Life is a cabaret: Kitsch summer fashion

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Move over minimalism – this summer fashion is as kitsch and as camp as they come, says Alex Fury. And the renaissance of the look is not confined to the catwalk

Watching the spring 2011 collections was a rather unusual experience: seven-inch heels, glimpses of stocking, banana skirts, beaded hems and a few towering, feather headdresses for good measure.

These were established catwalks – those heels were Louboutin and Blahnik, the stockings had three-figure price tags and the feathers came from the esteemed house of Emanuel Ungaro (albeit via the irreverent imaginations of Stephen Jones and Giles Deacon). After a post-recession period of retrenchment, re-evaluation and reduction, courtesy of Phoebe Philo's lean, mean Céline, fashion feels ready to have fun again.

Of course, fashion isn't known for doing things by halves. When fun's in the offing, fashion goes all-out. Hence designers have layered on all the bells and whistles of the Parisian cabaret to ensure it has a ball. Liza Minnelli is seldom quoted as a style icon these days, but designers have decreed that "Life is a Cabaret" nonetheless. And they're offering the perfect wardrobe for any type of divine decadence that springs to mind.

Miuccia Prada led the way, with an homage to cabaret's favourite bad girl done good, Josephine Baker. Her embroidered silhouette danced across drop-waist shift dresses, while her signature banana skirt – the succes fou of La Revue Nègre in 1925 – was re-interpreted as a punchy, primary print splashed across a hip-hugging pencil-skirt with a ruff of movement above the knee. That kind of cunning stunt is, of course, what the British do best. Both Giles Deacon's own-label offering and his debut catwalk collection for Emanuel Ungaro featured gargantuan ostrich manes that seemed more at home atop a chorus girl's head at a sleazy Broadway Revue show than on a runway. The Louis Vuitton catwalk saw the hand of British stylist Katie Grand in lurex trouser-suits, jewelled brocade and embroideries depicting lions and tigers and bears.

In London, Mary Katrantzou's collection reinvented the Victorian fringed lampshade as a micro-peplum skirt dripping Swarovski crystals at the hem. Think early Christian Lacroix meets Nijinsky's Petrushka, with a touch of the Ziegfeld Follies. "They were kind of crazy pieces," she said. "And we never expected those skirts to sell. But women want to wear them! They want to buy them!"

That's one of the most interesting aspects. This isn't a couple of shonky shock-frock samples with make-believe price-tags – consumers are buying into the new fun feeling in fashion and in a major way. A Katrantzou lampshade skirt will set you back five figures: she's shifted a couple of dozen. Likewise, that Vuitton collection called for an investment of over £800,000 in Lesage embroidery alone. Prada's profits leapt a gigantic 150 per cent in 2010. That wasn't built on bananas alone, but a new mood of optimism must deserve some credit.

What's the take-away from all of this? Think Technicolor Toulouse Lautrec – colourful, glossy and patently artificial. It's high fashion gone high camp. And for those tempted to take Vuitton's chip-shop Chinoiserie seriously, Marc Jacobs included an extract from Susan Sontag's Notes on Camp on every seat. It could have been the footnote to the season. I couldn't help but quote Sontag in my review of the Chanel show for SHOWstudio.com: "The hallmark of camp is the spirit of extravagance. Camp is a woman walking around in a dress made of three million feathers."

Those feathers got the full work-out chez Chanel and made more than a fleeting appearance at Zac Posen's first Paris show too. This was stuffed with more feathers than a goose-down pillow; plumes sprouting from hips and flecking chiffons in a blowsy ode to Frenchy finishing – received rather less favourably than Chanel, but not for want of effort (another hallmark of the truly camp). In the same realm of the very hautest of low-brow taste, at Jacobs' Vuitton there were colour-saturated animal-prints, glittery body-paint and miles of beaded Flapper fringe.

"Paris Is Burning glamour" and "Disco Twenties" were just two epithets that summed up the high-camp mood of that Vuitton spectacle, which brings us neatly back to cabaret – or rather, to Cabaret, the Oscar-winning apotheosis of this decadent mood. Perhaps Sally Bowles was too chic a heroine for any current frivolity, but the camp was certainly there. It always is in cabaret, a world where artifice trumps over nature, where every heel is high and every eyelash is false – and preferably beaded, to boot.

The time is ripe for a revival of such thrills and frills and not only on the fashion front. This month, Paris' famous Le Crazy Horse crosses the water and pitches up at West London's Supper Club. An avant-garde revue show that has wowed celebrity audiences since the 1950s, "Supper Goes Crazy" marks Le Crazy Horse's British debut, showcasing their showgirls dressed famously in little bar make-up, fishnet stockings (the show runs through some 2,500 pairs per year) and elaborate light projections.

Odd as it may seem, the art of women wearing very little has been a source of inspiration for Parisian designers for generations. Le Crazy Horse's dancers have been barely-dressed by the very best, including Emanuel Ungaro, Azzedine Alaia and Christian Louboutin – the Le Crazy dancers each have half-a-dozen tailor-made pairs of scarlet-soled Louboutins to hot-step through their routines in. The most recent convert to the Le Crazy cause was Jean Paul Gaultier, who recruited a high-kicking Crazy Horse fille to close his January haute couture show with a can-can so energetic you occasionally wondered if she was going to knock herself unconscious.

"I'm Crazy about Le Crazy," opined Gaultier, which perhaps explains why the lining of said showgirl's tufted tulle evening-frock featured a truly crackers repeat print of her fishnet-stockinged leg: a one-woman couture take on the classic chorus line.

Gaultier is known for snubbing his nose at snobbish tradition and bringing humour to haute couture, but the cabaret-couture feeling is no laughing matter. Or at least, the joke isn't on you – it's more about raising a wry smile than outright guffaws on the street. Those Prada prints are a case in point – even worn with multi-coloured tango slippers and fox-fur dyed in humbug stripes of satsuma and limoncello, their fun was tempered with faultless elegance. Ditto the crazy crystal Vuitton handbags and jazz-babe fringing and the haberdashery thrills of Katrantzou's lampshades.

Camp, maybe; tongue-in-cheek, probably; but undeniably chic. That's the tune to which fashion's cabaret is swinging.

Le Crazy Horse Paris is at the London Supper Club from May 25 2011. For tickets see www.suppergoescrazy.comAlex Fury is fashion director of showstudio.com

Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThe ZX Spectrum is going back on sale - with all your favourite retro games
Sport
football
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

    £28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

    £16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

    Day In a Page

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk