23-Nov, 06:56

11:39, September 19 119 0

2017-09-19 11:39:03
Fashion Review: ‘Why You’d Want to Do That Is Beyond Me’: London Fashion Week Faces Down Its Critics

They screamed outside Burberry, they screamed outside Versace, they screamed outside the British Film Institute’s IMAX theater at the screening of a gory short by Gareth Pugh.

London Fashion Week was Occupied, beset by protesters demanding “Shame!” The cause was anti-fur — along the protest lines, you could spot a man-size costumed bunny rabbit, with a sign requesting that the fashion world wear their own skins, not his — and the effect was to unsettle the already edgy attendees, whose nerves had been frayed, if not flayed, by news of the subway bombing on Friday.

But nothing stops fashion week; showgoers gritted their teeth and hustled right in. By Monday afternoon, the shows’ penultimate day, it seemed that protest had dwindled to a single man, standing outside the Pringle of Scotland show in the Marylebone neighborhood with a megaphone, passion fizzled to farce. He wasn’t in the anti-fur brigade. What he wanted wasn’t terribly clear.

“There’s nothing to see in there but overpriced jumpers,” he announced. “Overpriced jumpers this way, everyone. If you want to see some overpriced jumpers on undersized women, you’re in the right place. Why you’d want to do that is beyond me.”

He may have been an imperfect messenger but the question wasn’t a bad one. It’s no slight to Fran Stringer’s perfectly fine Pringle show to acknowledge that the uses (and abuses) of fashion week seem murkier than ever. Designer after designer over the past several days alluded to the sorry state of the world (Britain’s exit from the European Union looming, nuclear gamesmanship foreboding, hurricanes devastating) as they went on their charted course.

Answering those terrors would be impossible but the questions raised lingered. Here at fashion week, does the real intrude upon the fantasy? Is the final destination of these designs the street or the (silver, small or iPhone) screen?

Is it all so much knitting into the wind?

Even the more prosaic impulses were cause for concern. “The feeling of missing out from the exchange of digital information and the ‘like’ culture is creating an increasing sense of despair among many of us,” the designer Hussein Chalayan wrote in a screed delivered with his Sunday show. The threat of FOMO (fear of missing out) is strong at fashion week — no other way to explain the gawkers who lined up 10 deep outside the Topshop show, hoping to catch a glimpse of Kate Moss — but Mr. Chalayan channeled his despair into one of the week’s best collections.

His gray suits resist the simple smashing into an Instagram frame: Their elegance is in the way they float around the body, the way they may look entirely different from the back than they do from the front.

Mr. Chalayan knows how to cut clothes, not just sketch them; you have to see them to believe them. Even better, you might have to wear them. Like Margaret Howell, another designer with a strong collection this week, he makes clothes that are not only sharp and smart, but useful. Mr. Chalayan can get woozy with concept, but those suits, in their splintering variations, shorn of lapels or sleeves, shortened into shorts, trailing fluttering panels of fabric: They improved workhorses by degrees. Like Ms. Howell, who exaggerated the scale of a shirt collar or the sweep of a wide trouser leg, Mr. Chalayan made the reasonable desirable.

Erdem Moralioglu, on the other hand, embroiders history. Last season, it was an imagined meeting between his grandmothers, Turkish on one side and British on the other; this time, a real meeting, between a young Queen Elizabeth II and the jazz master Duke Ellington. (It took place in Leeds, England, in 1958; Mr. Ellington wrote “The Queen’s Suite” for her. “I’ll be listening,” she promised.) Mr. Moralioglu brought their two spheres together: Elizabeth at the Cotton Club, Billie Holiday and Dorothy Dandridge at the palace.

“We live in such funny times,” Mr. Moralioglu said, “this wonderful exchange between two very different worlds was beautiful.”

He had been allowed to visit the queen’s wardrobe at Windsor Castle, rooting through her finery and mixing elements found there with the gowns Billie, Ella et al. wore to perform. The result was lavish: elaborately embroidered, bedecked with stones, pearls, ribbons and bows, mumsy and magnificent all at once. Fantasy is an Erdem specialty. It veers into costume more often than you might wish; there are only so many balls at this stage in Elizabeth’s reign. And yet there’s something special about its opulence. How that will be replicated by the fast-fashion giant H & M, with whom Mr. Moralioglu is designing a capsule collection to arrive in November, is anyone’s guess.

Mr. Moralioglu’s fellow fantasist, Christopher Kane, has a dirtier mind. “I’ve always been a bit of a pervert,” he said with a chuckle backstage after his show on Monday. Mr. Moralioglu dreams of the queen; Mr. Kane, of Cynthia Payne, “Madame Cyn,” the suburban brothel-keeper whose prosecution in the early 1980s transfixed the British tabloids. Her home in Streatham, South London, the picture of propriety, was actually a hotbed of vice, visited (so they say) by members of Parliament, peers and policemen. That dichotomy appeals to Mr. Kane, who has always had a taste for making the safe seem seamy, and the seamy seem safe. “She’s a you-know-what, but she’s lovely and clean-looking,” he recalled his mother saying of Madame Cyn. The clean and the dirty: he’d found fertile territory.

Mr. Kane took the cleaning metaphor literally, magicking garbage bags into dresses (their ties turned to bows), washing-up rags into scratchy-looking knits, laundry bags into lace, and mops into silk-fringed shoes. He took the sex literally, too, with peekaboo dresses and tops revealing all underneath, and prints by the photorealist painter John Kacere — featuring a very single-minded slice of ladies’ anatomy, as if on advertisement — to underscore the point. The two combined with a furious gusto probably not unfamiliar to the Payne parlor way back when.

Mr. Kane leans so hard and so fearlessly — if the protesters who picketed London want shame, Mr. Kane is resplendently shameless — on his particular enthusiasms, and the mad, alchemical way he combines them, that his shows are a wonder to behold.

“I can see so many labels starting up and it all looks the same,” he said. “I don’t want that for me. I think that’s why you have to push yourself, really kill yourself. If no one likes it, O.K., as long as I feel I’ve really achieved something and it’s fashion, not run-of-the-mill clothes.”

It’s fashion, no question. But is it clothes? That question needled away at the pleasure of Mr. Kane’s show. No doubt there are simpler, more sales-friendly versions of his pieces awaiting buyers in his showroom.

But Mr. Kane’s fantasies, feverish as they are, don’t always suggest the way that clothes need to work for women back out in the world. That world is growing ever more complicated, and it waits just outside the door with demands. Chief among them: Why?