27 March 2010

Best of London: Richard Nicoll & Jonathan Saunders

My favourite collections of London's Autumn/Winter 2010 offerings both used established forms and subtly subverted them.

For Richard Nicoll this meant a second collaboration with feminist artist Linder Sterling, through which suits were deconstructed, skirts rethought, and unusual texture combinations explored (e.g. cotton-tulle with velvet); all while toying with assumed conventions of reveal/conceal.

For Jonathan Saunders it meant using sportswear as a launch-pad for dresses, coats and skirts which pushed towards an aesthetic of chic utilitarianism infused with a dose of techno rave, which played with the scale and proportion of traditional sportswear while remaining true to Saunders' colour-block roots.

But to what end do these so-called 'subversions' attest? Are not all fashion collections attempts at subverting norms or reexamining forms? I would argue no. Most seem merely to reaffirm the way women dress and (particularly worrying) for whom they dress (N.b., check out a recent The Sartorialist post).

In Nicoll's collection we can really see and feel him pushing toward something new for women, especially in terms of what an arguably traditional garment can say about the woman wearing it. It is interesting to note many of the tops and dresses were modeled on the pleats in bin-liners, and the recurring D-rings, bulldog-clips and 'bag heads' seem to point to an ironic, if not wholly practical, take on some of the tropes of fashion.

It really feels like Nicoll's woman wears a dress because she wants to, she wears a sheer top in a powerful, self-asserting way because she feels like it. She is not doing it simply to fit into sartorial status quo. Whether this is just my reading, or a natural conclusion to draw from Nicoll's continued work with Sterling, is irrelevant. Clothes are about how one feels and - by extension - how those clothes act upon that feeling and project it.

Saunders, likewise, allows one to project. I see this collection as one of separates and ensembles that can be imagined into any number of roles. The anorak-like coats seem at once super-sporty/casual and extremely chic (for popping to the shop or wearing as statement pieces). The over-knee-length, full-bodied skirts seem at once retro and incredibly futuristic in their fabrication (generously proportioned leather, geometric patterning, pleats, holes) and particularly in their styling (with nearly-baggy tops and over-sized jackets). They at once deny traditional notions of 'sexy' and push towards a new definition.

The clothes not only seem to allow women a certain freedom of movement, but they (partly because of this freedom) also act as signifiers of a certain type of woman. She is one who can be many things at once (chic, raver, sporty, retro, refined, edgy, risqué, etc.) and is therefore not only sartorially free but inherently free. She is free of the need to be sartorial but free also in her decision to be so. In fact, this woman doesn't really need to be defined and I do her injustice by attempting it.

I see both Nicoll and Saunders' collections as pushing for this freedom, and necessarily doing it within the bounds of the fashion machine. That is the point.


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