Monday, May 2, 2016

In London, Commercial Brands Find Creative Success

A recurring trend on my blog seems to be that commercialism in fashion is killing creativity. As a trillion dollar entity, the fashion industry continues to increase the amount of collections produced and sold each year, to maximise profits. This, of course, is terribly sad. For one, it destroys young designer’s burgeoning businesses before they even begin; also, it’s starting to taking the fun out of fashion because most designers can’t find the perfect balance between commercial and creative. At London Fashion Week in February, there was a slew of names that unexpectedly struck me. They managed to find some balance in their respected collections, between the creative and the commercial.

Pringle of Scotland is a 201-year-old heritage brand with an infamously tumultuous history. Throughout the years the business side of things has actually faltered for the brand, but their ready-to-wear offering generally shows effort and thought. Newly appointed creative director Fran Stringer arrives from Mulberry to design her first collection for the brand. Her inspiration? Pringle’s heritage, of course. Tracing things back two hundred years when Pringle manufactured undergarments, Stringer sought inspiration from there and translated it expertly into her collection. A thick wool sweater emerged, accented with an exposed-hem bustier. Elsewhere in the collection, corsetry and bodices featured heavily. It emphasised the waist pleasantly, but not in a constricted way. There was an ease to Stringer’s Pringle, something that heritage brands often lose sight of. Besides the label’s founding, the creative director looked to classic brand staples such as hand-knitted guernseys, which enriched the collection in a warm, fabulous manner. Fitting for the fall season—while some labels went season-less, Pringle found solace in the winter months; where, seasonally speaking, a brand like this excels. It was presented on a miserable day in London (at the Serpentine Gallery, before Burberry—a scheduling nightmare) and I bet every member of the audience wanted to leave with something.
Examining Stringer’s collection spurred thought of the need for heritage brands. Is there any need for them in 2016? Long story short, yes. Heritage brands are culturally important, relevant aspects to a particular area or to a certain time. However, is there a necessity for a ready-to-wear division that will likely sell less product than what eventually ends up in the stores? Probably not, but the company’s management believe so.

In a different vein, Mulberry isn’t so much a heritage brand, just a storied house. Famed for their bags designed by former creative director Emma Hill; Mulberry stumbled when Hill departed in 2013, with share price falling and a lack of creative presence. With a relaunch last year, the ready-to-wear section was resurrected by Spanish designer Johnny Coca (who assumed position in July 2015). Having garnered experience at Louis Vuitton, under Marc Jacobs, and Céline, under Phoebe Philo and Michael Kors, I was excited to see what direction he’d veer the label in. Backwards, apparently! I’m speaking figuratively, of course. William Shakespeare (whose 400th anniversary of his death was celebrated last weekend) inspired the collection. The playwright often used imagery of the mulberry in his work. Both Coriolanus and A Midsummer Night’s Dream feature the mulberry tree, so it was quite fitting for Coca to reference them for his debut. Heavily accented capes and coats gave the impression of armour, suitable for a Shakespearean war scene. A sheer black dress embellished with floral detailing was Lady Macbeth worthy. Paired with a leather jacket, which underscored the glam-rock influences in the collection. He set out to restore the brand with a sense of British character, and that he did. Definitely not an epic, in comparison to Hamletand Macbeth, Coca did do himself justice with this redemptive collection for Mulberry.
Anya Hindmarch probably won’t ever have to use the word “redemption” in her vocabulary. The British accessories designer is in a league entirely of her own, and continues unsurpassed. Her devilishly witty and creative designs are not without a sense of British charm and character. This season could be described as a breakthrough for ready-to-wear endeavours. Heretofore, Hindmarch has merely dabbled with RTW. There was a dazzling array of coats to be chosen from, as well as quirky zip-ups. Her inspiration was 80s video games, i.e. Pac Man, Space Invaders. There was even a Rubik’s Cube coat. 64-bit computer architecture adorned many outfits. Presented on a Sunday morning at 11am, Veronika Heilbrunner left the show toting a googly-eyed backpack, and the following day was seen wearing the fried-egg-emblazoned grey trench. The set too evoked a similar sense of character. White cubes came alive during the presentation, like chess pieces, and dotted themselves haphazardly across the board. If this was a game of chess, Anya Hindmarch just achieved checkmate.
Temperley London has been in a perpetual state of stalemate for a number of years now, but Alice Temperley issued a collection that got her out of a rut and into a steady rhythm. The Mexican influences from the previous season didn’t dissipate easily. Whiffs of Latin heat were present throughout the collection. From the frills and flares, to architectural structure, hints of Spain, intended or not, were felt. Matador vibes were emitted from one piped waistcoat. Moreover, their were ideas of a female mariner. The captain of her own ship, the Temperley woman dressed in naval jackets with strong shoulder definition, and impressive piped detail. Likewise, the shirts with their extravagant collars and neck accents would be a female captain’s go-to. Alternatively, for eveningwear, there was plenty of choice. Richly detailed evening dresses and gowns were embellished with crystal embroidery and with digital printing. Some looks were better than others, but it’s clear that this could lead to a return to form for Alice Temperley’s 16-year-old brand.

At the end of the day these clothes were made with the sole purpose to sell, not to move mountains. That’s not to be expected of them either. These labels won’t influence the moods of other designers, they’ll do what they’re designed to do: appeal to the customer. It helps when there’s consideration and thought injected into a garment—thankfully, here, there was.

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