The Back Story

In fashion, there’s usually more going on than meets the eye. Not that you’d know it, or necessarily look for it — particularly now, when we’ve grown used to consuming clothes in such a homogenised way. That fact isn’t exactly breaking news, it’s been a full eight years since Rei Kawakubo’s infamous flat collection called out the restrictions of the internet’s 2D gaze — the neat grids of full-frontal, head-to-toe, mercilessly well-lit looks.

And yes, of course, seeing collections live allows you the opportunity to appreciate them in a more rounded, 360-degree form. But even there, we look at clothes the way we’ve become used to looking at them in every medium: a quick mental screengrab, a snap judgement call, before eyes automatically swipe right to the next.

Which is why it was so unexpected to see so many designers at LFW making moves that — consciously or not — subtly challenged that process. It probably started at Petar Petrov, whose sophisticated collection was galvanised with quiet detail, from oversized sweaters that pulled back from the shoulders to low pool and deep at the waist, to leather tunics and gabardine cagoules that were seamlessly streamlined at the front (but studded with buttons behind, and slit at the base to reveal flashes of contrasting underlayers). At Toga, Yasuko Furuta’s trim shirts and smart blazers blossomed outwards with petal like capes, and padded-down outerwear ballooned away from the body in glossy, sensuous piles.

At Preen, the elusive decadence of Venice was conjured up in stealth. Retro Argyll knits flipped from soft pastels on the front to metallic dazzle on the reverse, while the procession of shimmering eveningwear that closed the show exploded with ruffles and tiers in the audience’s rear view (a clever way of subverting an aesthetic as distinctively familiar as Justin Thornton and Thea Bregazzi’s is.) Hussein Chalayan hung pillow-like collars at the back of his models’ necks and carved monochrome-print outerwear into sinuous, curving silhouettes. And Roksanda Ilincic’s regal gowns came steeped in singing colours, swooping out into weightless drapery that fell somewhere between superhero capes and grand ceremonial trains.

Were these designers making a point about ways of seeing? Or just looking for a fresh angle on their own aesthetics? Were they seeking to shift how their customers’ bodies intersect with their clothes? Whichever the case, their shifts in perspective introduced an intriguing new dimension to London’s fashion conversation and made their audiences sit up and take notice.

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