While the wheels of the fashion industry continue to turn, dropping relentless trends, another set of smaller, more intricate cogs has been put in motion in the luxury sector. London designers are collaborating with specialised craftsmen and utilising artisanal techniques to create designs that speak of authenticity, integrity and the prowess of the handmade. The effects are highly sophisticated rather than craftsy, and visible in a whole variety of mediums from delicate hand-sewn lace to storytelling patchwork to hand-tufted tulle, flock and devoré velvets. The fascination is giving the autumn/winter 2015/16 collections a deeply tactile, cultured aesthetic.
For Christopher Kane, one of London’s leading image and tastemakers, inspiration was sparked during a life-drawing class he had arranged for his team in his east London studio. ‘These beautiful drawings just came about and I decided to collage the silhouettes in lace so you might see a hand or a body part – everyone embracing and touching, or about to,’ explains Kane, who worked with highly skilled technicians in a lace atelier in Switzerland to achieve the effects he was seeking. Avant-garde musician and style pin-up FKA Twigs was one of the first to sport one of the sensual designs, causing a stir at the Met Gala and a flurry of pre-orders.
Patchwork, pattern and prints
Intricate handwork also proved compelling for Christopher Bailey at Burberry who dubbed his collection Patchwork, Pattern and Prints and appealed to our current love of 1970s style. Each individual piece boasted a variety of techniques, from appliqué and topstitching to Indian mirror embroidery, hand-blocked prints and crochet trims. The subtle juxtaposition of surface detail, print and rich vegetable dyes proved mesmerising. While the tiered bib dresses and floral suede trench coats had their roots in 70s hippy communes, the vision for 2015 signalled a taste for artisan-led luxury and, perhaps, a final goodbye to shiny, logo-laden luxe.
The groundswell interest in the decorative crafts seems to suit the British mentality. After all, this is the birthplace of William Morris, the pioneer of the Arts and Crafts Movement in late Victorian England. Morris was known for his unwavering belief in the superiority of craftsmanship over industrial, machine-made products. The William Morris Gallery’s exhibits display this dedication in practice.
Alexander McQueen is a long-time supporter of Britain’s craftsmen. The brand’s team, led by creative director Sarah Burton, tracks down and collaborates with all manner of specialists from feather embroiderers to saddlery experts, bronze casters and even the specialists responsible for creating the hair plumage for the Queen’s Horse Guards. For the brand’s latest collection, Burton created extraordinary 3D flower effects from hand-tufted and sculpted tulle for elaborate evening dresses that were partly inspired by photographer David Sims’s images of decaying roses. Leather and tulle was worked into intricate intarsias to create cage-like corsets, while lace was distressed to create ravishing evening gowns. Nature is never ‘perfect’ and this was Burton’s paean to the beauty of imperfection.
Van der Ham’s handiwork
Exploration of the happy accidents of handiwork is also central to designer Michael van der Ham’s style. The designer has made bricolage or patchwork his motif since his MA graduation year at Central Saint Martins art school in 2009. ‘I like so many different fabrics and embroideries that I want to include everything,’ he says of a process that sees him pinning and playing with the colours and textures of luscious artisanal fabrics to create his artistic dresses. The designer has started a demi-couture service at his Hackney studio. Actress Helena Bonham Carter was one of the first to swing by for a fitting.
Erdem is another brand known for combining the raw and the refined. Designer Erdem Moralioğlu staged his autumn/winter 2015/16 show in a series of atmospheric 1960s-styled room sets filled with characterful objects. Models walked through the rooms like characters in a play, wearing a series of bodice-topped party dresses created from a clever mix of rich jacquard fabrics with frayed edges. There is a charming aristocratic yet make-do-and-mend storytelling about these designs that speaks of pragmatism as well as passion. Interior decorative crafts also proved compelling for the team at Mulberry, who looked to Georgian stucco, stonemasonry and tile patterns as a visual source for a tactile, rich collection that includes tweed coats with relief effects that resemble stucco and silk jacquard skater skirts.
It’s always good to have a location in mind for the unveiling of any new collection. We think Kane’s Lover’s Lace would look a picture against the sarcophagi in the Victoria and Albert Museum, while Burberry’s patchwork splendours would be ideal for touring the newly reopened Sir John Soane’s Museum – a treasure trove of antiquities and decorative arts. Culturally rich fashion delivers many rewards.