‘Escapism’ was a word thrown about frequently in the coverage of Europe’s fashion weeks this season, and with good reason. With the increasingly harsh political climate, London, Paris and Milan proved extremely reactionary in what they sent down their runways this time round. Vintage shapes, space-age fabrics and silhouettes dominated London; Paris concerned itself with issues of femininity; while Milan’s runways were entirely monopolized by everything shiny and sequined.
London Fashion Week clearly had Brexit on the mind. Many took the ‘bury your head in the sand’ approach; brands such as Mulberry and Emilia Wickstead took inspiration from vintage styles, with 1930s tartans dominating at the former and Victorian puff sleeves at the latter. The likes of Burberry, Molly Goddard and Mary Katranzou retreated into exaggerated, princess cuts. The line between art and design was thoroughly blurred this season; ‘wearability’ became a burden to be shrugged off for Fashion East and On/Off sent out models wearing wacky woolens and spiked, inflatable leotards.
As per, the ‘cut’ was avidly discussed from collection to collection in Paris. Issey Miyake notably took this to extremes, exhibiting models swathed in origami bundles of fabric. ‘Femininity’ came under question, and was central to many collections. Chloe and Elie Saab interpreted femininity through a lens of über-girly gauzes and pastels, whereas others such as Nina Ricci and Dries Van Noten (in his 100th show) presented it as something more loose fitting, broad shouldered, and bold patterned. Yet little effort was made by designers to broach more current issues; the inclusion of transgender models struck an all time low, with no transgender models walking any shows in Paris, or, indeed, London and Milan. The majority of shows were remarkably white. In fact, it was disappointingly common for the number of non-white models in a show to fall well below double digits.
Milan, less caught up in the issues explored in London and Paris, proved sumptuous for the eyes. It is not unfair to say that Gucci’s pieces would likely attract a few birds with the amount of sequins, velvets and vinyls employed by commander in chief Alessandro Michele. Leitmotiv, Bluemarine and Anakiki all followed, embracing this level of decadence. However, that’s not to say that Milan as a whole remained entirely a-political. Prada presented a retrospective on what it is to be a woman in this day and age, which was reflected in the diversity of colours and cuts used.
Maria Grazia Chiura, Dior’s first female head of house, narrowed the brand’s parameters significantly this season with her near exclusive use of blue, and yet, in doing so, widened the appeal. In her previous collection she was credited with softening the classic Dior silhouette, making it more manageable yet still elegant—something more realistically feminine. This continues in the Fall 2017 collection, with the adoption of loose denims alongside the classic velvets and sateen’s that characterize the brand’s typical output. She stressed the importance of speaking to the ‘millennials’ and further claimed that her goal was to ‘build a wardrobe’ that allowed women to ‘express and protect’ themselves. With the current political climate it is unsurprising that her models were dressed in Black Panther style leather berets and ammunition belts. Yet she clearly achieved her goal; through the inclusion of loose denims and delicate evening gowns there is both diversity and realism in the collection.
Fashion East, a non-profit organisation created with the aim of championing new designers, has proved remarkably canny in its choices for the runway in the past. Meadham Kirchoff, House of Holland, Jonathan Saunders and many others found their start there, and it seems that this year was no different. ASAI, Matty Bovan, Mimi Wade and Supriya Lele were presenting this year, all with equal success. Wade and Bovan sent two very unique and incredibly strong collections down the runway. Wade’s Dial M for Mimi was a feast of pastel colours and wild textures that would appeal to the Lazy Oaf buyer as much as to Hitchcock film buffs, and Bovan’s mixture of fabric and pattern clashing seemed almost akin to sculpture. Importantly, all collections were modelled by a diverse set of models, making Fashion East one of the collections perhaps more truly representative of the reality of the London fashion scene.
While Alessandro Michele has drawn some criticism with his past collections, or perhaps ‘campaigns’ is more accurate, for attempting to pander to millenial customers in an attempt to increase sales. I would actually argue that this was the winning ingredient in his recent collections. At once both gaudy and graceful, it seems impossible to chart Michele’s references – he sends a 1930s influenced black and white dress with enormous floral applique down after a spandex leotard covered by a lumberjack shirt. With his decision to mount both menswear and womenswear in the same show, he has created a great air of showmanship. Indeed, the entire collection feels very theatrical; and it even seems to show a sci-fi influence through the mixture of eye catching fabric and the repetitive floral motifs.
Goddard periodically sends girls down the runway in mountainous piles of brightly coloured tulle, and viewers were not disappointed when she continued this trend. Her choice defies explanation—is it meant to be nostalgic of Disney princesses? Is the smock dress style supposed to be evocative of some historical period, or the traditional handy-crafts she specialises in? It ought to be noted that regardless of explanation, the sheer intensity of the collection never fails to stun. The dresses are admittedly unwearable, but they are incredibly fun, and it is the distilment of this sense of joy that makes Goddard one of the more promising young designers to have presented this LFW.
Prada this season concerned itself with two vague concepts: ‘womanhood,’ and ‘revolution.’ They compiled a bricolage of looks from different periods: 70s suedes, 40s wiggle skirts hemmed with extravagant feather trims; timeless wool jackets with giant collars; and notably, some rather abstract fur slippers that if not for their pastel colourings could have been from the Paleolithic.
Yet the collection remained incredibly modern; the looks, through the obsessive mixing of eras, palettes and textures, become somewhat hard to swallow, and indeed, stronger for it. Mounted against a backdrop of posters bearing slogans such as ‘Fashion is about the everyday and the everyday is the political stage of our freedoms’ and ‘it is hard to think that any form of cultural production will be exiled from taking a position in favour of the liberal values we share,’ the collection is transformed from a retrospective of womenswear throughout the ages to a dare of engagement—whether on the part of the world to engage with women, or vice versa, who’s to say?