Philippa is a first-year BA student and The Courtauldian's fashion columnist. From couture to costume, her weekly articles delve into all things worn. She is an advocate for sustainable fashion and can often be found scouring the web for preloved garments. Please feel free to send her any questions or queries via her Instagram @pippatms
When Fashion Imitates Art
10th March 2020
The Turkish-born designer Bora Aksu, who has built up a loyal following for his romantic and fanciful dresses, has returned to London Fashion Week for the fourteenth time. His latest collection to debut continued this whimsy legacy as he drew inspiration from the revolutionary abstract artist Hilma af Klint.
Illustration by Grace Han
Born in Sweden in 1862, Klint developed an early interest in painting and drawing before going on to study at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm. She completed classical training and embarked on a career as a traditional painter of landscapes. Her epiphany came in 1896 following the death of her sister; tired of conventionality she turned to spiritualism as a means of understanding the world around her. She later formed a collective with four other like-minded female artists. This group, together known as ‘The Five’, gave her the freedom to explore her inward-being through a series of experimental automatic drawings. It was through this kind of artistic expression that she developed her own language of geometric forms and colours that visualised complex spiritual ideas.
By the end of her life, Klint had completed over 1200 paintings and drawings. The majority of these works, however, remained unseen by the public. Having been rejected by her contemporaries early in her career, Klint concluded that the world was not ready for her art and decided to store them carefully away in her atelier. It was following her death that she was proven right; her collection was released into the public sphere and by the 1980s, she received international recognition as a pioneer of abstract art.
It is this duplicitous life lead by Hilma af Klint that inspired Bora Aksu in the creation of his Autumn Winter 2020 collection. Monochrome two pieces made in traditional fabrics such as tweed and wool hinted at the artist’s everyday existence as a nineteenth-century Woman. These outfits, styled with pearl-necklaces and Linda Farrow reading glasses, imitated the conservative public persona projected by Klint during her lifetime. Aksu then attempted to juxtapose these designs with romantic tulle dresses that drew alternative inspiration from the artist’s spiritual compositions. These ethereal robes were embroidered with vibrantly coloured abstract forms visually similar to those found in Klint’s paintings. The soft silhouettes of Aksu’s garments further mimicked the feminine charge of her oeuvre.
Through his latest collection, Bora Aksu successfully encapsulated the projected persona of Hilma af Klint and the essence of the spiritual journey expressed in her paintings. It made for a stimulating show that explored the depth of one woman and her art.
Sustainability on the runway
Men's London Fashion Week
27th January 2020
Just a week into the new year and the tone had already been set; the calls for a more sustainable way of living were being heralded loud and clear. These were demands that did not go unanswered as designers gathered in the East End of the nation’s capital to showcase their vision of an eco-conscious wardrobe in what was to be the fashion week to open the decade (January 4, 2020 - January 6, 2020).
The first day of the event commenced with an apocalypse-ready collection from Paria Farzaneh. As the designer herself stated, the changing climate has resulted in the necessity for ‘windproof, waterproof, heat-sensitive, [and] environmentally sensitive’ clothing. With an army of earthy-toned anoraks made from weather-resistant Gore-Tex fabric, wearers of her garments were sure to be protected from the extreme British elements. The use of insulation and nylon created from recycled bottles and fishing nets further added to the brand’s credentials as an ecological business. Visually, the recurring theme of Farzaneh’s designs was a paisley pattern, which was woodblock printed in Iran using saffron and turmeric. This motif, placed on everything from trousers to pocket-linings, beautifully contrasted with the more technologically advanced materials seen throughout the collection.
Illustration by Vitoria Santos
Farzaneh’s show was immediately followed by that of Bethany Williams, a designer not unused to limelight. Having won a plethora of accolades including the Queen Elizabeth II Award for design and an award for British Emerging Menswear Talent, the show was an inevitable success that also drew focus on the wider impact of clothing. The collection comprised of a vibrant rainbow of patchwork coats and streetwear made out of either organic or recycled materials including an old bell tent. Its brightness was enough to lift the spirits of anyone in the audience suffering from the January blues. What also lifted the audience’s spirits was the knowledge that it was made in collaboration with the Magpie Project, a charity who works to support mothers and young children living in temporary accommodation. Therefore, when a man ‘supports or buys the collection in store, he’s helping to fund all these projects [that aid] women’. It was clearly fashion with a cause.
As Fashion Week tippled through to Sunday, a more controversial idea of sustainability was offered by the Copenhagen-based designer Astrid Anderson. Her floor-length coats caused quite a stir amongst the audience due to their use of real animal fur. This material is now largely shunned by fashion houses based on ethical and environmental grounds. Anderson, however, advocates that the real thing is more sustainable than its polyester faux alternative. Regardless of whether they were genuine or not, the pieces perfectly complemented her psychedelic styling that paired both camouflage and ponchos with her characteristic streetwear aesthetic. It appeared to be the ultimate battle between garments once clad by the peace-loving hippies of the seventies with fabrics drawn from military attire. It was a tantalising juxtaposition that looked as if it belonged to a post-apocalyptic society of the future, just hopefully not our future.
With environmental issues at the forefront of people’s minds, it was unsurprising to see such a large focus on sustainability at Men’s London Fashion Week this January. Whether the emphasis on such an important cause will be translated into action in the years to come, however, is conjecture.
A decade of fashion
Clothing Trends from the Last 10 Years
7th January 2020
With the passing of another decade, it seems to be the ideal time to reflect upon some of the most influential fashion statements of the last ten years. From statement sleeves to luxury leisurewear, this list shall dissect three of the biggest trends of the Tweenies.
The Dad Trainer
For an era defined by its fast-moving nature, it came as no surprise that the trainer was picked out as an essential item for the wardrobe. The demands of modern life could simply no longer be kept up with a pair of stilettos. As the years progressed, however, these items of footwear seem to have been taken to the extreme with the invention of the ‘dad trainer’. The uglier the better as brands such as Balenciaga and Nike sought to create the chunkiest, most orthopaedic-looking shoes ever to tread on the high street. They quickly received cult status thanks to their distinctive aesthetic and were worn with everything from the simple pair of jeans to the power suit. The question now is how much further the simple trainer can be pushed in the coming years.
Illustration by Vitoria Santos
Trainers were not the only item of sportswear that attracted a mass fashion following in the last decade. The frequent appearance of celebrities adorning their gym kit in every situation, apart from the gym, resulted in the trend for ‘athleisure’, that is athletic leisurewear. Leggings, hoodies, and other sporting paraphernalia were given a luxury upgrade as they were made available in plush fabrics such as cashmere and mohair. It was a clothing fad that allowed for the most mundane of tasks to be completed in utter comfort, something that was considered a blessing by those who would rather spend most of their day watching Netflix whilst dressed in something that resembled pyjamas. The last decade was also one that saw the emergence of ‘fitspiration’, with millions of people sharing their workouts online. Looking like you just hit the gym allowed you to identify with this tribe of fitness fanatics without putting in any of the actual work.
The last ten years also oversaw the emergence of a more refined trend, that of the statement sleeve. For the first half of the decade this took the form of the cold-shoulder. Large holes were strategically placed on tops and dresses alike with the aim of showing just a glimpse of the arm. This morphed into the more overt off-shoulder as the years progressed. Towards the end of the decade, however, it seemed that designers unanimously decided that more was better as the bell sleeve was reintroduced into their collections. This was a fad whose palpable presence seemed to have been specifically devised for the age of Instagram. It was a case of go big or go home, with vast amounts of fabric being used to create a fashion statement that will take some time to forget.
The originality and initiative of these past trends arguably reinforce fashion’s position as a cornerstone of creativity in today’s world. It is used as a vehicle to reflect not only personal taste but also the society in which it is worn. With this in mind, it shall be interesting to see what trends shall emerge in the forthcoming decade.
Resale as the New Retail
The Rise of Vestiaire Collective
21st December 2019
This past November, Vestiaire Collective have celebrated their tenth anniversary by introducing their first permanent shop on the third floor at Selfridges. The Parisian luxury resale website, set up in 2009 by Fanny Moizant and Sophie Hersan, has become a shopping staple for over nine million high-end thrifters worldwide. The boutique follows on from a successful two-week pop-up last year and has begun by selling a carefully curated edit of two hundred pre-loved garments that includes brands such as Chanel and Maison Margiela.
Illustration by Grace Han
The opening arguably indicates a shift in the way people think about their clothing consumption. With improved media coverage of climate change, it is unsurprising that so many of us are trying to reduce our contribution to an industry that is reportedly responsible for 10% of greenhouse gases. Moizant and Hersan have reacted to consumers’ awareness of ‘fashion and sustainability’ by challenging the ‘traditional ideas of ownership’ within retail; they advocate clothing as an investment that could be sold on rather than being thrown away after a few wears. Vestiaire Collective reports that extending the lifespan of a garment by a mere nine months could reduce its water and waste footprint by an astonishing 30%. If so, the circular fashion economy could potentially have a markedly positive impact on the environment.
The desire to reduce emissions, however, might not be the only thing driving sales of pre-loved clothing. Iconic pieces from designers’ archives are increasingly influencing current fashion trends: Vestiaire Collective’s most viewed items remain to be the classic Dior Saddle bag and Fendi Baguette. This is fully understood by head of vintage Marie Blanchet who has seen the ‘timeless classics from luxury houses’ enduring as much popularity online as the more ‘conceptual pieces from contemporary’ labels. Unique to the company, Customers can also be assured by the authenticity of their items with each garment being carefully checked by their in-house team of experts before purchase.
The partnerships between larger brands such as Selfridges and resale platforms are on the increase. With the pre-owned market set to grow by around 12% each year, the fashion industry is eager to introduce second-hand clothes into more traditional retail spaces. Ralph Lauren has recently collaborated with the resale app Depop to create Re/Sourced, a curated selection of some of the label’s vintage pieces, whilst Browns Fashion has similarly launched a collection with One Vintage. These collaborations are seen by Moizant and Hersan as being ‘really powerful’ as they provide important exposure to the resale market, hopefully making it the new norm.
The success of Vestiaire Collective, now in its tenth year, demonstrates the public’s shifting mindset towards fashion. Consumers are increasingly aware of how their purchases have the potential to alter the course of climate change for the better.
Bringing Drama to the High Street
2nd December 2019
H&M has a long track record of collaborations, having worked with nineteen haute couture designers since 2004. This lofty roll call includes the likes of Stella McCartney, Balenciaga and Erdem. The Swedish mega-brand’s latest collection, however, is perhaps the most ambitious to date.
Giambattista Valli is not the first person one would associate with the high street. Opulent embroidery, dramatic chiffon ruffles, and a particular preference for theatrics; the designer’s signature styles are certainly not every day conventional outfits. The prices are not either, with ready-to-wear dresses starting at £2,000 and couture from £15,00. It is this very juxtaposition that makes the new line so thrilling.
Illustration by Himarni Brownsword
Speaking to the press earlier this year, Valli commented that he “saw it as a challenge” to adapt his brand for the masses and that it was an “opportunity to do something unexpected.” This ‘something unexpected’ was first unveiled in May when supermodel Kendall Jenner wore one of the collection’s fabulously ostentatious gowns on the Cannes red carpet. It immediately sent the internet into a frenzy, as millions of fervent fashion followers tried to obtain the garment from a mini launch designed to get them salivating. This craze had still not subsided when the full line was finally launched on November 7th; hundreds of people eagerly queued outside Regent Street’s store in a determined attempt to make a purchase.
The wardrobes of those lucky few who managed to secure an item would have seen an instantaneous transformation. The sixty-one-piece collection boasts a range of extravagant tulle dresses that ensure the wearer is the centre of attention during the upcoming party season. One scarlet-red number, widely shared on social media, sports a high-low hem, deep V-neck, and outlandish tulle sleeves. It is simultaneously romantic and formidable, an outfit well-suited for a feminist reimagining of Mrs Claus. A more wearable piece is a simple black mini dress with embroidered detail and a ‘Peter Pan’ collar. Paired with the right fur coat, a pair of tights, and black boots, it is the perfect fit to walk through the neon-lit streets of London in the winter months.
Valli further rose to the challenge of creating his first menswear range when collaborating with H&M, although he is anxious not to label it as such. “In the collection, there is no man, no woman,” he states, “it is very fluid – anyone can wear it anyway they want to.” This sentiment is particularly convincing in regards to the sparkly sequin blazer placed under the ‘Valli Boys’ line; it would look equally dashing with a leather mini skirt as it would if it was worn by Harry Styles. The boxer shorts 3 pack, however, is arguably not as universal or fluid as the rest of the collection.
It is unsurprising that with such a successful transference of his iconic looks from his habitual haute couture to the high street, Giambattista Valli’s collaboration with H&M has reached both critical acclaim and cult status amongst the fashion crowd. Christmas certainly came early for those who managed to grab a piece.
dressing with dissent
23rd October 2019
The month of October has been one of protest. Dissatisfied with the English government’s response to climate change, swathes of people flooded Trafalgar Square for a fortnight of organised anarchy. A temporary camp was set up and banners bearing the now infamous extinction rebellion symbol flew high above the heads of Landseer’s lions. This logo was also to be found closer to the ground; patched onto the backs of jackets and screen-printed onto shirts, it quickly became the indispensable look of the demonstration. The war was being fought with a wardrobe - and not for the first time.
Illustration by Vitoria Santos
The use of clothing as a form of protest has a long history that arguably dates back to the start of fashion itself. In modern times, however, the most prolific example is perhaps that of the tri-colour regalia adorned by Suffragettes. Purple for loyalty, white for purity, and green for hope; Emmeline Pankhurst and her fellow nonconformists had a message to say and they told it with what they wore. This campaign was hugely successful; iconic brands such as Selfridges and Liberties were quick to produce striped ribbons that could be easily fashioned onto hats, belts, and rosettes. The colours unified the marchers and their cause was strengthened.
Almost 110 years later, the feminist cause is in its fourth wave and the clothing being worn remains pivotal. A response to the crude remarks made by Donald Trump about his treatment of women, the 'pussyhat' was conceived by avid knitters Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman in 2016. It was pink, cat-eared, and iconic. The pattern to make the beanie was shared online and by the time of the 2017 Women’s March in America, it had been downloaded over 100,000 times. The following day, broadsheets were emblazoned with images of a knitted sea of pink.
The style of political dress changed again in early 2018 when female attendees of the Golden Globes came together to wear black as a mark of solidarity for the Time’s Up movement. This was in stark contrast to the usual fashion feast associated with awards season and brought about a somber tone to the red-carpet. Some public figures criticised the celebrities involved for what they saw as a ‘superficial’ response to a serious issue. Discussion about sexual harassment was encouraged in the media, however, highlighting the potential impact of dressing with dissent.
It is clear that fashion as a means of protest has contributed in the past to the success of many causes. Regardless of whether extinction rebels know it, they and their heavily logoed clothing are in fact partaking in a long and intriguing tradition of political dress.