“Discovering my Basque history — I had never explored it,” Joseph Altuzarra told me when I asked him about his inspiration before his show. The designer talked about his father’s roots in the Franco-Spanish region that is fighting for independence.
The book he showed me — Wilder Mann by Charles Fréger — was all about noble savages at pagan festivals, wearing a mix of furry shearling, raw cotton, and lace trims among the antlers and bone.
“It’s a bit esoteric and mystical, and very close to nature,” Altuzarra said, showing me his interpretations of Basque culture: silk dresses, crumpled as if mown by a tractor; broderie anglaise trims and “Pearly Queen” decoration — not to mention Spanish canvas espadrilles elevated with high heels.
This compelling story line of a wardrobe raw and deliberately imperfect, created high expectations. But for all the intelligence and imagination that had been worked into this collection, on the runway it did not have the Wow! that I expected.
Perhaps the contrast with last season’s sensual boudoir looks made the spring/summer 2016 collection seem less appealing. For in spite of all the effort to capture nature unadorned, the show worked for me only with the rough texture of the crumpled silk cut into skinny dress silhouettes. Other effects, such as green prints resembling rippling water, were striking on a loosely undone dress. The addition of fine colour mixes of rust and burnt orange — also on shoulder bags adorned with leather fringing — made a subtly artistic palette.
Altuzarra had told me about the bags, now in their second season at the house. Like the clothes, they seemed a little too carefully chosen and created, and were definitely not in the dishevelled, woodland spirit of the “wilder man” — or woman.
There is a general mood in current fashion to challenge perfection, with Gucci and Saint Laurent both taking this route. It therefore seems churlish to criticise Altuzarra, who has worked so hard on his sources and execution — perhaps too hard. The delicate placement of the mother-of-pearl decoration and the country fabrics made into city clothes created a well-researched collection, but not one that touched the heart.