At times at the London shows this weekend, the state of the world (you know - that whole hell/handbasket situation) has been the elephant in the room. Perhaps the asinine message of those bloody 'Keep Calm and Carry On' posters has subliminally infiltrated the minds of some London designers. Or maybe they want to put a happy face on rather than rending their garments.
But, London has a hard-won reputation as the most risky and real of the fashion capitals, so it would be strange if nobody voiced the collective WTF?! moment that many of us have been frozen in since that fateful day last June, and that has only intensified since November. And it’s true that some designers alluded to these troubling times, with others referencing them explicitly. Matthew Miller was one such; he dubbed his collection 'Fear Itself' and talked about 'protecting oneself in the post-truth era' in his show notes, aiming to create 'uniforms for the disenchanted, disenfranchised and disengaged'.
On the surface Miller’s collection seemed like much of the same - the sharp, modern and minimal take on tailoring that is his signature was present and correct - crisp white and deep black looked neat and uniform on both men and women. Lengths and layers were tweaked and experimented with to update the familiar. Glossy leather shearling biker jackets were appealing, as were shirts with extra arms, twisted and pinned behind the back. Black was prevalent, powerful, but never bleak.
But there was more. Streaks of blood-like red paint ran from the noses and eyes of models. One pocket-strewn waistcoat looked uncomfortably like a suicide vest, while the straps of a backpack resembled the harness of a parachute. And a collaboration with Design Lab Japan resulted in a series of printed scarves in rusty, dried blood red or washed out black and white. Styled to look like slings, they added to the walking wounded vibe. Then for the finale, set to the Vitamin String Quartet’s instrumental cover of Ordinary World by Duran Duran, the scarves were brandished as standards, revealing that what looked like an abstract pattern was actually a bleached out version of Jan Davidsz De Heem’s Vase with Flowers, or the spangled banner denuded of its stars.
This was a multilayered collection, and reminded us of Miller’s ability to create a powerful moment without too many bells and whistles. Even though the clothes were hardly revolutionary, the designer’s intent certainly was.