As traffic slowed to a groaning crawl – again - during the closing day of London’s spring/summer 2016 fashion week, it was easy to forget you were in the capital. Jumping from the kaleidoscopic ally mirrored venue that showcased Anya Hindmarch’s walking paean to the Great British High Street (“Boots” boots, anyone?) to the grubby, gritty Islington garage where Marques’Almeida presented their latest unravelling wares, you could barely believe you were in the same country, let alone city. Especially given that travel time between the two rivalled a continental flight.
Anyway, Victoria Beckham also took the opportunity to throw her clothes into the mix, presenting her lower-priced Victoria Victoria Beckham line by private appointment. A well-dressed, well-coached VB walked us through a sweet, simple collection of white lace, of faux-naif foliage prints Beckham dubbed her “folk forest” and of bright block colour, like the neon pint tunic and trousers she wore in JFK a few weeks ago. “Harper picked that out,” VB demurred, adding an attractive extra layer of Beckham Family Values to the mix. Which is, after all, a large part of the appeal of these clothes – the lifestyle Beckham herself has, which you can own a piece of, by buying a frock or two. Maybe Victoria Beckham is the new Ralph Lauren, another fashion designer who made billions by repackaging rather ordinary clothes and selling them back with an extra dreamy polish? Only Ralph’s lifestyle –hokey Americana as shot by Bruce Weber – was a fantasy. Beckham’s is the real deal.
Does that make it more seductive? Perhaps. I think it makes it more powerful. Beckham herself, wearing her clothes with her model-handsome children and square-jawed husband, embodies the dream she’s selling. Wear this, and you can live like this. It’s reductive, but I still think there’s a power in what Beckham is offering. It extends beyond the obvious too: tonight, she’s showcasing an installation by the Turner Prize-winning artist Martin Creed in her Dover Street store, an odd introvert to be pulled into the orbit of the Beckham Empire. And it is an empire, an empire created by Beckham parlaying the ephemeral draw of fame into something concrete – namely, a store, that sells clothes, that are themselves a stake in the brand. It’s impressive.
Marta Marques and Paolo Almeida, a Portuguese duo who this year won the LVMH prize, create clothes that are diametrically opposed to Beckham’s. They don’t have a shop, either. Their label, Marques’Almeida, isn’t polished, nor even especially clean, but their rough-shod aesthetic is easily as fully realised. It’s also recognisable, which is odd considering that their signature is denim, a raw hem, and a sense of the messy and undone. Marques and Almeida, however, do rough with refinement. They also have a vision, which colours every aspect of their label and gels the aesthetic together.
Take their spring offering, where the sort of frills and ruffles and diaphanous chiffon gowns that have given the entire season a lingerie mood. You’re left with the niggling concern of who exactly will dress as if they forgot to put their dress on come next summer, Global Warming or not. And, pretty as they were, the validity of transparent trousers remains questionable, at least to this critic. Marques’Almeida couldn’t convince me of that, but their slip dressing was some of the most seductive and persuasive of the season. Ruffled and ragged in equal measure, they were sweet without seeming saccharine, a touch distressed, bedraggled.
They had a bit of bite. The models had ratted hair and smudged make-up, the clothes looked rumpled, lived-in, maybe even slept-in. Some of that was integral – Marques’Almeida have an aversion to hems, and prefer to let their fabrics gently unravel in a poetic fashion. It stops it all looking too chi-chi and prissy, which has become an issue even in the traditionally edgy London fashion scene. Nevertheless, if you smeared off the make-up and neatened up the models’ hair – and, perhaps, pulled a few of the skewed garments back straight – this collection could be easily worn by many.
Fiona Apple was a reference – as was, the designers said, the idea of “keeping things raw and personal in the midst of growth”. The LVMH prize comes with a cash injection of, roughly, £150,000. It’s enough to enable Marques’Almeida to propel their business to the next level. Which is good, because they have talent, ambition, and most importantly a recognisable visual stamp. They’re saying something original. And, like Brand Beckham, that’s something people will want to buy into.
Do people want to buy into Anya Hindmarch? Apparently so. Her “stickers” – leather adhesive do-dads of letters and smiley faces and speech bubbles and such – have made her a mint. There was a sense of fun to her spring collection too, dubbed “Apophenia”. That’s the human ability to, say, look at a carpet and see a face lurking in the pattern. Making sense of chaos, which was oddly Mary Katrantzou’s schtick this season too. Hindmarch decided to use logos from the British high street to smother her surfaces – the mother and child ‘M’ of Mothercare, that cursive ‘Boots’ logo, and the chevron stripes of John Lewis. Accompanied by puns on the high street experience, like bags with John Lewis’ “Never Knowingly Undersold” logo, and others embellishe with “Please Pay Here,” it was typical Hindmarch territory, in that fashion. The set was clever, refracting her models with mirrors to give the whole show a giddy sense of visual hysteria, reflecting Hindmarch’s product into infinity, as if visually representing her ever-expanding business. The bags, the base-rock of that business, looked good, inlaid with leather in intricate patterns, the result of painstaking work, she told me, with craftspeople in Florence. She also described the clothes as “accessories to the accessories,” which is funny, but does lead you to question why there were there at all. Besides avoiding obvious reference to that Emperor’s New Clothes thing fashion is so often lamped with. I’m not sure Hindmarch’s leotards and neoprene sweatshirts are better, though. And I’m not sure they added anything to her powerful brand clout. You think of bags when you think of Hindmarch. She shouldn’t really distract us from them, as she does them well indeed.
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