I've been doing the straight up and down catwalk presentation for so long and maybe it's had its time," said Peter Jensen at his London Fashion Week outing last Tuesday. "This is coming back to something more individual."
Given the hyped up nature of this season's London collections, visiting Jensen, wafting calmly about a high-ceilinged salon at the ICA, and chatting to guests as they viewed his clothes, came as something of a relief. It is also true that, with the word individuality high on any self-respecting fashion commentator's agenda, this designer has just that in spades.
Anyone who follows Jensen's work will know that he picks a muse each season and bases his collection around it. For the uninitiated, less than predictable Jensen heroines have by now included Helena Rubenstein, Tonya Harding, Sissy Spacek, Gertrude Stein and, last season, his Greenlandic auntie Jytte.
This time Jensen turned to the New York-based art photographer Laurie Simmons for inspiration, taking his viewpoint one step further by actually collaborating with her for his show. Simmons – whose work is owned by every gallery of note from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Guggenheim – is no stranger to fashion, having worked with young US darling de jour as featured in The September Issue, Thakoon. Jensen's input was always going to lead to something somewhat more idiosyncratic than that, however.
The idea was this. Jensen designed the collection – eternally youthful gingham shirts, dresses and skirts, canvas oversized dungarees in pale primrose, a sky blue shift appliquéd with swans swimming, emerald harem pants and more. He then scaled it down to miniature proportions. Simmons photographed the miniatures against the surreal dolls-house backdrop she is known for, they were cut out and then blown back up again to life-size proportions and strategically placed around the aforementioned space. For three hours, models wearing particularly fetching wigs that were always slightly askew, posed next to the cut outs of their looks resembling nothing more than slightly touched Barbie dolls – oh alright then, very touched Barbie dolls – to highly engaging effect. Prints, in particular, referenced Simmons in return, inspired directly by wallpaper or carpet in more "houses" of her own design.
"I like the clean-ness of American sportswear from the Fifties," Jensen told Style.com and, certainly, it is not the first time he has looked at this period in terms of colour and print. The end result was sweet but never cloying, pretty but never overly girlish and entirely uplifting. Jensen's collections are cleverly commercial but never bland and – a rarity in the often po-faced world of designer fashion – always worthy of a smile.