Visions of Yesteryear

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

c.2014 New York Times News Service

LONDON — They were boots to put the rodeo back in Rodeo Drive. In deep pile velvet, set on a high heel, they were curved to circle an elegant leg and to send a slim skirt, hips swaying, on its way.

“Cowboy boots,” Tom Ford said, exaggerating the drawl of his native Santa Fe, N.M., and going straight to the heart of the matter at his fall 2014 show. In a 180-degree turn from the gilded, glam-slam collection of a year ago, this one put the lushness into the fabrics: mink for a vest, goatskin in a jacket, a crocodile suit. There was barely a twinkle of glitter unless you count the crystal TF logo on those boots. The evening wear, too, was low-key, give or take a scarlet velvet elongated sheath.

The shock element was, Ford said, “a rip-off of a rip-off,” a dress-length version of a football jersey worn by the rapper Jay Z when he performs his “Tom Ford” song. It gives the designer not only street cred, but also a chance to compete with Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy for the most expensive sweatshirt on the planet.

But for all the ironic joking, Ford achieved something important with this show: fashion credibility. The clothes were not groundbreaking or reflective of the digital age. The base was a suit, with a sporty jacket and short skirt. The designer said he was inspired by Swinging London in 1961, the year of his birth (also printed on the Jay Z top).

There were some other references to the West, although a lace-up neckline probably owed more to the safari suit of Ford’s Yves Saint Laurent years. But this landmark show had the wit and wisdom of a designer who has a clear vision of his woman, striding through global society in deep pile glamour — and cowboy boots.

CHRISTOPHER KANE: It had to happen. Christopher Kane, the brightest star in London’s fashion firmament, has gone commercial. But beautifully commercial, with powerful tailoring done mostly in black or brown, and just enough jolts of color — hazard-warning green and yellow, and sugar pink — to offset the plain.

There were still little frissons of shock in the collection: mink cuddling up with shiny, wet-look nylon, and what the designer described as abattoir footwear, channeling factory workers’ shoes with protective covers. There was beautiful chain-stitched lace, to show the intricacy of handwork. But the swell of sexuality, the flashes of discomfort, the sense that there was something deep behind the clothes had faded. Kane’s most intriguing elaboration was layers of organza flipping over the front of a dress, mimicking the turning pages of a book, as if he had time to read one.

For the 31-year-old designer, after being brought into the Kering luxury group, is on the fashion treadmill. This season the arrivals were bags. They were cute — not least because some had little covers, as if to protect the fine leathers from the elements. Whether clutched, held by hand or on shoulder straps, they were youthful and fresh.

It is hard for Kane to touch anything and not give it a soupçon of charm, and frilly knitwear or sweaters with scallops down the sleeve were appealing, if unexciting. But the minimalist tailoring that started the show, with a black coat and pantsuits with off-kilter vests, looked like any designer’s offering. It was as though Kane had followed his usual practice of chasing his many and amazing ideas — but this time had run out of breath.

MARY KATRANTZOU, ROKSANDA ILINCIC: Pressing the refresh button season after season is a tough demand on an artistic mind. For fall 2014, Mary Katrantzou turned away from her original focus, digital prints. Instead, she returned to her Greek roots for an inspiring and original collection.

“Greek! It wasn’t supposed to be,” said the designer, although she finally admitted that there was, perhaps, a whiff of her native country in this collection. Pleats that were twisted and finished to different lengths were beautifully constructed, and so were long-sleeved gowns with a vestal look and pattern running down their fronts. Greek Orthodox? Let’s just say that Katrantzou reached deep inside her artistic soul and came out with a powerful collection.

Roksanda Ilincic’s show was colorful — popping with vivid patchworks, whether inserts in long felt skirts or the clear plastic squares in dresses that closed the show. Then she added wide metallic belts, part of an industrial feeling that gave the collection a bit of an edge. The deconstructed silhouettes, bright with color blocking, had artistic flair, not least the furs. With roots in evening clothes and an artsy attitude, it is tough to decide what the designer stands for, but making lively and appealing clothes is not such a bad idea.

J.W. ANDERSON: Jonathan Anderson was in the spotlight at the London shows, given his recent appointment as design director of the Spanish leather goods company Loewe. What would be the latest in his J.W. Anderson line of striking and sometimes tortured clothes?

“It’s romantic, but a bit broken — farmy elegance, contaminated roots,” he said. The words flowed out of the Irish-born designer, suggesting something urgent and deep, but ultimately producing long corduroy dresses with a hint of the 1970s, cut on the bias with a focus on the bosom. But with the rich, dark guitar music from the 2007 movie “There Will Be Blood” and colors that were muddy or dull green, like nature gone bad, this collection had Anderson’s usual mesmerizing weirdness.

Previous experiments from Anderson — male frills and spongy fabrics — have been copied and sold in Main Street stores. Watch this space.

BURBERRY: Oh what a crafty show! Just when Burberry needed to take a rain check on its trench coat and check patterns, Christopher Bailey came up with a beautifully made, absolutely convincing alternative. Every item in the show was in some way hand-painted, from the shawls to shaved coats and the slithering, slightly 1970s dresses. That handwork continued to the carpetbags, decorated shoes and throws (with models’ initials on them) that appeared at the close of the show. After some seasons playing with the wired world he has so lustily embraced, Bailey made his pitch for craft.

“It was the idea of going back to things I loved — Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf, and Charleston, the house where they painted everything that moved,” Bailey said, referring to the arty Bloomsbury Group of the early 20th century and the house in East Sussex. He said he liked the idea of going back to doing things by hand “in this crazy digital age.”

But the show was more than handwork: It was a romantic vision of nature and flowers in an English country garden. The clothes had a looseness, a free-flowing gentility that took the collection far from the rain-soaked world of Britain today to a magical place.