Animal magic

This season the fashion world is a-buzz with inspiration from birds, bees and creatures altogether more beastly, says Stephanie Hirschmiller

Last year, doom-mongers interpreted the end of the Mayan calendar on 21 December as signifying the end of the world. But while 00:01 in New Zealand was fairly conclusive proof that they were mistaken, fashion had already decreed their predictions null and void with the SS13 collections way back in September. And just to ram the point home, designers looked to life and the natural world for their inspiration. The spring/summer catwalks were overrun with a panoply of living creatures – and now all those birds, bees and various permutation of beasties are flying off the rails.

The most prolific reference has proved the humble bumblebee – as championed by Marios Schwab and Fred Butler, while the most flamboyant and thoroughly literal interpretation was by Sarah Burton, of Alexander McQueen. To a backdrop digital film featuring  collection inspirations – not least a hive – models wore beekeeper headpieces while wasp waists were cinched by belts embellished with topaz bees. A honey-gold palette and honeycomb motif ran the gamut, from prints to laser cut leather, while the shape of the hive was echoed in both the armour-esque peplum bustiers and the crinoline framework of caged skirts. 

Marios Schwab sent out pieces with panels of honeycomb mesh and shapes inspired by the drawings of biologist/artist, Ernst Haeckel: “The direction of the collection started by me reading an article on a growing trend of urban bee hives, particularly the roof tops of certain neighbourhoods in London,” says Schwab. But in terms of the  bigger picture, he was tapping into a “back-to-basics” zeitgeist. “People are stopping to rediscover lost values and heritage,” he continues. “The honeycomb structure is a universal symbol of evolution and its graphic modernity felt right for the collection.”

East London accessories designer, Fred Butler, had been “experimenting with hexagons and how they tessellate together into 3D forms” which led her to look at honeycomb – researching the bee specimens at the Natural History Museum in the process. Her Fashion Week presentation, “A Bee in my Bonnet with a Honey Haircomb”, was all urban hip-hop honeybee attitude – with gold bum bags, worker-bee baseball caps and bumblebee backpacks. Nail artist Marian Newman created queen-bee talons with spiked stings and Butler even made a limited-edition keyring in aid of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, which raises concerns over the declining number of urban bees.

Moving from apiary to aviary, Thakoon’s Miro-inspired collection opened with a dress in the manner of a giant gilded cage, its curvature mirroring the proportions of the body and populated by birds and butterflies flitting around the boughs of a cherry tree. The motif was repeated through the next few looks until the cage’s inhabitants broke free and took flight across less formal concoctions – a boat-neck blouse in canary yellow and a loose-fitting black pencil skirt  – until they were lost among the monochrome foliage of a pretty Sixties-style day dress. The designer even christened one of his hues  “parrot green”.

From mallards by Agi & Sam to Mary Katrantzou’s more exotic specimens on her postage stamp- inspired pieces, birds – and butterflies too, for that matter, on  Oasis’s butterfly collection – are the perfect motif for a flirty summer print. When it comes to footwear though, it seems only a parrot will do: enter Rupert Sanderson’s Birdie pumps and Miu Miu’s bejeweled sandals.

And finally to beasts. Although the Kenzo tiger may have trumped the longevity of Givenchy’s panther, it’s not the only inhabitant of the fashion jungle. This year’s Mother of Pearl collaborator, artist Francesco Simeti, known for his signature collage work, introduced a deer among the hems and scalloped edges of his more exotic jungle-printed silks.

The collection was part inspired by surrealist artist Frida Kahlo and the mood board in the Mother of Pearl studio featured a black and white photograph of Kahlo in a dusty urban street with an escaped fawn. Designer Christopher Raeburn, well known for his up-cycling of materials such as British parachute nylon, also creates animals using offcuts from the design process. Every  season there’s a new member of the menagerie and this time there’s an owl to join the hare and fox of  seasons gone by. The dinosaurs may be long gone, but that hasn’t stopped them exercising a certain influence over style – take Julien David’s fun dino prints for example. There’s nothing prehistoric about them.