Friday, April 29, 2016

Wales Bonner // Fall 2016 //

Grace Wales Bonner is one of the few off-the-bat menswear success stories. From her BA collection from Central Saint Martins back in 2014, the London-born designer subsequently became the sought after menswear designer on the calendar. She won the L’Oréal Professionel Talent Award following the London Fashion Week show, and critics continually laud her collections. 

Embedded at the core of every Wales Bonner collection is—as described eloquently by Dazed—“a meditation on black cultural narratives, explored through exceptional craftsmanship and carefully considered scenography.” How riveting! Steeped in cultural and historical research, Wales Bonner does something that many others before her have been afraid of. She’s exploring race, her heritage and gender in collections like no other. She isn’t just touching upon those ideas, she’s delving deep into them. That’s admirable.

It’s no surprise to see her stockists in womenswear departments. That’s what’s so intriguing about Wales Bonner, she appeals to everybody. Her clothes are presented at men’s fashion week, but they aren’t necessarily limited to the menswear sphere. Susie Lau wears her, but so does Charlie Porter. Moreover, she doesn’t feel the need to conform to society’s narrow view of what constitutes a man, which is not only progressive, but refreshing. Some menswear designers are still catering for ‘the suits’ and ’the lads’, meanwhile Wales Bonner is accommodating the niche that doesn’t belong alongside those two. 

What is her niche, you ask? Nu-masculinity. Embracement of femininity punctuates much of her work. For reference, Michele’s Gucci menswear is similar; it visits similar places. Not to discredit Gucci, but Wales Bonner is that bit more pioneering and powerful. Her exploration of black masculinity is the most fascinating facet of her work. Most of the models used in her fall collection were persons-of-colour (which varies from whitewashed model castings, that dominated runways for years upon years—and still does; although the tide is turning, somewhat). Their cheeks were rouged, and excessive jewellery dangled from their wrists, wrapped their nests, lined their fingers. The 90s choker revival even featured here, with a velvet tracksuit.

With their rouge cheeks, the models at her fall show stood out. (Wales Bonner presented as part of MAN, Fashion East & Topman’s joint venture in promoting upcoming talents at London Collections Men. Her designs were the first to take to the runway). Perched at the top of the runway was a kora-playing (a West African instrument) man; models bowed their heads to him. It was Nigerian-Irish composer Tunde Jegede, and he provided live music for the spellbinding display. The music was just one of many cultural references in the collection. 

There was Afrofuturism, African-American slave songs and tinges of the 70s and 80s in this collection. Afrofuturism inspired pops of red and yellow in the collection. Now more than ever, the cultural aesthetic is important—you might’ve seen Afrofuturist feminism in Beyoncé’s Lemonade visual album over the weekend. The 70s influences consisted of flared trousers, velvet outfits and pointed boots. One look reminded me of Bokeem Woodbine’s character in season 2 of Fargo. Moreover, they depicted the whimsy side to the seventies. A black leather jacket and high waisted trousers were punctuated by a waved hairstyle with silver glitter running up one side of the face.

Grace Wales Bonner is on to something. She’s bringing a “beauty and sensuality to menswear”. Easily, she could be hailed the next Jonathan Anderson or Craig Green. She certainly has the talent, the ideas. I won’t be surprised to see some of them pop up during menswear in June, or womenswear in September. It’s the domino effect. As is for many creatives, your signatures will be forged, but Wales Bonner’s handwriting is so profoundly her own, that no matter who attempts it, it’s impossible to beat the original.

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Richard Malone // Fall 2016 //

A holy communion in Ireland could be likened to a wedding. It’s a day when the whole family gets dressed up, the special focus being on the boy or girl making their communion. The day entails a morning mass, a school breakfast, visiting extended family members, late lunch with the family, and an evening—if you’re lucky—with a bouncing castle for the kids and an array of alcohol for the adults. It ends with a deflated bouncing castle, inebriated adults and a looming hangover. Of course, there are memories from during the day that stick with a child forever. For example, Wexford-born designer Richard Malone’s memory is of his aunt, Anne, arriving to the communion dressed in a skintight lycra, zebra print dress, a shaved head and exposed Celtic tattoos. Unforgettable. That very woman inspired his Fall 2016 collection, which was shown as part of Fashion East (his second season with sponsorship).

There were other flavourings of his Irish heritage suffused in the collection such as the caravan parties of his youth. The soundtrack of the show: a mix of rappers E-40 and Big Punisher—the soundtrack of his youth. Teenagers nowadays have to mark their identities in “a really narrow part of society”, by wearing colourful eyelash extensions, using ‘go-faster’ stripes, etc. Malone called upon those stamps from his time in Wexford. The images become more vivid the more he’s in London. He’s constantly reminded of the way things are back home and how lucky he is to be in London, where things are “much less homogenised”. 
The majority of Irish women would probably shy away from these brilliantly crafted clothing, on grounds of them being “too daring”. Examining the collection reveals that most of them are highly practical. Thick-knit sweaters, a work-uniform shirt, jackets and dresses. They’re all uniquely made, to add volume and character to generally dull, everyday items. His puffer jacket was curved to accentuate the waist before moving out into a flared shape—real innovation. 

Sexual politics in Wexford was also referenced. Oyster season in Ireland (which is apparently a big deal, I was unaware of it until I was researching for this review) is an interesting area of sexual politics in modern day Ireland. Men swim out to sea to harvest oysters, meanwhile women watch on. (The colours arose from this reference point—“ordinary blue” and the yellow of a high-vis jacket were used; also seen were mariner’s stripes). Gender roles in Ireland, still backward. Thankfully, Malone is using his art form to call them out.

Like a true poet, Richard Malone draws upon his personal experiences and his upbringing to bring a sense of himself and his identity to each of his collections—it humanises them. In some cases, you see the pride in his working class background radiate, and elsewhere you see what and why he tried to ‘escape’ the confines Wexford. It speaks volumes about modern day Ireland. A creative had to escape. 
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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Markus Lupfer // Fall 2016 //

My scant knowledge of the Markus Lupfer brand stretches as far as “they make quirky sweaters.” At London Fashion Week in February, I had the chance to attend my first Markus Lupfer presentation and brushed up on a few things. The German-born designer graduated from the University of Westminster—a university that has bred Christopher Bailey, as well as emerging names Claire Barrow, Mary Benson, Louise Alsop, and menswear designer Liam Hodges—and in 2001 he was awarded NEWGEN support from the British Fashion Council. Steadily, he transformed his humble business into a bigger operation, and today he presents biannually on the LFW calendar. 

Without any obnoxious poeticism, mystique is traded for practicality where the Markus Lupfer woman is concerned. For Fall 2016 she is a sleepless woman who needs a collection that “caters for her 24 hour lifestyle without compromising on polish.” This is something you hear a lot of nowadays. Sometimes it sounds like utter make-believe, but in certain collections there’s sincerity. Where I found there to be sincerity in this collection was the strive for polish. The Markus Lupfer woman strikes me as a woman that values neatness and individuality, in a subtly respective way. But there has to be a catch! She has a glam-rock spirit. Seventies influences could be felt in this collection with twee dresses and coats. 

The collection had some weaknesses. The introduction of glam-rock was an intriguing touch. Rhinestones were appliquéd on model’s faces, hair was bedraggled, faces were fresh, and gold earrings dangled from the ears of models. It emitted a ‘winter Coachella’ vibe. That’s especially jarring when placed alongside a twee day dress printed with daisies and styled with a thick wool coat. The bohemian air and the day-to-night workwear aesthetic clashed in uncomfortable ways. The interaction was uncomfortable. 

The hand-finished embroidery seen throughout the collection was developed for pre-fall. Florals—a Lupfer staple—were embroidered on most pieces, including a lovely sheer skirt in autumnal hues (burgundy, mustard). The accessories in the collection were embroidered too, with thick rhinestones. Regarding pre-fall, some designers refuse to engage with pre-collections, but Lupfer’s business model appears to require and benefit from pre-fall and resort. Not just business focused, pre-fall proved instrumental, generating ideas for this collection. 

A quintessentially charming collection from Markus Lupfer. He’s more than just “quirky sweaters”, but it’s what comes next is a pressing question that I have, and the answer remains to be revealed. 
All images are my own

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

REIN London // Fall 2016 //

Dashing back and forth between show venues and the Elms Lesters Painting Rooms on day 1 and 2 of London Fashion Week was fun, to say the least. I became quite accustomed to the area—exiting Tottenham Court Road tube station, up Denmark Street, a swift left, arrival at the destination. On my way, I whipped out my phone to photograph a new building structure, the multicoloured Google office and the foyer of the offices for my personal Instagram, for this blog's Instagram and Snapchat. This was before snapping happily at each presentation and show over the weekend. On Friday evening, REIN London were guest presenters at Elms Lesters Painting Rooms. Their interactive presentation was the most effective, jarring and eyeopening one I saw that weekend. 

Models circled the hardwood floors, a smartphone in hand, photographing guests photographing them. How meta? The idea was to turn the mirror on society (specifically, fashion show goers) and highlight their overuse of social media. Hauntingly, they walked extremely close to audience members and stared intently at the person behind the phone, thus ruining their picture. I even watched one model approach a woman saying “you need to eat something.” Slightly controversial, but designed to depict the vicious comment sections on social media. 
With a highly interesting, amusing interactive presentation, did the clothes live up? Yes, and no. On one hand, they were well made and evoked the theme. Geometric details trapped inside tonal panelling, symbolising humanities preoccupation, undying obsession and entrapment by social media. Like social media, they functioned smoothly. There was an oomph lacking in many of the pieces. Also, to their discredit, the presentation outshone the clothes. It was suitable for an art festival, and I’m sure it would be as lauded there. The audience were enthralled.  

In my earlier years of fashion blogging, I applauded social media moments. As I’ve matured, so have my tastes and expectations. I’m largely disinterested by them, and I attempt to solely focus on the clothing. I couldn’t help but offer my two cents on this brilliant presentation. As aforementioned, it’s fit for an art fair; the clothes, however, need some tweaking, but soon they’ll follow. No pun intended.
All images are my own

Monday, April 25, 2016

Christopher Kane // Fall 2016 //

It wouldn’t be erroneous to declare Christopher Kane the most prolific designer in London. The 33-year-old has amassed a large following over his 10 years in the business. Over the years he’s won Scottish Fashion Awards, been presented with Topshop collaborations and recently he opened the doors to his first flagship store on Mount Street. Along the way he garnered critical acclaim, celebrity fans and the £250,000 BFC/Vogue Fashion Fund prize. Biannually, at London Fashion Week, the designer attracts global audiences for ten minutes of captivation. Fiercely they pranced down the sloped Turbine Hall in the Tate Modern, this past February, before being swept away into a dreamworld, unlike any other experience during LFW. 

A dream-like, stream of consciousness was the product of Kane’s fusion of “meaning and chaos.” The two contrasting ideas are not unfamiliar in Christopher Kane collections. He juxtaposes two seemingly different ideas and manages to merge them flawlessly together, portraying them as symbiotic bodies, rather than opponents. The collection was called “Lost and Found.” The recluse, lost; in fashion, found.

The outsider art inspiration that pervaded the last collection was back for fall. Kane has “always been obsessed with recluses and the image of the outsider making their own world by hoarding things away.” This was seen in heavily accessorised looks, full to the brim of ideas and stuff. From plastic, waterproof rain bonnets down to shoes with feather and frilled details, and the eclectic prints and luxurious materials in between, you saw the hoarder in the Kane woman. She’s incredibly stylish too. A pleated, floral printed skirt styled with a sweater (looking worn—there was  a hole for wear the thumb wears away the material) and frilled heels. The new season bag accompanied the look. A mishmash for the stylistic rule-breaker: the Kane woman.

Taking a look at his ‘Kane’ slogan sweaters, you noticed they didn’t conform with the sloganeering trend that dominated fall runways. It elicited a fresh response; these weren’t your banal, run-of-the-mill logo sweaters. What we saw at DKNY and Vetements was a Bershka take on logos—this is an entirely unique entity. 

The aim of the collection was to create something new. The Stephen Jones bonnet, for one, brought back the item of 90s motherhood—in turn making it new again. Subverted luxury was an refreshing facet, especially given the dull luxury found in New York. “Preciousness and elegance” permeated the collection in exciting ways. There was Lesage embroidery (the embroiderers for Chanel’s Métiers d’Art collections), the input signifying a burgeoning collaboration. Delicate lacework was set against fur coats and thick wools. Maintaining ideas of ease, while upholding elegance, flat shoes (trainers and boots) were enriched with feather embroidery.

That is the beauty of Christopher Kane’s unorthodoxy. Things were wearable, some of which resembled past creations, there was some banality, but every time a look took the runway, you couldn’t help but appreciate the newness in it all. It was spectacular. And that’s not something you see everyday. 
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Friday, April 22, 2016

Off-White // Fall 2016 // Menswear

Virgil Abloh is the kind of polymath I appreciate. He’s an architect, DJ, graphic designer, stylist, creative director and consigliere to Kanye West, aspiring furniture designer, fashion designer. (Needn’t I mention the undergrad degree in civil engineering or the masters in architecture). His label Off-White has been generating traction from the fashion press over the past few seasons. Initially, he launched as a menswear brand which landed him an LVMH Prize nomination. Of recent, he has cultivated a successful womenswear counterpart, his second on-schedule presentation taking place during Paris Fashion Week in March. His menswear collection debuted its first runway show during men’s fashion week in Paris back in January. An impressive lineup—Olivier Rousteing watched on, Ian Connor hijacked Abloh’s finale jog. 

“Don’t Cut Me Off” the collection was called. Designed via group chat, manufactured in Milan and presented in Paris, the collection is the result of Abloh’s worldly view of streetwear, trend observation and noticeable teamwork. His diversely-cast models hit the runway in a variety: there was a suit, styled with trainers, naturally; flannels (similar to the ones he garnered fame and business acumen from—selling screen-printed logo t-shirts and sweaters); leather jackets; hoodies and flyest coats (army camouflage print and burgundy fur-lined hood—I’ll take five). 

His trend observation must’ve been influenced by the interview with graphic designer Peter Saville from SHOWstudio (conducted by Lou Stoppard), which intoned a message throughout the collection. His post-punk design aesthetic imbued this collection. Certainly visible on the streets is a post-punk revival, which Abloh cleverly weaved into this collection. Putting a personal spin on things, the looks in this collection had a healthy balance between monochrome and the rainbow-hued looks that trickled out in the latter half of the collection. A businessman or a skateboarder—Abloh is both—could wear these, and that’s one of the most important take aways from this collection. There’s product and there’s the theoretical side of things. The appeal of these clothes to any man, from any walk of life is the theory in this collection. It’s understated cleverness.

To end the show, a flotilla of overcoats in yellow, fuchsia, cornflour blue, pewter and white took the runway—pervading a sense of Abloh’s inclination for the unusual, the unexpected. What a way to end a well-calculated mix of street-ready garb. Don’t cut me off, I'm curious t see more from Virgil Abloh.
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