Right Hyères, Right Now

The last time I was at Hyères was exactly a decade ago.  Back then on the blog 1.0 I enthused and gushed about this annual celebration of grassroots fashion and creativity, nestled in the Robert Mallet-Stevens designed Villa Noailles.  It was the novelty of seeing seeds of young graduates in fashion and photography flourish quietly away from fashion’s epicentres in an environment so convivial (the sun! the palm trees! The copious amounts of rose!) that seduced me and yet somehow it’s taken me this long to return.

Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography in its 33rd edition in 2018 has of course grown whilst retaining much of its charm.  The people “headlining” the festival as it were, are still an impressive mix of fashion OG’s and luminaries with this year’s fashion jury presided once again by Haider Ackermann, and flanked by likeminded cohorts such as Tilda Swinton, Jefferson Hack, Delfina Delettrez and Ben Gorham of Byredo.  The sponsors though have become more numerous and illustrious and with that, comes bigger crowds and more people from the highest echelons of the industry convening down in Hyères.  Chanel is the grand partenaire but created its presence at the Villa Noailles, with the help of its Métiers d’Arts – this time a public participatory workshop courtesy of Lemarie, where you can try your hand at constructing a feather bee or flower.  Other partnerships such as an award given by Chloé, as well as sums of money from Première Vision, Petit Bateau, Swarovski and more means the cash prizes at stake makes this competition not just prestigious because of the calibre of the jury, but also a much-needed financial boost for any young designer or photographer at the start of their career.

Photographed by Daragh Soden (winner of last year’s Hyères Festival Grand Prix Photography prize) from his “Toulon” series

The cutting table of Maison Lemarié’s workshop at Villa Noailles for the Hyères 33rd Festival of Fashion and Photography

What thankfully hasn’t changed is that South of France relaxedness and the feeling that you’re happing onto fashion moments  rather than being hell bent on seeking it out.  Where you waft from one part of the villa to the other, catching Haider Ackermann’s curated “Vanishing Act” in the piscine and then saunter off to a wall of photographs of local lads in Toulon beautifully captured by last year’s Hyères Grand Photography Prize Daragh Soden.

But the broader takeaway from this year’s edition of the festival is the shift from ten years ago when awe-inspiring techniques and silhouettes were king, to today’s generation of young designers, eager to use fashion as a platform to say something more with their designs and articulate ideas around identity.

These were the designers that ultimately were the winners in the end.  Because sure, we can admire say the beauty of dried pressed flowers trapped in silicone created by German designer Regina Weber or the highly technical and precise woven nylons and coppers of Spanish designer Jef Montes but the question this year seemed to be, how can the youth of fashion go beyond their realm and say something bigger and more impactful about society at large.

Haider Ackermann’s exhibition ” A Vanishing Act” installed in the covered swimming pool of the Villa Noailles.  An assembly of his own work, Rick Owens, Madame Grès, Undercover and more.  

Sarah Bruylant (Belgium) who won the Public Prize of this year’s Hyères Festival with her collection “Meet me in another world”

Regina Weber (Germany) ‘s collection “Fleur Invader” which utilised real dried pressed flowers captured in silicone


And so to the grand prize winner, who people will already be familiar with as a finalist of this year’s LVMH Prize.  Rushemy Botter with the help of his partner Lisi Herrebrugh’s presented his MA collection “Fish or Fight” at Royal Academy of Antwerp in 2017 but has since launched their collective brand Botter with this powerful starting point.  It’s a love letter to Carribbean style but also articulates something deeper about the uprooting of one’s culture as an immigrant.  Botter’s roots in Curacao and Herrebrugh’s in the Dominican Republic (her mother is from there), and their travels to these islands meant they were able to observe a mingling of styles from these former Dutch colonies.  The resulting collection is a cultural to-and-fro conversation that both celebrates and probes.

“Whether I am at home or traveling, I can often pick out of the crowd who’s from Curaçao or the Dominican Republic. They just dress differently.  I specifically wanted to focus on the cultural clash they experience. A lot of young people come to Europe for what they think and hope will be a better life, but adapting or fitting in is very difficult and oftentimes they end up in trouble.  Clothing and appearance become sort of an armour to look like you’re better-off than you actually are,” said Botter in an interview with Another Something.  

The stacking of caps and layering of jackets represents an indecisive Sunday Best attire worn all at once, accented by table cloth lurid florals and a tangle of fisherman’s nets, inflateables and knitted plastic bags.  Those accoutrements  comment on the harm of plastics on the shores of his home island with a more pertinent remark on corporates like Shell (with the “S” omitted) on the eco-system of the coral reefs and the impact they have on the fishing livelihoods of the islands.  Recycled materials turn up in the form of Nike’s own plastic bottle-recycled Vapor Max shoes stacked on to leather shoes, as fresh kicks melding with old school elegance.

But beyond the war on plastics, Botter really represents a strand of conversation in fashion that I’m particularly interested in – what happens when culture is displaced, transported and returns to its roots?  The work of Botter and Herrebrugh is the product of migration, from their island lives on Curaçao and the Dominican Republic to Amsterdam and then subsequently to Antwerp, where their label is based.  There’s no explicit criticism in Botter and Herrebrugh’s collection but rather an open-ended question of what happens when people want to use dress to communicate their heritage in lands far from their homes.  More impressively, the actual clothes stand up to scrutiny,  Botter will getto present a collection at next year’s festival made in partnership with one of Chanel’s Metiers d’Art, as last year’s winner Vanessa Schindler did, and will also be going on to present this collection at the final of the LVMH Prize later in May.  No doubt, we’ll be hearing more of Botter in the future.

Vanessa Schindler’s collection made with the employment of Maison Lesage embroidery and jewels from Maison Goosens


Ester Manas was my other definite pick to win the Grand Prize but instead, like fellow La Cambre graduate Marine Serre in last year’s edition of the festival (and we all know what SHE has gone on to do…),she won the Galeries Lafayette award to design a capsule collection that will be sold next year.  I hesitate to use the word “ size” and so does Manas but evidently, her collection “Big Again” presented on a carefully casted group of atypical models of all sizes will be framed within that problematic terminology.  In fact, Manas wants to design for the breadth of FR34 all the way to 50.  And she can do so with her contrasting layers of tailoring, shirting and tulle flou that exposes the body, amplifies the bust/hips and deliberately exaggerates the waist and thighs.  There’s nothing more self-explanatory and powerful than the statement on Manas’ website.

“My collection is a testimony. It’s the result of a discussion I had with 12 girls. I was touched because everybody should have the right to dream and see oneself in a look that defines them. A piece of clothing can change a person’s behaviour. When you buy clothes, you want to give a message about yourself, to be part of a group but also to feel good. Every type of body should be allowed to expect this feeling from clothes.  All the fabrics are related with the skin and body, showing elasticity, brilliance, cracks and flaws. Sometimes the outfit is skin only, sometimes the skin expands, creates new volumes in interaction with the rigidity of what’s left of the armor. For me, this collection is for everybody.  Women’s skin and body exist more than ever.”

In this portfolio of images, Manas’ group of women tower over you, in an imposing combo of flesh and fabric.  Within the folds of a woman’s elastic skin, jewels shine.  What are perceived and deemed by society to be flaws are made beautiful in the hands of Manas and overall her designs open up a whole can of worms of questioning where larger sizes in fashion are concerned – why are there still oversized tents and tunics that persist as the limited options, why is the default strategy to cover, obscure and flatter so that slimness is the primary objective?  Here, flesh in all shapes and forms is as much a part of the collection as the clothes are and I cannot wait to see what Manas does to take her work further.

In another thesis of beauty ideal probing, Eva O’Leary won the Grand Prix in the Photography category, selected by a jury presided by Bettina Rheims.   Her series “Spitting Image” of 15 year old girls reacting to their reflections in a two-way mirror is a compelling one.


One of the overriding themes, particularly in the Accessories prize category, which was only introduced last year at the Hyères Festival, sponsored by Swarovski, was that of course of sustainability and in particular, upcycled and recycled materials.  This made its way into the fashion competition as Marie-Ève Lecavalier utilised sur leather from factories to create interlocking vests and dresses as well as trims on upcycled Levi’s denim that had been unstitched and repurposed.  Other finalists such as bag designer Ludovic Leger, who is currently working for a house, is trying to combat the waste of his field by physically gathering up leather offcuts from his jobs to create a line of bags.

Marie-Ève Lecavalier’s collection “Come Get Trippy With Us”.  Her design was the winner of the Chloé prize made out of interlocking leather that comes from sur scraps. 

Marina Chedel, winner of last year’s inaugural Swarovski Accessories prize presents her latest collection “A Raised Line That Moves Across the Surface”

Inès Bressand’s collection of bags made by artisan weavers from Ghana

Ludovic Leger’s bags made out of off-cuts and materials accumulated from his time working at houses such as Dior and Burberry 

But perhaps the project that captured the zeitgeist of a competition that sees designers more conscious and inclusive than ever was that of Flora Fixy and Julia Dessirer, and their collaborative collection of hearing aid jewellery for their friend photographer Kate Fichard, who is hard of hearing.  Fixy and Dessirer are product designers and thus their approach towards jewellery is less about flights of fancy but more about real needs.  The hearing aid normally disguised in “skin” colours (that are inevitably not actually close to any real skin colour) becomes a sculptural object in itself, accentuated by gold accents and resin pieces.  “The aid is emphasied, extended, thickened, exaggerated.  It shines, and becomes remarkable.”  For Fichard, this collection fulfils a personal desire to make her impairment beautiful and visible.  It was an outstanding project that again, opens up conversations beyond the jewellery itself.

Diversity and inclusivity can feel like throwaway buzzwords when fashion is busy trying to tick every box and cater to a “woke” public but when they come at you in a genuine and heartfelt way, you think about the real impact on the industry that could take place further down the line when this generation becomes, “agents of change” (my own buzzphrase that has stuck with me since Hannah Jones’ wonderful talk at the V&A last week as part of their Fashioned from Nature exhibition).  At Hyères, this year, we saw those young agents of change, making themselves heard, loud and clear.

Rêve Away With Dior

If we’re calling fashion exhibitions at museums “blockbusters”, a term coined when Met’s 2011 Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty broke all visitor records at the time, then trailers must be warranted.  Consider this to be a bumper trailer for a bumper exhibition.   Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams at the  Museé Arts Décoratifs is big.  3,000 square metres big.  The biggest fashion exhibition Paris has ever staged and of course the biggest retrospective Dior has ever seen, to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the house.  It’s not quite enough just to scroll through the pictures because the scale of the exhibition is such that requires in-depth and multiple viewing to really grasp everything you’re seeing.  Co-curators Florence Muller and Olivier Gabet have succeeded in amassing a vast amount of artefacts – the clothes of course taking centre stage with  over 300 haute couture frocks on show, in addition to sketches, photographs, hats, shoes, bags, jewellery that complete the Dior megabrand universe that was put in motion very soon after Christian Dior debuted his New Look in 1947.   And add to that, the paintings, furniture and objets d’art, the Dior archives are given an enriched contextual background.

We begin with a room that charts the making of Christian Dior as a young man, through letters, photographs, video clips and trinkets, all compiling a a visual digest of a man who grew up in Granville, and immersed himself in the world of avant garde art in the roaring twenties in Paris.  In fact, that’s the main starting point of the exhibition, where a Salvador Dali bust confronts you alongside a photographic recreation of the progressive art gallery, Christian Dior ran in Paris with his friend Jacques Bonjean, exhibiting works by the likes of Calder, Man Ray and Giacometti.  In turn those artists also attended Christian Dior’s fashion debut in 1947, eager to see what this man of eclectic and on-point artistic taste would do for what was then a down-and-out fashion industry.  The point of colliding Dior with Dali is that whilst they both pushed boundaries in their respective fields, they would also share tastes for something as out-moded as art nouveau.  The onus of being a “revolutionary” is a bit of a misnomer.  In the introduction to the accompanying catalogue, Dior is described as seeing himself as a reactionary, and by bringing his romantic and dreamer influences from his youth to his work as a fashion designer, it was a reaction to wartime frugality that was incidentally innovative.

One of the oldest pieces on show in the exhibition – the Diablesse dress from the fall/winter 1947 collection, the second after Dior’s debut

In the next room, the iconic imagery of Dior is brought to life with images such as Richard Avedon’s 1955 Harper’s Bazaar photograph of Dovima and an elephant, fading in and out on a screen, to reveal the original black velvet dress adorned with a white sash.  This is where Nathalie Crinièr’s scenography design really comes into play.  Rarities such as a sumptuous dress, constructed with seven layers of silk, net and organza, created for Princess Margaret in 1951 are also on display, loaned from the Museum of London, representative of the significant and slightly controversial relationship between a French couturier and a British royal (it was an unwritten rule that royal women should patronise British fashion houses).

Dior’s affinity with artists – both contemporary and historical – are further underlined in the work of successors, who picked up on those inspirations of Christian Dior, when he died in 1957 of a heart attack.  Whilst Monsieur Dior might have ventured to a retrospective exhibition on the Ballets Russes at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in 1939, decades later, John Galliano would create his outfit for Shéhérazade in his Opera Garnier collection in 1998.  It is here that you discover that the works of all of Christian Dior’s successors are given equal billing, which is a real strongpoint of the retrospective.  You have Gianfranco Ferré’s 1995 couture interpretation of Cézanne’s harlequin character as well as Marc Bohan’s 1984 take on Jackson Pollock’s paint splatterings.  And of course more recently, Raf Simons’ collaboration with Sterling Ruby on a series of couture dresses that pitted shadowy paintings with printed satin.

The impressive visual onslaught begins to build, as we enter a winding room dubbed, “Colorama” – a rainbow gradiated arrangement of dresses, shoes, hats, bags, perfume bottles and sketches.  It’s a technicolour representation of the world that Christian Dior set into motion quite rapidly, with his agreement to begin licensing out the Dior name around the world and the creation of Miss Dior perfume as early as 1947.  Dior was arguably the first mega fashion maison that became a globally recognised household name through these enterprises.

All roads lead back to Paris, as two fur ensembles created by Frédéric Castet as a tribute to Paris monuments in 1988 are on display alongside a vitrine of robe noir.  Not long after Dior showed his New Look, the House of Dior accounted for half of France’s haute couture exports and it revived Paris as the beating centre of fashion.

Just outside of Paris, Versailles comes calling as 18th century rococo is evident throughout Dior’s output.  Christian Dior’s own Trianon gowns recalled the pannier dresses of the eighteenth century as did Raf Simons’ fall 2014 couture collection.  Those colours dubbed by Monsieur Dior as “Marie Antoinette blue”, “dauphin green” and “Bertin pink” (named after the milliner to Marie Antoinette) crop up, time and time again.  John Galliano’s fall/winter 2004 moiré bustier gown with gold embroidery is another standout piece with its exacting corset contrasted with a rebellious draped bustle of gold embroidery.   A portrait of the Duchesse de Polignac anchors this Petit Trianon passage, where decadence and opulence are indulged upon.

The thematic catalogue of inspirations continues into a global journey where you can quibble with the modern day catcalls of cultural appropriation.  This is where “impressions” of China, Japan, Spain and Africa are formed by extreme abstraction.  From Christian Dior’s 1955 silk brocade tunic and skirt made for the Duchess of Windsor to John Galliano’s epic spring summer 2003 haute couture collection to Maria Grazia Chiuri’s sakura embroidered dresses for a special haute couture redux show in Tokyo in April – chinoiserie and japanaiserie are on display in abundance.  Travelling in the mind spans from Ancient Egypt artefacts to Goya’s depiction of flamenco to Masai tribe masks, eliciting interpretations of these cultures, and what strikes you is how different the interpretations are, depending on the creative director at helm.

Dior’s love of flowers is of course well-documented.  “After woman, flowers are the most lovely things god has given the world,” said the couturier, who would go on to create his flower women with corolla-shaped skirts and calyx-esque bodies.  An intricate paper flower installation created by Barcelona-based paper artists Wanda forms the backdrop to the keen gardeners of Dior, who have all taken Christian Dior’s original love of nature and created their own creations in bloom.  A beautiful Monet hangs on the wall as a reminder of the impressionistic approach Christian Dior and his successors took towards interpreting flowers as seen in a Yves Saint Laurent dip dyed tulip dress, in Raf Simons’ haute couture pieces for Dior that focused on abstracted floral embroidery and Maria Grazia Chiuri’s enchanted garden gowns of embroidered tulle.

On the opposite side of the museum (all of the above was only half of the exhibition…), this is where the physical height of the museum is used to superb effect.  A vast display of iterations of Dior’s New Look – specifically, the Bar jacket – that towers over you like a monument of iconoclastic fashion with its rigorous wasp-wasited cut, often paired with a skirt that celebrated an excess of fabric.  The “Bars” of every decade don’t waver too far from this undulating silhouette and it’s that continuity, which is the main takeaway from the exhibition.

Galleries dedicated to the creative directors that helmed the house after Christian Dior’s death – Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and presently, Maria Grazia Chiuri – also seek to emphasise the way Dior has moved through the decades and through stylistic time epochs, as well as being reactions to each predecessor.  Saint Laurent’s youthquake-fuelled radicalism (well, radical in the context of haute couture) was followed up by a more polite and steady offering from Bohan.  Ferré’s Italian flamboyance came to shake things up at the house, quickly followed by the theatrics of British enfant terrible Galliano.  And then Raf Simons came to offer his clean break from the past, wiping the slate with his purist vision.  And finally, Grazia Chiuri – the first female to steer the Dior ship – into an ever fractured fashion landscape where it’s not quite enough to just simply make pretty clothes.  You need to stand for something too, and her “women for women” messaging does just that.

Yves Saint Laurent for Dior

Marc Bohan for Dior

Gianfranco Ferré for Dior

John Galliano for Dior

Raf Simons for Dior

Maria Grazia Chiuri for Dior

A hall of toiles (where artisans from the Dior atelier will be demonstrating their skills throughout the exhibition) and an illuminated linear display of the Dior “Allure” all seek to impress upon you that above any one creative director’s vision, the spirit of the house must always be present and codes adhered to.  The changes to the fundamental silhouette from decade to decade, illustrated in a neon-tubed line-up of tailored ensembles, appear to be subtle.

By the time you hit the incredible room of the Dior Ball, dedicated to the gowns that have graced many a star over the years and Christian Dior’s own love of a lavish soirée, you give up looking at captions.  Most of the dresses are so recognisable and iconic in their own right that they stand twenty metres above you, defying the need for labels.  Like John Galliano’s sphinx line dress from his Egyptian collection in 2004, which sits on top of yet another height-driven display.  Other instant stand-outs include Christian Dior’s 1949 Junon gown with its skirt of sequinned ombréed petals and then Maria Grazia Chiuri’s re-interpretion of that gown in diaphanous tulle.

This is the room where I was lucky enough to witness at a press preview without a single person in it.  Maybe a late-night opening of the museum at an unsociable hour might yield the same thing.  I stood there for at least half an hour, taking in the looped video projection, that takes this illuminated nave from day to night, basking these gowns in sunrise, dusk and midnight hues.  The experience was, and I’m going to cheese it up here, moving.  Some might accuse the exhibition of employing Disney-fication tactics but for the non-fashion onlooker, this sort of atmospheric razz-ma-tazz is what is required, to well and truly animate these dresses and make them seem tantalising to the uninitiated.  This room is the culmination point of an exhibition that will surely encourage future fashion enthusiasts, as it dazzles the young to sketch, sew and yes, dream.

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams open at Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris until 7th January 2018

RCA 2017: All Woken Up

I’m loathe to use buzzwords.  Especially ones preceded by a hash sign #.  “Woke” is one of those dreaded words, not so much because of its meaning and intentions but more to do with the general implications of its usage.  Its very grammatical structure implies that somehow the people that aren’t crowing about their “wokeness” online are asleep, drugged by political and social lethargy.  And where it is used as a hashtag, one’s very acknowledgement of “wokeness” seems to dent the noble cause they purport to protest and fight for.

However, it is a useful bit of vernacular when looking at a new generation of designers, graduating from their embattled MA courses, from which they emerge into the world, saddled with an increased amount of debt and most probably riddled with uncertainty as to whether they can make it in an ever-tough industry.  Being “woke” is what will differentiate these designers from the ones that simply want to make pretty clothes.  In fact, aesthetically pleasing things may not be enough to entice a younger generation of consumers who prioritise experiences over stuff.

And so on the day the extraordinary election in the UK played out, 48 MA students from the Royal College of Art under the tutelage of Zowie Broach made their debut through a combination of performance, choreography and installation, in a stand-out graduate show that utilised both a traditional catwalk show structure as well as that of an art gallery.  “It is fitting that the show takes place at the very moment when the UK decides on its future Government,” said Broach in the introductory notes.  “Since the UK voted to leave the EU last June, students have been asking urgent questions about owning their own culture that haven’t been asked for generations.  They have been pushed to ask deeper questions about fashion within the current political climate and its power to effect change in this unsettling landscape.”

From the overtly political to personal identity issues to the questioning of gender archetypes and materials, this cohort of students had idealised ideas in spades.  And they ranged in their final resolution of commercial viability, from clothes you could see making their way onto a shop rail to more visually surreal results.  That’s how the show seemed to oscillate from the down-to-earth to the fantastical.  Zahra Hosseini kicked proceedings off with a sobering display of the Muslim call to prayer.  A leather-trimmed black chador robe, unfolded to form a prayer mat, like an origami fortune teller.  Downstairs in the basement Hosseini’s Iranian compatriot Maryam Navasaz also drew from her Islamic identity, with her exaggerated head pieces sitting zen in a verdant courtyard garden.  At a time when feelings of fear and anxiety have sadly once again been stoked up around extreme Islam, both Hosseini and Navasaz felt pertinent in their objectives.

Zahra Hosseini, Womenswear


Maryam Navasaz, Womenswear Millinery


More topical moments came when Bianca Saunders’ black men wandered out in clothes that sought to define “contemporary black masculinity”.  Bathed in a pink light, one central figure in a do-rag and little else was lifted up by the others like a baptism of sorts.  The references to Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight were deliberate and were instantly felt.  Saunders hopes to start her own label soon.  Another voice that adds yet another dimension to black masculinity is certainly more than welcome.  Ellie Rousseau’s rave-inspired oversized knits and Manchester-proud garb came trooping out with signage that was bound to get an election night crowd going.  “Corbyn In, Tories Out”, “Save our Future” and “Peace for MCR” were met with vehement cheers.   Another menswear knitwear designer, Jennifer Koch chose to address her own personal gripes about Chinese identity with a blinged out sportswear collection, doused in fortune cookies and lucky red packets.  As a mother of a biracial “hafu”, the statement “You look more Asian today” was bound to resonate.

Bianca Saunders, Menswear


Ellie Rousseau, Menswear Knitwear


Jennifer Koch, Menswear Knitwear


Designers that chose to confront the real and the mundane also found their calling in knitwear (a particular strong suit of the RCA MA graduates).  Alison Hope Murray exploited the stretchy property of her monochromatic knits to express a state of extreme comfort – so much so that one model can feel comfortable in her own topless skin.  Pippa Harries‘ knitwear was more rigorous with its nods to traditional silhouettes but in peeling back a pair of checked trousers with ciggy in mouth and a leek in hand, it revealed a facet of odd domesticity that was intriguing.

Alison Hope Murray, Womenswear Knitwear


Pippa Harries, Womenswear Knitwear


When things took a more fantastical turn, they still held true to that personal quest for answers to questions consistently asked in culture at large.  Alternative ideas of female empowerment – another misused buzzword – were explored by Fabian Kis Juhasz, and his cartoonish horror film archetypes with daggers in their feet and blood drenched tulle.  Women as maximal flora/fauna was expressed in Rose Frances Danford-Phillips‘ joyous explosion of nature-driven embroidery and feathers.  And to flip that gender exploration, Sophie Condron‘s pastel-kitsch installation of pink satin, rhinestones and nan’s house soft furnishings, transposed onto her menswear collection made for heady viewing.

Fabian Kis-Juhhasz, Womenswear


Rose Frances Danford-Philips, Womenswear Knitwear


Sophie Condren, Menswear


Confronting a rocky future ahead hasn’t killed these designers’ ability to dream big.  There were a few that unashamedly tapped into the aesthetics of the futuristic convincingly.  Aubrey Wang is hoping to set up a collective of engineers, artists and tech heads – an ambition, which was reflected in her retro sci-fi cast of characters, welding giant mobiles and encased in Mars Attacks glass bubbles.  Han Kim pieced together plastic feathers of candy stripes and polka dots in a CMYK colour palette, in complex bird-like configurations on the body.  And Colin Horgan‘s woman stood on the precipice of danger, in draped bands of holographic and black patent, that elongate the body into female figures of strength such as Lightning from my own Saturday night childhood TV staple, Gladiators and Nina Williams from the video game Tekken.  For me, they were all a welcome dismissal of a pervasive minimalism that has dominated fashion MA shows of recent years.

Aubrey Wang, Womenswear


Han Kim, Womenswear


Colin Horgan, Womenswear


The most memorable of RCA grads have often surprised with their interpretation of materials or garment categories.  Their millinery pathway once again excelled with Jing Tan‘s surreal presentation of strange fruit and flower bouquet heads atop conservative looking suited men.  We got to experience the top of the world with Ting Ting Zhang‘s physical iCloud of computer-programmed knitted hats, which utilises the same technology as Nike’s FlyKnit.  She plans to set up her own label to bring her headfuls of knitted data to the world.  Why?  “Because they are slogans, they are full of spirits, they are forever on the top. And of course, they are indeed cute!”  Quite.

Jing Tan, Menswear Millinery


Tingting Zhang, Womenswear Millinery


In between the two runway shows, we were invited to explore the installations that also yielded new exploration into the possibilities of materials on the body.  Take Abbie Stirrup’s “tailored gunge”, which had models dripping in moulded neon silicone and realtime applied gunge.  Stirrup is proposing the idea that these second skins could perhaps enrich us spiritually or even one day nourish us physically.  It’s not too far off the mark if vitamin drip bags take on a wearable form.  Louis Anderson-Bythell seems set to open up a materials lab with his collection of self-shrinking, elastomer garments, moulded and cast into clothing that appears to be alive.  His work points to the fact that true exploration of the technologically new in mainstream fashion is still largely absent.  “Fashion is always quick to adopt an image, slower to adopt any new mechanism. Maybe this will change.”

Abbie Stirrup, Womenswear


Louis Patric Alderson-Bythell, Womenswear


Finally, you have Kira Goodey‘s intricate shoes that range from more ready-to-wear friendly leather specimens to a full-on slashed PVC bodysuit, printed with a blur of Into the Void-esque neon lights from her recent travels to Tokyo.  She like all her contemporaries, is hopeful for change.  “We are on the brink of a paradigm shift in terms of the way fashion is designed, manufactured and sold – one that will usurp the ready-to-wear mass produced culture currently in place.  This movement will be much more grassroots and empowering to smaller manufacturers.”

Collectively, this was a graduate showcase that left you with a sense of optimism for fashion’s future – woke and ready to wake this industry up with their ideas.  On Alison Hope Murray’s own website, her personal summary of the RCA show says it best.  “Just because we can’t buy a house. Doesn’t mean we won’t work something else out for ourselves.  Stay tuned, we’ll probably Facebook Live the whole thing.”  

Kira Goodey, Footwear

Disobedient Bodies

The first bit of physical fashion I’ve seen since emerging from my postpartum haze wasn’t even on a human being.  In fact, I’m not sure I’d even categorise it as fashion.  Jonathan Anderson has taken me to some unexpected non-obvious venues.  Places where art and design live and breathe and when his clothes are presented in those contexts, they feel believable.  One time, it was the The Millinery Works, a wonderful arts and craft furniture dealer in London, for a Loewe dinner celebrating a collaboration with the textile artist John Allen.  Another time, it was up to Cambridge for a J.W. Anderson resort presentation at Kettle’s Yard, where former Tate curator Jim Ede’s 20th century collection was a backdrop for the zany mix of metallic knee-high boots and polka dotty frills.  With a very very kind offer to take Nico in tow with us, Steve and I journeyed up to Wakefield last weekend to the opening of Disobedient Bodies, an exhibition curated by Anderson at the Hepworth Gallery, the first of its kind as the gallery invites creatives from outside of the art world to come and present their perspective on the gallery’s modern British art collection.

Anderson’s starting point was that problematic quandary of “Is fashion art?”, a question that he admits was something that irked him.  Then two years ago, invited by the Hepworth to come and curate its collection, and embarking on a collaborative process of selecting pieces to converse with one another, Anderson became a convert to the idea of fashion sitting alongside art, sculpture and design on an equal and almost indistinguishable footing.  The result is Disobedient Bodies, gathering together over a hundred pieces by artists, sculptors, choreographers, furniture designers, fashion creators and even ceramicists, who have all looked at the body in a rebellious manner.  In most instances, the body is absent, altered or abstracted in some way and together it’s an extraordinary assembly of aesthetics.

Henry Moore’s wooden sculpture, the “Reclining Figure” from 1936 marks the beginning of this fluid and unconventional exhibition, where a Madame Grès pleated dress is draped haphazardly on an Eileen Gray Transat chair.  Or where a Christian Dior haute couture dress from A/W 1952 with architectured jutting out and undulating hips stands like a totem next to Jean Arp’s S’élevant (Rising Up) sculpture or indeed, Barbara Hepworth’s white marble Totem, both conceived in 1962.  One of the central anchor pieces of the exhibition sees a Jean Paul Gaultier jersey dress pulled tautly over a specially made mannequin body where the conical breasts are exaggerated to mimic Moore’s curvaceous figure.

“Can Helmut Lang be seen as powerful as Louise Bourgeois or a Giacometti?” was another hypothetical question that Anderson posed and so Lang’s iconic harnesses and holsters hang behind the spindly Standing Woman by Alberto Giacometti.  Aesthetic similarities are drawn in a deliberate bold fashion as the flat steel planes of Naum Gabo’s Head No. 2 are paired with the felt brilliance of Rei Kawakubo’s “2D” A/W 12 Comme des Garćons collection.  The padded out fabric tubes of Kawakubo’s “Monster” collection is seen on parity with Sarah Lucas’ “Bunny” works made out of stuffed flesh-coloured tights.

Anderson doesn’t shy away from calling out his heroes and references in his own work.  Kawakubo is one of course as is Issey Miyake, whose pleated garments hang next to the lamps of Isamu Noguchi.  Other fashion design purists such as Yohji Yamamoto and Rick Owens also feature in the exhibition.  Anderson’s own work isn’t necessarily the main focal point, but is present where it feels necessary and significant.  For instance, a grouping of clear plastic Loewe garments stand next to the only bit of natural light in the exhibition, with Wakefield’s old factory buildings looming in the background.

Housing all of these conversations are curtain-esque partitions made out of sur fabric from Anderson’s studio, devised by 6a architects in London.  It’s an intentional nod at domesticity as are the tables for displaying some of the pieces.  You almost trip over the gingham ‘lumps and bumps’ of the infamous Comme des Garcons S/S 97 ‘Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body’ collection as they lay on the floor like casually placed boulders.  The tangibility is something that Anderson wanted to convey even if it isn’t quite possible to maul our hands over the art works on display.  Hence why the central room of the exhibition has been filled with an installation of twenty eight floor-to-ceiling elongated jumpers, drawing from Anderson’s love of knitwear.  Here you can twist and interact with yarn, forming your own tactile ties.  Much like the local kids of three schools in Wakefield, who were photographed wearing the exhibition’s fashion pieces by Anderson’s longtime collaborator Jamie Hawkesworth.

That acknowledgement of the Hepworth’s out-of-London location was one of the primary reasons why Anderson was drawn to the project.  “London is an island,” said Anderson at the dinner feting the exhibition on Friday night, “We don’t end up sharing or seeing outside of our bubbles.”  That’s of course a valid sentiment cited as one of the primary driving forces behind people voting for Brexit.  By placing Disobedient Bodies at the Hepworth, Anderson is keen on empathising with this sentiment, by wanting to share creativity across the whole country, and not just within the M25.  It’s an attitude that makes sense coming from the Northern Irish Anderson, who once told me he never really identified himself as a “London” designer.

It seems appropriate that for my first work outing, after my own personal life-change, that the fashion that I did see was placed in a context that makes you really think about its true value.  Can fashion matter or make a difference?  Is it worthy of a similar stature of say, the work of Louise Bourgeois or of course, Barbara Hepworth?  Can it comment on our times and the significant world beyond the hyper-glam and privileged surfaces that whirs past us during fashion month?  Why yes is the answer which is why when the time comes I’ll gingerly attempt to enthuse Nico about it all.  Even if she doth protests.