparison. The design process is akin to a writer creating a story – there must be a plot (the order of clothes), an inspiration, and in current economic times, a selling/marketing point too. But sometimes there is also a muse, as with Corrie Nielson above, and also with the design duo Fyodor Golan.
Although I wasn’t lucky enough to see this ultra-talented pair win the Fashion Fringe - which they more than deserved - I did get a close look at the clothes the next day when they were being exhibited. Gobsmacked is not a word I often use in relation to anything, but it is appropriate here. The muse for the collection was Frida Kahlo, and she was most certainly present – in the flower and bird motifs, in the low backs revealing the line of the spine, in the idea of transformation and metamorphosis. As a girl who has enjoyed a closer than usual relationship with her spine, I loved it. I will definitely be returning to this collection in a future post.
While at London Fashion Week I also saw Jaeger, Masha Ma and Jean-Pierre Braganza, but to borrow a fairytale line – “that’s another story,” for another day - or at least, for a Part 2.
The photos above were among the first ones I came across of my outfits at LFW. Many thanks to the photographers credited. And if anyone happens across other images elsewhere I'd really appreciate any links.
Finally, dressing up and narrative collections aside, what really made my LFW enjoyable were the people: Style East, Stella, Dvora, David, Jill, Dina, Nadia, Frances, Peony, Vanessa, Pearl and Craig among a whole host of warm, friendly, lovely individuals. It's the people there who make a good experience into a great one.
She Loves Mixtapes did of me? You can see more images on her blog. I was shocked (in the best possible sense) when she emailed them to me - how wonderfully talented she is.