A look from Nicolas Ghesquiere’s 2015 Cruise collection for Louis Vuitton

Alexander Fury plunges into fashion’s (shallow) waters

Forget the weather forecasts: sometimes there’s an eerie ecological prescience to the predictions proffered by fashion designers as to what we’ll all be wearing come the following season.

Take this spring, and the shows that a clutch of designers presented last September during New York, London, and Paris fashion weeks. Many seemed to tap into a forthcoming mood – namely, a contemporary news scene packed with the water crises which are currently bubbling up in California, Brazil and Korea (no hosepipe ban on home shores, yet).

Fashion’s reflection? To focus on the flip side. This season, dry-clean-only clothes looked increasingly wet, obsessed as designers were with the life aquatic. Models came clad as modern mermaids in fluid silk that seemed to ebb and flow around the body, painstakingly embellished with beaded barnacles and waterlogged fronds of seaweed.

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Mary Katrantzou

How about that for a visual to counteract scorching temperatures and parched earth?

It’s a nice idea – especially for journalists eager to decipher a meaning behind every stitch – but it’s just a pipe-dream. It’s difficult to ally Valentino’s laboriously worked and lavishly priced sea world – of starfish-sequinned silk organza (£ 6,525) and mermaid-printed chiffon (£ 3,915) – with environmental concerns. As long as there’s still enough water to moor a yacht in, Val’s gals will be happy.

That’s flippant. But, in all truth, fashion’s obsession with the deep is rather shallow. Even the world’s most intellectual designers aren’t concerned with expressing environmental concerns through marine-life prints and sequinned carbuncles (that’s also morally problematic, given that the textile industry  is responsible for more than 20 per cent of water pollution in countries such as Turkey, Indonesia and China).

 

It’s also a cliché – nautical style is a trope that designers return to constantly (it emerged for spring, too, at JW Anderson, Lacoste and Gucci). However, this incarnation offers subtle variation, crusting clothes with oceanic embellishment rather than kitting them out in HMS Pinafore drag. This fishy realness isn’t all that fresh – Elsa Schiaparelli collaborated with Dali back in 1937 to pattern a dress with a lobster. But it’s been less visible, and therefore is easier to dredge for new ideas.

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Valentino

The trigger? Not climate concern, but Nicolas Ghesquiere’s cruise show for Louis Vuitton last May. That collection not only took its influence from the seascape-inspired work of French artist Ange Leccia, but engaged the artist to create a “living” video catwalk of sea-swell as a backdrop. As for the clothes? Not navy blue, but lobster-pot bags, porthole-punched sweaters and intricate embroideries of mutated florals that resembled tangled plankton creeping across models’ bodies.

Ghesquiere isn’t a superficial designer: he evoked the undersea in subtler details, jumbo sunglasses mimicking snorkelling goggles, foamy, bonded fabrics that resembled neoprene, and plenty of slick, sealed scuba zips. He also takes the credit for doing that sort of under  the sea shtick first – in 2003, he presented a collection for Balenciaga (where he was  creative director until 2012) that, for the first time, explored technical detailing inspired by divers’ wetsuits.

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Rodarte

His suctioned silhouettes, panelled with contrast colours and submarine scenes, have been riffed on (read: ripped off) by lesser talents for years. If there’s a neoprene sweatshirt in your wardrobe, it can be traced back to here.

This season wasn’t about sporty scuba stuff, but something more ethereal. The most interesting designers have offered their own, utterly distinct takes on a plunge into the beautiful briny sea. “Tide pools, mermaids, this whole underwater, beautiful world,” was how Kate and Laura Mulleavy described their spring/summer 2015 collection, while Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli sought to evoke the water-logged legs of the Grand European tours of old at Valentino. Mary Katrantzou was inspired by ancient geology (of course), tectonic plate movement (naturally) and the mega-ocean that archaeologists have dubbed Panthalassa (literally, “all the ocean”). What that led to, however, was some very pretty clothes: Katrantzou wove lace and jacquarded silk into repeat designs of foliage that resembled wriggling seaweed, while fictional undersea animals – a fusion of a fish, frog and octopus, say – were beaded on to evening gowns, or enamelled to form hefty costume jewellery.

Those fantastical creatures looked like nothing we’d seen before – which is, perhaps, the appeal of underwater exploration for fashion designers. It’s a voyage of discovery. And like a swimming pool on a hot summer’s day, it’s undeniably seductive. Prepare to dive in.

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