As London Fashion Week got under way yesterday, Alison Roberts, who co-founded Antoni & Alison 25 years ago with Antoni Burakowski, painted a picture of their humble beginnings.
"It was the winter of 1987," she said. "There was a recession and not that much awareness of fashion. We were naive but headstrong things straight out of college, working out of our council flat." And it seems that, in its maturity, the label is ready to put a few things straight: "We are chic, beautiful and arty," continued Roberts. "And not at all kitsch or quirky."
To create the 51st collection and celebrate a quarter century in business, the duo created a collection of dresses entitled simply "New Work", using "every colour we own". And a refreshing start to the day it was, as a series of dresses decorated with brush-textured stripes of paint, ink drawings of flowers, charcoal smudges and colourful squiggles all rendered by hand and printed digitally alongside blown-up images of gems and buckles to create a trompe l'oeil effect.
Silhouettes were neat and elegant on T-shirt dresses, sleeveless shifts and floor-length columns, some with deep V-backs and gathered waists. These were new works that retained the brand's signature.
"We can't believe it's been 25 years," said Roberts. "We're not that business headed and we didn't start with anything. We're proof of what you can generate from nothing. I look at it as a 25-year apprenticeship: we're still learning and as soon as we get fed up we'll stop," adds Burakowski.
Another pairing that has displayed that continual learning process is the married couple Fyodor Podgorny and Golan Frydman who, as Fyodor Golan, showed a sixth collection that demonstrated a refined touch. It was inspired by The Blue Tattoo, a Victorian novel that charts the true story of Olive Otterman, a child who was captured by native Americans and sold from one tribe to another before becoming a celebrity for her titular facial tattoos.
This was used as a literal reference by the recipients of last year's Fashion Fringe bursary, interpreted not only in the models' make-up, but in the extravagant swirling illustrations that adorned many of the dresses, while a bodice heavily encrusted with shards of smashed porcelain spoke of the shattering of Victorian repression. The practices and aesthetics of the Mayan and Aztec people were delicately rendered as an elaborately beaded body-plate, woven into a figure-hugging black knitted dress. Latticing was used on skirts, leather bolero jackets and the backs of dresses largely wrought in royal blue with amber, bronze and yellow accents recalling Ottoman's travails through the desert. Bronze and silver face sculptures and huge bell-shaped hats were statement pieces.
Corrie Nielsen, who won the Fashion Fringe award in 2010, showed a romantic, overblown silhouette full of volume. Colours were soft and dusky, with pale pinks, creams and blues enlivened by a sheer jungle-print dress in a verdant green. Before starting out on her own Nielsen worked for Vivienne Westwood for six years and her former employer's influence is evident.
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