18-Oct, 02:24

12:24, February 21 199 0

2017-02-21 12:24:11
Fashion Review: In London, Fantasy Meets Obsession

LONDON — Outside the Houses of Parliament on Monday, protesters gathered, placards raised, to protest against the possibility of a formal state visit by President Trump, while inside, lawmakers debated its pros and cons. But the chauffeured cars carrying their fashion week passengers all over London just sped by. When times seem black and conditions grim, sometimes it feels safest to retreat into fantasy.

That, in miniature, was the journey Mary Katrantzou made. She’d begun her fall collection looking at the tough, determined dames of 1940s film noir — femme fatales who lent their small-waisted silhouettes to the collection — but finished it with Disney’s 1940 classic “Fantasia”: same period, different outlook, a switch flipped from black-and-white to Technicolor.

Ms. Katrantzou worked with Disney to borrow motifs from the film, poring over stills until she found what suited her honeyed world. A coquettish “centaurette,” her tail braided by cherubs, was printed on a double-breasted velvet suit, piling richness on richness. It didn’t let up. Though there were wonders throughout — layers of lace, tulle, beading and gems — they threatened to overwhelm wearer and spectator alike. The mix worked best when Ms. Katrantzou let her wild creations breathe a bit, as when a simple sweater set off the wild splendor of a bead-fringed “Fantasia”-floral skirt.

Richness reigned on Erdem Moralioglu’s runway, too, which married the sumptuousness of Ottoman dress, its rich fabrics and gilded details, with a daintier, English prettiness. He, too, had started with film: Alain Robbe-Grillet’s “L’Immortelle” (1963), about the culture clash of a foreign man adrift in Istanbul.

But, as is often the case with designers, you shall know them by their Netflix queues. Mr. Moralioglu found himself thinking of his own story. Half-English and half-Turkish (though raised in Canada), Mr. Moralioglu imagined a meeting between his great-grandmothers, whom he never knew: one from England, one from Turkey, near the border with Syria.

He brought them together in dresses that spliced English florals and the suggestion of tartan with the cut and shape of dresses borrowed from Ottoman paintings. In a ribbon-bound booklet put on every seat, Mr. Moralioglu left a small record of his inspirations, including a painting of a dervish mid-spin, skirts flying. That silhouette was reflected on the runway, in long dresses with slim bodices and long, swishing skirts, a proportion that may be challenging to any woman who is shorter than runway-standard.

But even in its past-looking escapism, the collection was charged by the politicized present. Disputes about which influences from abroad are allowed in and which are barred, from the United Kingdom, from the United States and from the West, are enough to send concerned citizens shouting into the streets. Mr. Moralioglu didn’t deny that aspect, either.

“Of course, we live in this strange time,” he said. “The idea of reflecting on my background — it felt like the right time to do that. I’m the product of two people from two very different countries, and I felt like the collection should be a celebration of that. Now more than ever, maybe that’s kind of interesting.”

It may be that sweet, frothy luxury of the sort that Mr. Moralioglu specializes in feels like folly at the moment. Or it may be that, as grimness creeps in, celebration is a strong defense, and living well and beautifully, the best revenge.

If it has not been a season punctuated by shocks and standouts in London, it has been one in which designers doubled down on their own personal obsessions. When better than now? For Christopher Bailey at Burberry, that was Henry Moore, the great English sculptor, several of whose giant works decorated Makers House, where Burberry staged its show. (The exhibition Mr. Bailey created with the artist’s daughter and his foundation is open to the public now through Feb. 28.)

“I feel like it’s really an important moment to have joy in your work,” Mr. Bailey said. “I wanted to enjoy every second. I feel it’s a moment — on a personal level but also with everything that’s happening in the world — when it’s like, believe in something. I believe in it.”

After last season, which seemed more dutiful than heartfelt, Mr. Bailey’s belief was on clear display. And yet the collection didn’t entirely convince. Mr. Moore’s take on the human form was incisive and questioning but not necessarily flattering. Mr. Bailey’s interpretation of it — yanking garments off their usual axes to mimic the sculpted forms, and exaggerating and amplifying certain areas (especially the shoulders) at the expense of others — wasn’t always, either. Much of the collection felt over-designed.

Maybe the bolder gestures will be toned down at the Burberry shops, where this collection is available immediately. Or maybe its true heart is the all-or-nothing commitment of the custom cape on every one of its 78 models as they closed the show, which seemed to span the entire breadth of history, from medieval armor to Elizabeth ruffs, and every conceivable or inconceivable material (one was cobbled together from a dismantled vintage chandelier). They will be made to order for any customer who wants one.

Say this for Burberry: Mr. Bailey showed his heart and his seams. They sliced through the collection, from tops to brogues. “It was very much about the work in process,” Mr. Bailey said. “I worked very closely with the foundation on how Henry Moore worked, not just the beautiful finished pieces.”

That emphasis on process is probably all that connects Mr. Bailey to London Fashion Week’s other bellwether Christopher, Christopher Kane. “Process” and “create,” bleated the Kane soundtrack, and the collection drew an unlikely parallel between lab workers and the white-coated petites mains of the couture atelier.

But then, Mr. Kane has always had a mad-science streak. It was what led him to court beauty on one hand (here he reworked a French silk damask dating to 1750) and subvert it on the other. He laughed at his own attraction to grease and grime, which led him to foil a cashmere dress to resemble an oil slick, “destroying it and making it even more expensive.” Along the way there were holograms and Velcro, sponge-lined stilettos and fur-trimmed Crocs. By the end, as if by scientific experiment, he’d coaxed glittering flowers more vivid than natural into bloom.

The collection was odd and otherworldly, with the kind of creative fantasy and head-scratching discoveries that Mr. Kane seems uniquely qualified to provide. And if he has doubled down on anything, it is his commitment to provide them.

“We always look back,” Mr. Kane said, “and this season we didn’t look back. We didn’t look at any archive, we didn’t look at anything we’ve done before. I just sat down and drawed, drawed, drawed.”