In London, the biggest curse with showing at fashion week in the current climate befell Charlotte Knowles. Pigeonholing. The ephemerality of social media permits a minuscule 200 words to capture an inspiration, an entire collection before it is effectively rendered obsolete, as we look to the next show. Buzzwords define designers: “Mary Katrantzou: Prints; patterns; architectural silhouettes”, “Richard Quinn: Queen Elizabeth II; florals; Leigh Bowery-style masks”, “Marine Serre: sporty influences, ‘Futurewear’, scarves”. There’s no escaping them.
Knowles is regarded as the young designer, subverting femininity by pervading her work with 90s-inspired sensuality and sexuality.
I’m sure Knowles would like to assert a deeper meaning. Her work, in collaboration with fellow Central Saint Martins graduate Alexandre Arsenault, is as subtle as it is sexy, as connected with the nineteen-nineties as it is the present day. In fact, it’s rather pertinent that her Fall 2018 collection, shown as part of the Fashion East collective at London Fashion Week, approaches the theme of sexuality on the runway in a season when many others have expressed themselves in the only way they deem possible: deference.
Yet, Knowles’ models marched on. She continued to work with lingerie, trotting a host of negligees down the runway. They were styled as individual looks or with trousers (in an unpleasant shade of green). It was work that didn’t look out of place on the runway in the #MeToo climate.
She subtly infused sporty influences too, with printed bike shorts. They became a staple of the season, popping up here there and everywhere—a less glamorous, more honest depiction of the athleisure trend.
However, she didn’t stuff her work with them. She worked with surface decoration also, deploying a slew of sequin-embroidered pieces. Similarly, the design team pushed themselves in the direction of embroidered patterns.
“When designing clothes for women, in my opinion a female gaze is always going to be more personal to the perspective of a male gaze,” she explained to Dazed Digital.
The female gaze has become the fixation of fashion in recent years and it isn’t a fleeting trend. There’s Brianna Capozzi’s photography—which was recently immortalised in an impressive tome, entitled Well Behaved Women—earnestly reflecting women and their natural state, in a glamorous, grainy style. Petra Collins, another photographer, imbues her work with an artfully pastel tinge. Zoe Ghertner rendering her subject in a soft, natural light. These were the photographers who sprung to mind when watching Knowles’ show. The female point of view. It’s something that has been sorely lacking in the presentation of sex in fashion.
It’ll be interesting to see how Knowles evolves as a fashion designer. (I hope she chooses to show in a static presentation format as the character in her clothes are lost on a nondescript, anonymous catwalk.) Fashion East has supported her for two seasons now. (She presented Spring 2018 in an intimate presentation on the penultimate day of London Fashion Week in September 2017.) With her final stint ahead of her, it’ll be interesting to see how she develops.
Sex sells but that’s not enough. The hint of a new direction on this runway was satisfactory.