It’s an unfashionable notion to suggest that women approach fashion design differently from men. Mildly unacceptable, in fact – somehow an insult to creativity, dressing down fashion design into clothing a body rather than conceptual hijinks.
The fact remains, however, that female designers tend to dress themselves, both physically and ideologically. It’s not necessarily the Donna Karan school of seven easy pieces: look at Vivienne Westwood for one, whose idiosyncratic and often difficult clothes are tied up with her own personality and physiognomy.
Westwood shoes run narrow because the lasts are based on Vivienne’s exceptionally narrow feet, their constrictive construction inspired by Westwood’s conviction that comfort is a mental rather physical state. No one looks quite as right, or indeed as comfortable, in her clothes as Dame Viv herself. That’s simultaneously a compliment and a criticism, in case you were wondering. Her Red Label show on Sunday riffed on Viv of yore, the twisted tailoring and corsetry she’s made her forte. Westwood cheered it on herself from the front row – her own biggest fan.
L’Wren Scott is also an acquired taste. A towering beanpole permanently suctioned into her own taut, tight little frocks, she looks consistently fantastic. It’s slightly more difficult to imagine how her clothes filter down into the wardrobes of everyday folk well under 6ft 3in. The latter is L’Wren’s own impressive height, not even including the attenuated wedge heels models sported in her Japanese-inspired show. Inspired is making short shrift: L’Wren’s spring/summer 2014 outing was kimono a-go-go, all lacquered Suzy Wong bobs, clashing scarlet and imperial purple, and pussy-willow and cherry blossom embroideries. A swingy shirt dress in broiderie anglaise with inset obi bow belt felt effortless. But the rest? A cross between Ming Dynasty and Ming the Merciless, saturated with exertion. I’m not sure many women are willing to look quite so trussed-up and fussed-up, their walking restricted to a geisha hobble. Does L’Wren – a highly-successful fashion designer but more widely known as consort to Mick Jagger – see herself as a 21st-century concubine? An interesting idea. More interesting than the collection deserves, in all honesty.
Mary Katrantzou is an exception to the rule – an exception to every rule, in fact. People have tagged her as a print designer, but her shtick is maximalism, despite dressing in black.
Maybe that’s how she allows her fantasies to fly with quite such alacrity. Witness her spring collection, dedicated to footwear – punched-leather brogues, go-faster trainers and embroidered evening shoes, a trio of collections in one. Katrantzou ripped apart their decorative motifs – the serrations and laces, the Aertex and flashes of neon and embroideries by the French couture house Lesage – blew them up a few thousand per cent and plastered them across suctioned-in dresses, pleats, ruffles and embroideries animating the surfaces. It was gloriously excessive – a hearty riposte to a season already sizing up as clean and minimal.
Katrantzou is an acquired taste for sure – although the same could be said of all that clean stuff we saw in New York, and the fussy conceptual shenanigans that have been doing the rounds in London. Katrantzou’s ideas were bold, bright, simple but exciting. You didn’t need to ponder their inner intricacies, they just made you sit up and take notice. Male or female, that’s what every designer wants.
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