Exposure Is on the Minds of Designers

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

c.2014 New York Times News Service

LONDON — Self-exposure, and how to mete it out, whether in dress or personal publicity, seems to be an issue on many designers’ minds this season. Quite a few seem to be frantically scanning women’s bodies — like the QR code readers clutched by the gatekeepers at Somerset House, the site of many shows here — looking for new parts to reveal.

The stretchy pants at Marios Schwab revealed, suddenly, a flash of the entire inner leg as the models wearing them came down the runway on Sunday. Sleeves on a white, nurselike shirtdress were cut to reveal triangles of the shoulder. Dresses didn’t know whether they wanted to be long or short. There were overskirts, underskirts, skirts that had possibly started their lives as scarves. ...

Even the conservative Margaret Howell, though, is exposing midriffs these days, in bustiers worn with man-tailored trousers (for the professor who does Pilates, perhaps) and offering a dotted playsuit. But the rest of the collection was neutral and conservative, for the same customer who follows Jil Sander everywhere she goes. Gray, navy and taupe predominated. Pullovers or cardigans were layered over demurely pleated, reassuringly below-knee skirts.

The crowd that had turned out at the City of Westminster College for Preen by Thornton Bregazzi, though, was ready for something splashier, and they weren’t disappointed, though they may have been confused.

The collection started strong, with snappy, floaty striped dresses in nautical red, white and blue that one could imagine wearing on the deck of the Love Boat (Get me a vodka gimlet, Gopher!). Then the neon tribal prints — at least I think they were tribal prints — took over, to be followed by large watercolor flowers and hot-hued zippers.

Some dresses were banded, in the Herve Leger manner. Others suffered from the application of too much fringe. A tennis sweater’s sleeves were belabored with bright stripes, and backpacks bobbed behind, seemingly stuffed with life’s load.

A critic wants to cheer for the married couple, Justin Thornton and Thea Bregazzi, who started this label in a Portobello boutique with what they say is “a passion for recycling” and an obvious spirit. But before they can become the next Biba, some of their profuse notions need to be relegated to the rubbish bin.

From Nostalgia to a Princess Turn

“I feel like Father Christmas,” said Alasdhair Willis, sitting backstage after his show for Hunter Original at the Seymour Leisure Center in Marylebone, which had been turned from an actual recreational facility into a simulacrum of one.

A large rectangular cube in the center of the room had displayed electronic images of roller coasters, Popsicles and other carefree things. The runway was mirrored, so some in the considerable crowd, as they jostled toward the exit, were startled by perspectives of their own underwear. It was, perhaps, the only moment of the experience not committed immediately, as is now experience’s wont, to Instagram.

Willis is married to the rather better-established designer Stella McCartney, who had brought her father, Sir Paul. It was a show of familial support to be sure, but also a lot of wattage to cast on a company long known for rubber Wellington boots. With this, his second ready-to-wear collection for Hunter, Willis was trying to take the brand out of the realm of the purely practical and impart to it the kind of collective nostalgia that warms hearts and opens wallets.

Emilia Wickstead’s trademark is sophisticated modesty, the kind of dresses that appeal to other women rather than pandering to boyfriends; maybe that’s why Leandra Medine, the blogger known as the Man Repeller, was in the front row, along with the relentlessly gamin Alexa Chung, wearing striped sweater and denim miniskirt and rushing for a ciggie immediately afterward.

Wickstead offered many options that could go from the office — at least the home office — straight through to 4 a.m.: pocketed caftans in gleaming techno fabrics and overgrown shirtdresses. Many of her materials have a tactile, spongy look that begs to be rubbed between finger and thumb (some reminded me, not unpleasantly, of packing materials). Her proportions are thoughtful and flattering: long sleeves balanced by high slits or deep V-necks; dusters over shorts.


At J.W. Anderson’s show, held in close and uncomfortably sunlit quarters at Central Saint Martins, there were no worries whatsoever about the models, whose expressions — joyful, sullen or tense — are so often a reflection of a designer’s vision (or the temperament of his stylist).

These young women were fierce and fast, stalking by with their faces concealed by floppy leather hats. Leather here was untethered: wrapping midriffs, scrunched into high-necked crop tops and short skits. Function became fun house with oversized buttons and lapels, backward-facing sailor pants and odd cuffs protruding from skirts. Many Average Janes would find these touches incomprehensible; Anderson’s many rapt fans would call them “directional,” and they are eagerly pointing themselves toward his forthcoming collection for Loewe in Paris.

Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig, meanwhile, have been comfortable with Marchesa remaining in basically the same place, thematically speaking, for a decade now: a fantasy realm of flowers and tulle with which most women became acquainted at age 4, in the “princess” stage of development.

They marked the anniversary at the baronial setting of the Banqueting House at Whitehall, sending out an ethereal pink gauze gown, gold Chantilly lace knickers, oversize rosettes and plenty of crazy-Daisy Buchanan fringe to the applause of spectators wearing pantyhose and clutching pocketbooks. There might’ve been a translucent gold gown among the offerings, but Marchesa is not yet ready to air her ladyship’s derrière.

At the show of Erdem Moralioglu (who has lopped off his last name for his brand), held above Selfridges department store, which had been transformed into a kind of enchanted tropical bower with palm fronds and the distant synthetic sound of chirping birds, Moralioglu presented exquisite dresses in peacock-feathery dark greens, blue and sheer black, some of which, with their elaborate embellishments, resembled couture. He is known for Edwardian lace, never fussy or fusty but outlining the body beneath, and while a grassy top and skirt might suggest hula kitsch, here it looked downright collectible (though I shudder to think of the special cleaning instructions: rake and hoe?).

The next morning, my fellow wanderers in fashion’s thick forest followed the crumbs to Roksanda Ilincic, who seems to be trying to stake a claim on the bold modernist that previously might have worn Paco Rabanne or (if feeling earthy) Marimekko. Roksanda, also lopping off her last name (hey, it worked for Madonna), is suggesting for spring oversize folds, big dots and Hi-Liter colors that definitely would enhance safety while city biking.

The show was visually striking, but I couldn’t imagine the clothes on anyone but a curator willing to make her own form a canvas.