Friday, June 29, 2018

5 Questions with... Alla Sinkevich

Graduate season has come and gone. The next generation of fashion designers exhibited their work for the first time across the world. Colleges from Westminster to Winchester participated in the 27th instalment of the Graduate Fashion Week in London. Here in Ireland, there has been an increased buzz surrounding the designers of tomorrow. Recently, I interviewed Ciara Masterson who won the River Island Bursary at the National College of Art &Design. Today, I present Alla Sinkevich, a fashion design graduate with an astonishingly mature focus on craftsmanship and concept. I asked her about the nature of fashion competitions in college, her graduate collection, and the future of Irish fashion.

Her work will be displayed at CREATE 2018, department store Brown Thomas' annual retail event which spotlights 25 emerging Irish fashion businesses from ready-to-wear and accessories to millinery and textiles. It opens on Tuesday 3 July in their flagship store on Dublin's Grafton Street.  This opportunity comes after Alla won a €4,000 bursary as part of Brown Thomas' collaboration with NCAD. 

“Alla's fit is perfect, the finish is also impeccable. I adore her bias cut dresses, the fusion technique she uses keeps the collection very clean and minimal,” said Shelly Corkery when contacted for a comment. “I love the idea behind her layering—the dome-like exterior is like a hard protective layer and then inside there is the magnificent, lightweight feminine linen coat in raw materials, all sustainable, with gap stitching and slits—I thought it was absolutely extraordinary.”

I hope you enjoy 5 Questions with... Alla Sinkevich

Congratulations on winning the Designer to Watch Bursary Prize from Brown Thomas. How do you intend on using the prize?

Thank you Paul. Winning the Brown Thomas Bursary is an honour for me and also very unexpected. I was working hard continually through the year without this specific goal in mind. I am really grateful to all the NCAD staff for their enthusiasm and support and to Shelly Corkery for choosing my collection to be a winner. I plan to invest the prize into my brand Álla and materials to continue developing my seasonless collections.

Do you think competitions at fashion college are good preparation for the future?

Local and international competitions for young designers are preparing fashion students for the reality of the fashion industry which is competitive and demanding. This is the opportunity to learn, meet challenges and deadlines, exercise discipline and realise the true passion. The competitions provide a platform to showcase the work to a wide audience, put yourself and a unique creativity out there. 

Your graduate collection, which was presented at the NCAD Degree Show in June, is called Existential Nomad. Can you tell me about your thought process during the creation? 

The collection is based on the nesting dolls principle: all of the garments can be layered over each other and the outermost can encase the inner layers. Each layer is based on a traditional garment, passed on through the generations and remaining virtually unchanged such as tunic, caftan and cloak.

Archetypes of human dwellings from diverse cultures, phenomenon of existential migration, archival articles of nomadic clothing, works of Belarusian-French immigrant artist Marc Chagall and Inis Mór seascapes are the inspirations behind this timeless collection.

Inner layer of each outfit is loosely wrapped around the body, this undergarments employ zero and minimum waste patterns and can fit variety of figures due to the bias stretch. The core layer of every outfit is based on the enduring historical garment the Mongolian caftan which had been reinterpreted and reworked into reversible jackets. The outer layer is consisting of seamless hand felted sculptural coats made from undyed sustainably sourced Merino wool. This dome shapes recall various huts that are common across many human cultures and represent a home both physically and metaphorically. 

The collection ‘Existential Nomad’ connects cultures through time, it is not about trends and ever-changing fashion but focuses on enduring shapes and details of functional garments and accessories. This collection brings together the ideas of utility, passing on culture and self-discovery, drawing on widespread human experience, existential desires and fulfilment.

You mention you used sustainable materials in your graduate collection. Is sustainability integral to the future of your business, do you think? 

I believe sustainability should be integral part on any design really. Full life circle of the design object has to be considered: from the choice of materials to the longevity of the product and its potential reuse/repurpose/recycling. Designers have the knowledge and responsibility to deliver sustainable products to the consumers. Only natural fabrics and materials have been used for my collection: linen, wool and recycled leather. Rather than going out of fashion these garments will enhance its quality by living with the wearer thus addressing contemporary global issues of overconsumption and pollution.

The Irish fashion industry is going from strength to strength, do you think we could see the emergence of a fashion week here soon?

Irish fashion is going through very exciting times: young talents emerge and interest in fashion is growing continuously. There are several amazing projects and initiatives exist to support local young talents in Ireland. But the fashion system is being transformed by media and technology at the moment. We might not need events like fashion weeks in the near future.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Kim Jones Debuts at Dior Homme, Christening a New Era for the House But Not for Menswear // Spring 2019

Virgil Abloh’s first outing at Louis Vuitton wasn’t the only menswear debut people were talking about at Paris Fashion Week. Kim Jones, formerly of Louis Vuitton, was named artistic director of Dior Homme—which now goes by Dior Men—earlier in 2018. He debuted his vision on Saturday evening with a celebrity audience and excited members of the press.

It was an affair steeped in historical references but it also strived for something modern.

Changing the name to Dior Men could be a nod to the founder. Monsieur Dior shocked the beauty industry when he anglicised the name of one of his fragrance’s—it was Miss Dior instead of Mademoiselle Dior. The more direct influences from the founder were the array of blooms he had printed and embroidered on the clothes or the prints of Bobby, Monsieur Dior’s dog. There was also a gargantuan cartoonish sculpture, 10-metres-tall in scale and consisting of 70,000 pink, black, and white flowers which was commissioned by American artists KAWS. 

He also wove in references to John Galliano’s historic reign as creative director of womenswear at the French house, recalling his couture collections both in colour and practice. An embroidered patchwork jacket took multiple artisans one week to complete one patch and the palette looked at early-00s couture shows. He also introduced a Dior 'Saddle' bag for men; Galliano conceived the accessory in the 2000s and Maria Grazia Chiuri, the women's division's current artistic director revived it recently. 

The lightness of his debut reminded one of Raf Simons’ first Dior haute couture presentation in 2012, there was something hopeful and optimistic about it.

Romanticism was perhaps the main takeaway from the collection. Colours were light, in soft pastel shades, and tailoring was airy. It opened with striped, double-breasted suiting and sheer, floral-pattered shirts. Blazers were pinned to one side of the body, creating a romantic drape across the model—there was something attributable to womenswear about it, in part due to Naomi Campbell bedecked in a similar creation front row. It was a reference to an original design by Monsieur Dior, called the ‘Oblique’. It was an interesting 

The majority of the looks were styled with trainers which imbued utilitarian inflections. It merged suiting and the street, menswear’s latest proposition. Virgil Abloh attempted this train of thought at Louis Vuitton the other day, too. The focus on tailoring is a departure from the streetwear-saturated market menswear has become but the whiffs of the urban landscape were still unmistakable, potent. 

The styling was in line with contemporary attitudes but it wasn’t thought-provoking. Yes, men are beginning to dress in a more casual way and designer’s are dictating a continuation of this but it doesn’t upheave any preconceived notions about men’s dressing.

The British press waxed rhapsodical about the show but the content of their coverage could easily have been written with their eyes firmly shut—Jones is popular. His arrival will likely signal the dawn of a new era for Dior Men. He clearly has a loyal fanbase of eager customers who will ostensibly follow him. But as he progresses, it would interesting to see him pose a challenge to menswear instead of serve it, and perhaps surprise his audience, the way he did with his Supreme collaboration at Vuitton. Right now, notwithstanding the hype, there’s nothing particularly groundbreaking. However, it’ll rake in bucketloads.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Rick Owens' Odd Fascination with Chaos and Control Continues // Spring 2019

On Thursday afternoon, one of the remaining independent fashion businesses of a high calibre presented. Rick Owens, the Californian designer with a perverse, poetic and powerful attitude to fashion design debuted his Spring 2019 show at the Palais de Tokyo, where he tends to show his menswear each season. With independence comes the freedom to express himself in whatever way he chooses. He declared to The New York Times in 2017 that he has difficulty relinquishing control over his work.

Sulphurous smoke clouds in blue, yellow, green, and red erupted from the centre of the runway, billowing in the afternoon breeze. 

He was investigating themes of chaos and control, as he has done for many years now. His musings on the state of the world are generally about finding hope amongst the darkness but, ultimately, to strike this ground he must first establish the equilibrium, playing with balance and counterbalance. It’s poetic, often esoteric, but it’s visually arresting. It’s perversely optimistic. 

He was primarily thinking about Russian Constructivism and Vladimir Tatlin’s work which initiated that movement. He considered the hopeful symbolism associated with Tatlin’s never-realised architectural plans that were to celebrate Bolshevik success. There was an architectural intent with his clothing, his tailoring was as sharp as ever and he juxtaposed this with the undulating layers of fabric that attired the models’ frames.

With the ongoing immigration crisis in America, optimism and hope are dangerous. It’s something I also thought about seeing Craig Green’s show at Pitti Uomo in Florence. Fashion can seem frivolous in turbulent times. Why should we care about $2,000 jackets and expensive productions when there are children being separated from their families, placed in cages, and subjugated to depraved acts of inhumanity? But fashion is capable of holding a message. Think of First Lady Melania Trump’s Zara jacket controversy from during the week—was it a symbol of the administration’s disinterest in the plight of the immigrants or an attack on fake news journalism? But Rick Owens is skilled in the art of conceptualising emotions and producing profound designs, perhaps they don’t always look commercially viable but creatively brilliant. His belief in the world is endearing and enduring. The clothes were almost romantic in the way silks were draped across the body and the lightness of the tailoring.

At the end there was a coterie of Constructivist characters wearing tents (they were actually nylon parkas). Yes, they will be available in Rick Owens stores in 2019. Yes, they will come with support poles. If that’s not a bold expression of an unending desire to disrupt and to operate on one’s own terms then I’m lost for words as to what is. 

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Dries van Noten Sells a Majority Stake in His Business to Puig, Presents His First Menswear Collection After the Announcement // Spring 2019

For the first time in its 108-year history, Chanel published its earnings. The French brand is privately-owned and famously guarded about revenues. For 2017, they posted revenues of $9.62 billion, an 11 percent rise from a 2016. Chief Financial Officer Philippe Blondiaux assured The New York Times the posting wasn’t a precursor to an IPO but it was an affirmation of their status as the biggest luxury brand in the world. “We realised it was time to put the facts on the table as to exactly who we are: a $10 billion company with very strong financials, plus all the means and ammunition at our disposal to remain independent.”

This news comes weeks after luxury holdings group Kering revealed Gucci is aiming to reach the €10 billion revenue threshold. Not only this, discussions about money come at an interesting time for the industry. Reshuffling is abound with Missoni selling a minority stake to private equity firm FSI; Kering is in talks to sell back their 51 percent stake in Christopher Kane, months after Stella McCartney bought back their majority share in her business.

Perhaps most surprising of all, the announcement Puig purchasing a majority stake in Dries van Noten, the Belgian business synonymous with beautifully executed, ineffably rich luxury fashion and previously one of the few independent fashion brands. 

The news surfaced the week before van Noten’s men’s show which took place in Paris on Thursday evening. The move was defined by a desire to expand the business but it was also marked by dread by his legions of followers who fear an aesthetic dilution could be afoot. 

His men’s outing is never quite as expressive as his women’s—although both are principled by a razor-sharp focus on pragmatism and perfunctory practices, the men’s clothing is rooted in less decorative territory. But this season he strived for something more zestful and energetic.

He was heavily influenced by Danish furniture and interior designer Verner Panton’s curvilinear designs. He contacted Panton’s estate, requesting to collaborate. They permitted the label access to their archive with van Noten photographing and repurposing motifs for the collection. They can in eye-popping shades of tangerine and citron, lime and emerald, aqua and midnight blue. The metallic hues were like elevated Quality Street wrappers. Distinctly on-trend with the prismatic explosions that will dominate men’s fashion in 2019, he rendered his theme in lightweight parkas, loose shirts and summery separates. It was a colourful feast for the eyes, and the kind of sellable garb that will not only delight his fan base but also satisfy the commercial objectives of Puig. 

Despite the optimism, my eyes will be on the development of his womenswear in October.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Virgil Abloh Debuts at Louis Vuitton Men's, Plus Off-White // Spring 2019

The biggest talking point of the Spring 2019 men’s edition of Paris Fashion Week has been Virgil Abloh. The week began on Monday evening and ends on the forthcoming Sunday but Abloh has already claimed victory. He presented two shows this Paris Fashion Week. He displayed the latest propositions for his label Off-White, the luxury streetwear brand with exponential growth, and he debuted at Louis Vuitton men’s, one of the biggest luxury brands in the world.

The Off-White show on Tuesday morning felt like the preamble to the main event—his Louis Vuitton debut. There weren’t many surprises to be found. It was Off-White by the book. The clothes are destined to appeal to the legions of millennials who sleeplessly devote themselves to every whim and project Abloh undertakes, from the printed hoodies and quotation-mark-bracketed words to collaborations with Nike and IKEA. This season, one of his influences was graffiti artist DONDI (born Donald Joseph White) whose graffiti tag typography was utilised and emblazoned on garments. He spoke about taking a subculture and placing it in the spotlight, which is arguably the trajectory of his career. 

He is clever in the way he approaches the synergy between pop culture and streetwear. Bart Simpson from The Simpsons appeared printed on sweaters and t-shirts. Without a doubt, they are fated for countless of Instagram posts. Arguably, in its current guise streetwear could be perceived as a cornerstone to pop culture. His denim tracksuits, light-wash 70s-inspired bootleg jeans, tie-dye fabrics and camouflage twinsets, were renditions of the familiar tropes that underscore contemporary street fashion. 

I noticed it was tinctured with the work of London designers Bobby Abley and Christopher Shannon but that’s unsurprising. Demna Gvasalia’s imprint and a soupçon of Glenn Martens’ Y/Project were tossed into the mix too, and those two designers are indebted to Martin Margiela—fashion’s form of cannibalism. But originality isn’t as important to Abloh’s work as accessibility, and of course, saleability are. 

It’s why he’s probably a perfect fit for Louis Vuitton. Like Jonathan Anderson at Loewe, Abloh’s curatorial eye lends itself to artistic direction of a luxury brand like Vuitton. His appointment there signified many things. The changing of the guard in the design word: no longer do artistic directors have to be formally trained as fashion designers or pattern cutters, rather they have to possess an artistic vision that can drive sales. It also suggested the dominance of streetwear in menswear and the changing face of luxury—what is luxury fashion nowadays? For Abloh, it can be as extravagant as mink jacket or as simple as a well-made white t-shirt (albeit forensically-executed by the expert in-house tailors). 

His show began with almost twenty white looks. They were centred on the fusion between suiting and streetwear, honouring the house’s codes while also contributing something new, attracting a younger customer. It was a palette cleanser, so to speak. However, his predecessor Kim Jones produced a far slicker output, it elevated streetwear to luxury terrain and the styling was much more polished. Comparatively, Abloh’s pooling silhouettes and overwrought emphasis on utilitarian style falls flat. 

He rehashed some of the ideas that appeared in the Off-White show too. There was tie-dye print and it looked much better here. Though the double-denim looks that emerged fared better at Off-White; they didn’t blend with the house’s codes as much. But this crossover event cemented one thing: a faultlessly clear expression of his lucid vision, even if it is a vision in part indebted to other creatives. 

When the models took to their final procession, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, who were sitting front row, led a standing ovation. When Abloh emerged he made his way over to West, his frequent collaborator, sharing a tender embrace, both men wiping tears from their eyes.

And perhaps that is the best thing about Abloh’s success. It affirms something about the fashion industry: anything is possible with hard work. He is one of the only black designers showing in Paris and one of the only black artistic directors at a luxury conglomerate. (Kanye West made similar waves in fashion with Yeezy—say what you want about the aesthetic and the logistical disasters—when he became one of the most influential people of colour in the industry.) Milestones like this are undreamt of in an industry that is predominately white and perpetuates questionable attitudes towards diversity and inclusivity. On the benches at Louis Vuitton, a dossier was equipped with a map dotted with the birthplaces of his models and their parents; it was one of the diversely cast fashion shows in recent memory. 

The invitation to the Off-White show read “Jim Stark”, James Dean’s character from Rebel Without a Cause. The film chronicles the lives of suburban, middle-class teenagers. It’s the background Abloh comes from. From Rockford, Illinois to Rue du Pont Neuf, Paris. It’s also the demographic Off-White, and the myriad of collaborations Abloh participates in, connects with the most. He invited hundreds of young design students from local colleges to attend the show. To that contingent, Off-White is peak-fashion, the pinnacle of streetwear and Abloh its perennial leader. But mostly it possess a quality innate to luxury, it’s aspirational. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

5 Questions with... Kathryn O'Neill

Killarney is a town in the southwest County Kerry, Ireland. It has idyllic lakes and verdant national parks popular among tourists who flock to the town annually to delight in the various attractions. It is also where make-up artist Kathryn O’Neill is based.

But O’Neill’s Instagram would bely this fact. She’s often backstage at top fashion shows working on teams alongside industry greats such as Pat McGrath, Val Garland and Tom Pecheux. Recently, she was in Arles, France for the Gucci Resort 2019 show. She also worked on incredible Gucci show in February where models toted their own heads and some had a third eye. Gucci is just one name on an extensive list of brands that she's worked with during the womenswear and menswear fashion seasons. Other brands include Off-White, J.W. Anderson, Haider Ackermann, and Balenciaga.

I interviewed Kathryn about her career as a make-up artist and the advice she has for those who might wish to pursue make-up artistry as a career. She shared some of her experiences including her beginnings and the time she had her kit searched by French police.

I hope you enjoy 5 Questions with… Kathryn O’Neill 

From Co. Kerry to global fashion weeks: How did you become a make-up artist?

My career has taken many twists and turns. I fell into it by accident. I worked away happily in Ireland never dreaming that I would end up where I did. A few years ago an amazing opportunity came my way via Instagram. A New York makeup artist that I admire hugely, Alice Lane, was working on a shoot in Kerry. I contacted her and the next day I was assisting her on a campaign for J.Crew. She then invited me to assist her in New York which was a life changing opportunity. After that I started doing shows, starting slowly, only getting one or two shows if I was lucky. Every season builds on the last. I'm really lucky now to be busy, but there is always more to achieve. Many amazing people have supported me, booked me, mentored me.

What project are you most proud of working on?

I'm proud to work on Pat Mc Grath’s team. She is one of the top artists in the world. I still pinch myself after every show. She is very encouraging and supportive and makes me realise how much I can achieve. It's an absolute honour to be there and I know how lucky I am. 

I have worked on teams of some incredible makeup artists such as Issamaya French, Val Garland, Tom Pecheux and Mark Carrasquillo, and at amazing shows like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Prada.

What advice do you have for young people wishing to pursue a career in makeup artistry? 

Work hard, refine your skills. In this industry you are always learning, that never ends. Be professional. Always be on time. Be nice and collaborate. This is a very tough industry: resilience is key.

What are the things you wish you knew at the beginning?

All things are possible. The only thing standing in your way is yourself. Don’t be afraid, go for it.

What are the best and worst things about fashion weeks? 

The best things about fashion week: being chosen for teams, working alongside talented people, meeting artists from all over the world and making great show. The train from the Milan show to Paris Fashion Week—stress-free travel and incredible scenery, especially in January when everything is covered in snow and being transferred between shows in Paris by motorbike: terrifying and exhilarating.

The worst things are not being chosen for teams; keeping to a tight budget—fashion weeks are self-funded and you don’t get paid for shows for a few months. I could write a book about questionable Airbnb apartments.

My worst moment was ending up at the wrong address in Paris during men's fashion week on the day of Paris Pride with no metro or bus running. I had to run in the crazy heat, hauling my kit to the Jardin des Tuileries against the crowd and a policeman stopped me and searched my kit. I was an hour late and the stress levels were through the roof. 
Images: Kathryn O'Neill, Vogue, Le21ème, Business Insider

Monday, June 18, 2018

Miuccia Prada Makes a Case for Sixties-Inspired Short Shorts and Man Bags // Spring 2019

The common theme underpinning the majority of menswear today is designers exploring masculinity in all its machinations. What does it mean to be a man today? What does modern masculinity look like? It certainly doesn’t look what it looked like five, ten or twenty years ago.

Miuccia Prada is Milan Fashion Week’s sartorial kingpin. She displayed a bullish objection to hyper-masculinity at yesterday’s show at the Spring 2019 instalment at the Fondazione Prada in Milan. Her models wore short shorts, which the designer compared to mini-skirts. They were the skimpy kind usually found in family photos of beach holidays from the 1960s and 1970s. There were nylon options, denim too, and variations in signature-Prada vertical stripes. It reminded one of a darker version of Richard Linklater’s film Everybody Wants Some!!—thanks to the set design by Rem Koolhaas’ AMO studio. 

Camp squared off with hyper-masculinity. Shorts battled against the formality of the top half of each look—standard fare from Mrs. Prada: tailored jackets, striped sweaters and simple shirting. There were a few frills, both literal and figurative, see the floral printed t-shirts. 

In recent years, Mrs. Prada has developed a narrative usually beginning with the men’s collections and further examined in the subsequent women’s show. But the opening look at yesterday’s menswear outing distinctly reminiscent of the women’s Resort 2019 collection from May. It was indicative of the cultural shift that’s taking place, where women and men’s wardrobes aren’t dissimilar. 

The men at this show toted handbags. One supposes this was a dual-purpose effort. It looked like both an attempt to break down gender barriers but also offering a sellable accessory to their male clientele. (There were also Siberia-suited Russian ushanka-inspired hats borrowed from the women’s Resort 2019 show.)  Equally, it could be a proposition for the female customer who are known not to shy away from the men’s offering, especially in the current landscape where gender boundaries are no longer strictly observed.

A playful and neurotic take on masculinity, this collection also possessed an abundance of product. As with the recent collections, the plethora of product resulted in a creative deficit. It wasn’t as confrontational as the work seen at London Fashion Week Men’s or Pitti Uomo recently, nor was it as challenging or emotionally stimulating as Mrs. Prada’s own previous work. However, as Milan’s resident trendsetter and trailblazer, to redefine masculinity in its current guise for the general public and not just those attuned to fashion, perhaps baby steps is the way to go. 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Hope and Heaven Appear at a Poetic Craig Green Show at Pitti Uomo // Spring 2019

Craig Green’s show started fashionably late. Just another day at fashion week.

He was one of the guest designers at Pitti Uomo, the biannual men’s fashion trade show in Florence. It began in 1972 at the Fortezza de Basso. Pitti Uomo takes place after the London shows and before the Milan shows. In recent years, the organisers invited designers like Raf Simons, Virgil Abloh, J.W. Anderson to present their collections as guests of the four-day-long affair. 

Green’s collection took place at the Boboli Gardens, a park where Raf Simons once showed his work, and he waited for the right moment to start the show. The moment was the Florentine blue that enriches the sky during the transition from dusk to nighttime. There’s something inherently beautiful and incredibly peaceful but also sinister about the passage of light into dark.

“Reality is much scarier than your dreams,” he said. In light of the calamitous events that plague the world—from reports about Antarctica losing three trillion tonnes of ice since 1992; escalating trade wars and fraught diplomatic negotiations—he’s stating the blindingly obvious. But as much as he was thinking about the horrors of the world, he considered the ideas of hope and heaven. His palette consisted of sherbet shades, a poetic departure from chaos.

An incrementalist, Green’s vision is shaped by a desire to develop a design handwriting. There were his usual drawstring motifs, a highly functional interpretation of workwear and utilitarian style rendered in abstract patterns. (Green spoke about being influenced by the uniforms of cleaners, surgeons, postmen—capturing the mundane and elevating it). He toyed with perspective by adding fabrics that were layered to create an illusion of three-dimensional techniques but Green said everything was done by hand, technology wasn’t involved.  

The show’s denouement was marked by a burst of psychedelics. Ponchos were resemblant of psychedelic expressionism—one had an angel printed on it, denoting the theme of heaven. It was an interesting final exit and it contextualised the collection which was as much about hope and faith in the modern world as it was about the tropes of ordinary lives and renewing them. 

It’s almost perverse to consider optimism in a time when humankind is trudging through unimaginable horror. But there’s a deeply profound poeticism to the way Green uses colour and silhouette. The softness and subtlety, but forensic consideration, is hopeful, if not for the world, for the future of menswear. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Spectacle of Fashion Eclipses the Clothes at London Fashion Week Men's // Spring 2019

On Sunday at London Fashion Week Men’s there was a fake-blood-lathered naked man manoeuvring a smashed crate, male models cradling prosthetic baby bumps, and campy characters thrashing convulsively on the runway. That was all before 1pm.

The naked man covered in paint appeared at Samuel Ross’ A-COLD-WALL* show, which was attended by impresario Virgil Abloh. Having been recently nominated for the LVMH Prize and secured investment from Tomorrow London, high-level editors and buyers flocked to the Old Truman Brewery for an unforgettable multidisciplinary spectacle. First emerged the pewter-hued detachable-hood-wearing soldiers in uniform procession. Second came the models attired in conceptual streetwear that presented an alternate vision for the future of men’s fashion.

Ross was thinking about brutalist British architecture and the working class milieu he grew up in, before breaking into the fashion world. The polystyrene crate his soldiers transported around the catwalk before physically breaking down the walls of it, with a naked man covered in blood symbolising “rebirth” emerging. Perhaps it was a metaphor for the post-LVMH Prize nomination prosperity he’s sure to relish in? It could’ve alluded to the rebirth of streetwear—for once, someone was contributing something to the most overwrought dialogue in men’s fashion. Or even, on a personal level, it was about his transcendence of social framework—from a council estate to the fashion industry.

The spectacle veritably outshone the exceptional quality of this season’s clothes but I think his loyal fanbase will buy into his vision regardless. His ability to merge the worlds of architecture and fashion and create a poetic haute street wear is a testament to his talent. Utility is the name of the game in menswear and he elevated that here with fabric innovation and technical prowess.

Xander Zhou was the proponent of paternal pregnancy. Extraterrestrial or futurist visionary? One look with prosthetic hands extending every which way reminded one of a multi-limbed deity. Zhou is good at what he does. He knows how to create a desirable garment but his mind seems to jump from thought to thought each season. There’s never really any connection. There are great clothes but it lacks a coherent vision which is alienating. A discernible brand identity would help him go the extra mile. The pregnant male models unfortunately eclipsed the clothes which ranged from 90s-tinged futurism, the highlight being striped rugby shirts.  

Eden Loweth and Tom Barratt’s final display as part of Fashion East’s Man collective with their Art School project was a high-octane queer drama. Disseminating ideals about gender fluidity, campness and queer culture, they received help from characters including transgender model Munroe Bergdorf and DJ Princess Julia. They command London fashion’s dialogue with queer culture, servicing the hallowed ground of Sebastian Pieter, and the ill-fated Meadham Kirchhoff, both of whom have dropped off the schedule in recent years for one reason or another.

Their models pirouetted, pivoted and preened on the runway at the Old Truman Brewery. They ran, they threw themselves on the floor in a Leigh Bowery-influenced procession, and one even laid down, kicking his stiletto heels like he was the victim of a violent attack in a French psychodrama. 

The clothes were their best to date but they still haven’t quite worked out how to match the calibre of their clothing with the ‘high concept character’ they select to represent their brand. In the context of the wearer, it can fall rather flat. But it’s evident progress is being made. What they have mastered is the co-existence of clothing and character, you can’t focus on one without the other.

The theatrics reminded one of London Fashion Week Men’s when it began, then known as London Collections: Men. Those were the days when it was struggling to find a foothold in the men’s fashion conversation, especially alongside the venerated fashion weeks in Milan and Paris. There were shock tactics deployed to capture imaginations but what really stood out was good design. Now there's mostly just a focus on design.

Momentum picked up when the industry shone a light on talents like J.W. Anderson, Grace Wales Bonner, and Craig Green who were drawing international press and buyers to London before their other European menswear obligations. But J.W. has since consolidated menswear and womenswear and switched to the womenswear schedule in February and September. Wales Bonner is sitting Spring 2019 out, opting for appointments during Paris Fashion Week in lieu of a catwalk display. Craig Green has been invited to show at Pitti Uomo, the men’s fashion fair in Florence, Italy, later this week.

London’s firmly established position on the menswear calendar will extend into the future with the industry clout of talents like Samuel Ross, Xander Zhou and Eden Loweth and Tom Barratt, amongst a host of others. What this London Fashion Week Men’s proved is the designers are bursting with ideas and their efforts at articulating them can be both discombobulating and endearing.
Photo Credit: showstudio

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Bianca Saunders Builds on Her Graduate Show at Her LFWM Debut // Spring 2019

Bianca Saunders’ presentation at London Fashion Week Men’s on Saturday evening was her debut. It took place in the bowels of 180 The Strand, the BFC’s fashion week residence. She is the recipient of NEWGEN sponsorship for the next year which will see her develop a commercial oeuvre and receive instrumental industry mentorship. Her debut presentation was arguably one of the buzziest happenings on the sparse London schedule.

Saunders presents a vision of deconstructing the conventions of contemporary black masculinity. Typically presented in a hyper-masculine manner, her aim is to challenge the stereotypes. I interviewed Saunders about her graduate collection from the master’s program at the Royal College of Art, last summer. Speaking about her work, she said “It’s about these personal conversations with black masculinity in reaction to [men’s] personal style that leads these characters to be challenged from having feminine nuances.”  
She continued to echo this for Spring 2019. Entitled ‘Gestures’, the show continued her exploration into black male identity in the context of British culture.

The show had ruffled shirting referencing historical dress, patterned shirts unbuttoned from the bottom pervading a sexy edge, but it wasn’t confined to subtle feminine nuances. There was conventional menswear in there too. Boxer shorts for starters; leather trousers; white t-shirts were unskilled with a drawstring effect, continuing on from her graduate collection—the subtle reworking of a ubiquitous item in men’s wardrobes has become somewhat of a signature, appearing both here and her graduate collection. A white workman's trench was the highlight for its relaxed aura.

The insouciant vibe was owed to the creased fabrics, which weren’t actually creased. It was a guise created through fabric manipulation. It was as if they'd been left in a beside pool overnight and thrown on the following morning. There was something both familiar and underdressed about it. 

What makes Saunders’ work so appealing is the gentleness, a poetic lightness that is hard to define. Undoubtedly, perhaps due to the predominately black rap music scene, popular culture’s image of black masculinity is framed in a hyper masculine light. She deconstructed that hardened exterior through a soft colour palette comprised mainly of white and loose silhouettes.

With only two seasons behind her I’m curious to see how she develop her narrative and design handwriting. It’s good she kept things small and refined. This level of restraint is necessary for emerging brands, it allows them to perfect and polish a smaller output than display an unfinished and messy larger collection. 

Thursday, June 7, 2018

5 Questions with... Courtney Anne Mitchell

Once a year the Central Saint Martin’s BA students put on a their graduation fashion year. Past graduates include Molly Goddard, Richard Quinn, amongst others. 2018 featured 41 students’ collections from across all five pathways—womenswear; menswear; knitwear; print; fashion design and marketing. As always there was what can only be described as an explosion of colours, ideas (some original, some pastiched), gimmicks and glitter galore, experimentalism on ecstasy—the kind of work that inspires a paroxysm of disbelief and fury from the conservative commentators at the Daily Mail. 

One of them was Courtney Anne Mitchell. A London-native, Mitchell grew up in Maidenhead. She knew fashion was her calling when she was a young girl, drawing dresses and dressing dolls. 

Her work didn’t hold the audience captive because of awe-inspiring ostentation but for its sherbet colours and sophisticated approach to Sunday dressing. It was refreshing to see something with a sense of refinement. It’s often said that the tutors at Central Saint Martins insist upon experimentalist expressions, which usually wind up overwrought and comical in their eccentricity; Despite those being favourites from upstanding publications, the simplicity and soigné chic of Mitchell’s work was truly worth commending. Mitchell doesn’t intend to work to launch a namesake label anytime soon as she prefers to work in a group environment—perhaps something she developed when she interned at Paul Smith. With the level of skill exemplified at BA level, it’s evident that whatever design house recruits her, they’ll be making an investment. 

I caught up with her to discuss fashion education, the problems facing the fashion industry, and her graduate collection. 

I hope you enjoy 5 Questions with… Courtney Anne Mitchell

There is an oversupply of fashion graduates, according to the survey The Business of Fashion conducted last year. Is this something you and your classmates were thinking about?

Speaking personally, it isn't something I have considered that much recently. I knew going into this course that there was an oversupply of fashion graduates and just generally people who wanted jobs in fashion. I have thought about it now and again over the past few years, mostly in questioning whether the fashion industry actually needs me. There is such an immense amount of fashion being churned out constantly, so I did consider whether me becoming a designer would just contribute to an already too-large industry. Perhaps, at-times, a pessimistic way of looking at fashion. The past year; however, has been so busy that I haven't even had the chance to consider being a fashion graduate. The collection put me into survival mode and I had to break down the bigger picture into small manageable steps. Each small deadline became my main focus and I was just constantly putting one foot in front of the other to make it to the finish line. Now that the finish line is on the horizon though it does become a bit scarier, that I will have to find a job and that I will be thrown into a pool of graduates with amazing portfolios all applying for the same jobs. So I guess its a bit of a yes and no answer.

Do you think competitions at fashion college are good preparation for the future, i.e. the L'Oreal prize etc?

I am not sure that the prizes necessarily prepare one for the future, but it is a great way to recognise students who have worked ridiculously hard to produce collections. Of course it is an amazing addition to the CV so it cannot harm one's future in any way!

Your graduate collection was presented at the Press Show last week, can you tell me about your inspirations and the process of making it?

My collection was mostly inspired by my grandmother, but I guess within her personal story is a bigger story that many women like her can relate to. I had started recording conversations with her (she still doesnt know this; I am a terrible granddaughter) during my placement year, asking her about what it was like when she moved to England from Jamaica in the 1950s. I did this purely for myself - to have some sort of evidence of her life as there are so many questions I wish that I had asked my grandfathers before they died. 

She kept bringing up this supposed friendship she had with Princess Margaret in the 1960s when my granddad worked at Kensington Palace polishing doorknobs and working in the kitchens. I became obsessed with trying to ascertain whether these stories were in any way real and was struck with how similar yet different the two women were—both women are notoriously rebellious and mischievous. 

More broadly, I was interested by the complex relationship between the Commonwealth and the monarchy. People like my grandmother idolise the monarchy, were taught that England was the 'Motherland', were asked to uproot their lives to England to strengthen the workforce, but were treated as outsiders once they arrived. (These are the same people who very recently were being deported, detained, refused healthcare due to their apparent lack of British citizenship). 

Early on, I had to accept that this complex story would not be able to be spelled out in a 6 look collection, so I started off quite simply trying to capture the essences of the two women and their backgrounds. I started with print first, and I developed a laser engrave print that could bring the two worlds together. I had been looking at the patriotic, nationalistic tattoos captured by Martin Parr in some of his photography and started thinking of the idea of telling the story through tattoo designs. My grandfather had a few tattoos, I think one was a panther and maybe another an anchor, but I could never tell what they were because they were so faded and blotchy - I initially wanted to recreate this with a devoré burn-out on velvet to mimic flocked wallpaper at my grandma's house and at Kensington Palace, but ended up doing a laser engrave. I drew all these old-school style tattoos digitally on the computer, placed them on the pattern pieces and had them etched into cotton velvets. 

I also raided my Grandma's wardrobe, whilst recording her commentary, picking out and photographing clothes that she loved to wear or the clothes that she had made herself. She loved to sew, knit and crochet so she has an abundance of really interesting self-made clothing. I also went through old photographs belonging to my grandparents - the colour scheme for the collection came from this one recoloured black and white photograph of my uncle as a child at a birthday party. 

For the Princess Margaret side I went through books on royal tailoring (mostly Norman Hartnell), vintage brochures documenting her life events, watched old newsreel of her visits to commonwealth countries and watched every documentary under the sun - I really wanted to feel like I understood her as best as I could. Aspects of the collection like the mohair came from this cardigan my grandma always wears, whereas certain design details like silhouette and necklines came from Princess Margaret's clothing. Essentially I had all these elements from these two different muses and I just smashed them together, instinctively picking out elements I felt fit my narrative. 

Do you think more of an emphasis should be placed on business education in fashion colleges?

We get pretty much no business education on our course at our university, so I do not really know any different. I do think though that at Central Saint Martins there is such a wealth of people (both tutors and students) with business experience and industry connections who can offer advice and guidance, even after graduation and that is perhaps worth more than a formal education in fashion business. 

What do you think are the biggest problems plaguing the industry and what would you think could be a remedy?

I think sustainability is the biggest issue at the moment. There is so much new stuff being released constantly and if you go into any high street clothing shop, they have an immensely varied range of clothing - it is really overwhelming. All those clothes require so much energy and raw materials to produce. I really struggle now to buy brand-new clothing and try to get most of my clothes second-hand - charity shops are full of beautiful clothes in amazing condition waiting to be worn. Making my graduate collection often felt like such a waste, the amount of calico used in toiling, the amount of packages I was being delivered from around the world - my carbon footprint alone must have been huge. I did try to reduce the amount of new fabrics I bought - my mohair fabrics were actually blankets I had bought second hand on eBay, but on the whole I wish that my collection had been more sustainable. I think we need more education in sustainability, our university is really trying to educate us, but I certainly am unsure of how a compatible the fashion industry as we know it is with any current solution to the sustainability issue. 
All images provided by Courtney Anne Mitchell

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Natasa Cagalj's Ports 1961 Courts a "New Tribe" // Fall 2018

The show notes at Ports1961’s show at London Fashion Week in February spoke about “a different journey, a fresh terrain. A new tribe.” Perhaps they were thinking about the Philophiles—those stalwarts who worshipped Phoebe Philo’s clothing for Céline. It’s been open season at fashion week to entice that customer, with many designers investigating how to piece together a seemingly impossible puzzle. 

But the Ports1961 show, staged in the subterranean Tanks at the Tate Modern, went much deeper than endeavouring to follow the well-soled steps of Céline. Fall 2018 was chiefly about the internationalism of fashion—the boundless creativity of the industry sees no borders—and the updated language of dressing. Take a look at any design house or fashion college or media publication—they are comprised of a coterie of nationalities, histories, backgrounds; Ports included: their creative director Natasa Cagalj is Slovenian. International perspectives bring international companies a broader scope and, undoubtedly, the ability to connect with “new tribes.”

The intent was made clear when oversized scarves were emblazoned with ‘Made in England’ and ‘Made in Italy’ in jacquard patterns and prints; the design team and production is based in England and fabrics are sourced in Italy; she deployed finely-woven Japanese wool. 

The body of outerwear was dedicated to the sheer act of braving the fickle British weather. As is the case with much of fashion collection nowadays, Cagalj factored in climactic variances. There were waterproof coats with flowing sequin details, inspired by rain showers—a creative but literal take on weather conditions. There were some lighter options in the effortless, loose proportions of day dresses, an option for temperate climates. It is as much a wise business manoeuvre to court these variety of groups as it is practical to serve the ever-changing weathers.

The menswear influences are strong with an emphasis placed on the role of masculine tropes in a women’s wardrobe. Cagalj is a self-proclaimed lover of men’s fashion, stating it is one of her primary influences. It appeared in the form of accessories with the debut of their new accessories line; the shoes are described as “mannish” There was bold-shouldered suiting and masculine tailoring running throughout the collection. They juxtaposed nicely with the subtle femininity of the formless dresses and cashmere capes. It was an austere but gestural vision of womanhood and the multiplicities of who she might be and where she could be from.

Monday, June 4, 2018

The Sky is the Limit for Fyodor Golan // Fall 2018

A porcelain jacket with a drawstring detail and orange and red trim, a crochet sweater with an MTV-logo accent, and elasticated tracksuit bottoms with crochet panels was the first look out at Fyodor Golan’s London Fashion Week show in February. Practical, 90s-inspired, sportswear-inspired—it captured the mood right off the bat.

My first observation was that the clothes weren’t designed for Instagram but for the Instagram generation, and some were made for the runway but not for real-life. Designed by Fyodor Podgorny and Golan Frydman, the collection was “an active journey upwards; a sky tribe of power and energy,”, and it mused on aerodynamics. They were inspired by hot-air balloons and parachutes. There were some believable reflections of this (the woven-rope accents on dresses giving it a casual, sporty aura) and some not so convincing (billowing ballgowns that were a little too ‘deflated balloon trailing lifelessly behind’). With most looks they navigated a middle ground, imbuing the clothes with an urban functionality.

Proof that they were speaking to the digital generation was with the vintage sportswear elements. You can’t scroll through the application without being confronted by an advertisement for vintage sportswear. The platform itself has become a seemingly endless sea of windbreakers, jackets and sweatshirts -- “activeness and indulgence.” Tracksuits were enlivened with faux-fur; puffer jackets came in printed vinyl; faux-suede was mixed with crochet. 

Their desire to reach the millennial audience was further reflected in their partnership with MTV. (They aren’t the first to licence the logo. Marc Jacobs did it for Resort 2017. Martine Rose did it for Spring 2018.) In terms of 90s iconography, MTV’s logo and its graphic nature, is more palatable than Matrix-inspired sunglasses or baggy denim. The appearance of it here is indicative of the nostalgia surrounding pop culture from the 1980s and 1990s, as dictated by a plethora of Instagram accounts.

Fyodor Golan’s influences distinguish them from their contemporaries. It isn’t as po-faced, self-serious or austere as many of the other brands. Although that works for them in crafting a certain type of image, the duo at Fyodor Golan are more concerned with youth culture’s intersection with popular culture. Their references have attracted collaborations with My Little Pony, Coca-Cola, Power Puff Girls and Chupa Chups. They are well-versed in the subtleties of persuading a customer to believe in alliances between a fashion brand and pop cultural institutions by constantly referring back to the idea of youth culture. Ultimately, these partnerships have be spun with a youthful verve to be convincing. 

And, fun is profitable.

The duo were the recipients of the BFC’s Fashion Trust grant in 2016 and 2017. Their work is bought by 35 global retailers and recently Bella Hadid was spotted wearing a dress from their Spring 2018 collection. As much as the retailers who stock the brand, the patronage of Bella Hadid is currency in the current climate.

At the mouth of their runway this season, there was a large-scale model of the globe—amongst metallic orbs—that was suggestive not only their imagination of “flight and jump” but of their personal growth as a 7-year-old brand. In January, they announced they sold a “significant minority stake” of their company to Eiesha Bharti Pastricha. (Pastricha’s previously invested in Jonathan Saunders and Roksanda.) This will allow them to relaunch their e-commerce operation, expand their direct-to-consumer and switch to the see-now, buy-now format without skipping a season. 

The sky is the limit.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Into the “Hothouse of Winter Hedonism" at Peter Pilotto // Fall 2018

Attendees at Peter Pilotto’s London Fashion Week show weren’t just given fashion. They were treated to dinner, at Tramp, the private, members-only nightclub in St. James. 

After a long day of shows, and harassment from aggressive anti-fur protestors (at mostly faux-fur-using shows), the press and buyers sat down to an entrée consisting of roasted winter squash, fennel, glazed red onion, sunflower and pumpkin seed; a pearl barley risotto, datterini, crumbed feta and basil cress for main course; and a chocolate marquise cuboid, with a fresh raspberry as dessert. They dined on ceramic plates with swirling designs and were perched on abstract nonagon stools, from Peter Pilotto and Christopher de Vos’ new housewares range. 

The ambrosial feast was preceded by a collection, a paean to the “hothouse of winter hedonism.” It was fitting, then, to be in Tramp, which is considered the most exclusive private members club in the world. The oak-panelled milieu is frequented by thespians, royals, and according to MI5, the Russian spy Anna Chapman. Tramp’s nascency in the early 1970s was where they staged their exploration, imaging the decadent wardrobes of guests past. Silk gowns, skinny tailoring and floaty trousers, kaftans and wrap dresses were rendered in a panoply of colours; vermillion, indigo, violet, amaranth, midnight, amethyst—colours that looked as opulent as they sounded. Patterns were influenced by 19th century Austrian art movements—Beidermaier and the Vienna Secession. (One half of the design duo, Pilotto is half Austrian.)

The fabrics disseminated opulence too. Swarovski crystals twinkled as the models meandered the narrow floorspace. Leather opera gloves infused drama. Kaftans were presented in piped crepe and quilted silk; patchworks of tufted cashmere, teddy shearling panelled in silk were artfully inclined, self-indulgently beautiful. Sequins and cabochon were further insinuations of an epoch concerned solely with glamour, riches and superfluity. 

It was in line with Trumpian principles—themes of excess, decadence and loucheness were perpetuated across all four fashion weeks. The regression to the 1970s and 1980s symbolises a return to extravagant displays of wealth, hedonistic streaks, and a rich sense of self-importance. The past, as seen through rose-tinted glasses. Peter Pilotto’s homage to the disgustingly rich was full-bodied and colourful, surely to activate acquisitive urges when they enter stores in August.

A fashion show, like a good meal, can satiate a hunger and leave you fulfilled until the next one. A fashion show, like a good meal, can also nourish and energise you. You didn’t leave Peter Pilotto needing more. That’s not to say you didn’t want more.