Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Man About World at Alternative Fashion Week, Spitalfields Day 2 and 3

I've spent the last three afternoons camped out at Alternative Fashion Week in Spitalfields with a small handful of press at my side and a few hundred fashion followers and passers by all around me. Here's my take on yesterday and today's shows...

Each day so far there's been a mix of recently graduated designers showing between half a dozen and a dozen pieces together with a few young international designers and a couple of group collections from colleges thrown in. Moments of genius or at least originality can come from the most surprising places...When I saw that final show responsibilities today had fallen to Colchester School of Art and they'd been given the title 'Grandad We Love You' by their tutors, I actually slipped my jacket on in preparation for a sharp exit. But my low expectations were quickly dispelled when the inspired collection of over-sized, cartoonish pieces arrived accompanied by shrieks of appreciation from the audience. Sure, everyone loves a gimmick during catwalk shows and the sight of each flamboyant septuagenarian trying to outdo the previous one as they came dancing down the ramp was certainly a contributing factor for the spontaneous applause. But the designs took centre stage and showed a lot of intelligence on the part of the young designers to turn the abstract creative brief of relationships with their grandfather's into highly original styles which could actually translate onto the marketable pieces. Unsurprisingly coming from Colchester, many of the themes were militarily inspired, but instead of the predictable woollen military look we were treated to yards of upholstery fabric and leathers from the car industry. On the whole the firmness of the fabrics pushed in the direction of puffy oversized jackets with wide lapels, cuffs and flaps.

Designs by Beck Gaskin (left) and Arif Khan

I particularly enjoyed Beck Gaskin's outfit, which cleverly played with proportion and combined a jacket straight from a comic strip together with her take on the plus four trend. The silhouette of Arif Khan's jacket also stood out as highly original. I reckon his translation of the tent his grandfather sought refuge in during trench warfare into a jacket with an aardvark shape was inspired work.

Najlaa Jabri shows her collection

On Monday I'd been disappointed that imagination seemed sometimes to come at the expense of quality of finish. Many of the young designers I've spoken to admit that they've come to the end of their fashion design degrees with the hunger to learn decent tailoring still not satisfied. In general the attention to detail has been getting better during the last couple of days. Of course, some designers find a way of out-sourcing the more skill-intensive parts of their designs.

Embroidered open front skirt with jacket design (top) and a pair of leggings which took Najlaa two weeks to cover with buttons

Najlaa Jabri achieved the exquisite embroidery on her pieces by taking them for finishing to Moroccan artisans. This freed up more of her time to negotiate the careful balance of 17th century English and Berber Moroccan heritage running through her collection. I'll be watching out for the less theatrical designs she's working on at the moment which will hopefully combine her sophisticated understanding of fashion history with more commercial appeal.

At first the concept of Sunita Nar's exploration into cultural attitudes of covering and exposing the body seemed like a bit like a bullshit concept and I didn't really expect great things. So I was delighted to see some highly original raw silk hooded tops which, perhaps with a minor adaption could translate into really interesting yet wearable pieces. The hoods came out of her research into Muslim traditions of covering the head and hair which she combined with unexpectedly body conscious trousers. This struck a particular chord with me, having been interested by the contrasting attitudes towards exposing different parts of the body while living in India last year. Over there it's perfectly acceptable, even in the most formal of occasions, for women to swan around with their midriffs on full show; but wear anything tight around your derriere or show a lot of cleavage and everyone in the room will be branding you a hussy. While South Americans are obviously generally more likely to flash flesh, it's generally the 'cola'/tail which gets priority billing and the midriff is the last thing to be shown off... Anyway, in the end I came away convinced that yet another seemingly iffy concept had produced some rather decent threads...

Day 2

Colourful fun with a touch of S n M by Penny Baker (top two) and the effervescent designs of Nelly George Hipkin

My picks from yesterday's ramp shows were the oh-so-fun Inspector Gadget on acid menswear from Nelly George Hipkin and Penny Baker's futuristic and sexy freakish sportswear.

Nelly's been adding to her collection for a couple of years but it still stood out as one of the most original menswear collections I've seen so far this week. Mixing classical tailoring with acid colours, satin fabrics and high contrast polka dots and checks, the pieces bubbled out all over the runway; the serious demeanor of the models only acting to heighten the comedic impact. Nelly also showed a mature understanding of the male body and I was pleased to hear that she's sticking with the menswear for her next collection which uses Renaissance floral prints. I really hope she continues developing her sense of comedy in the new collection and look forward to seeing it and...who knows...perhaps picking up some pieces myself.

The statue of the models wearing Penny Baker's designs served to heighten the superhero feel of the outfits. At times reminding me of Princess Leya as Jabba the Hut's slave, her colourful designs stood out from the rest by taking sportswear as a fruitful starting off point for some avant-garde designs. I was also impressed with the attention Penny showed to details like embellishments on the rear of socks and dramatic conceptual accessories.

(From top left) Mary Ratcliffe's recycled overprinted plus fours, Arctic inspired white and blue raw silk by Finnish designer Teija Vartianen, Emma Parker takes us to a Shanghai Boudoir, Off- the-wall Cretan drama by Italians Baldini and Franceschini aka Fuckyouverymuch and Jenna Moore goes back to the English gent look for her sexy preppy womenswear

Watch this space for reports from Days 4 and 5...

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