Inspired by a 17th-century dress found in a shipwreck and seduced by the free-spirited 1920s, the designer created an alluring collection
Something was going on. A digital projection of a turbulent sea rolled over the walls and a rickety wood pathway was interspersed with chairs for the audience at the Erdem show. The hand of history seemed to reach back to the long lace dresses, mostly in smudgy colours and topped by straw hats or velvet-banded hair.
Compared to the spirit of previous Erdem shows, this one was tranquil, built delicately on handwork that showed signs of wear and tear. Or perhaps the dresses were a little louche, shoulders bared, bosoms lifted as crisscrossed ribbons held decency together. And surely there was a story in the little booklet of pictures left on my seat. These progressed from a photograph of a sunken 17th-century dress, dredged from the Dutch ocean floor, to women from the 1920s, captured in print by French photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue on a windy beach with semi-transparent dresses blowing in the wind.
Backstage, I could focus on the models’ outfits in close-up as they glimmered and glistened with embroidery. Their little shoes, laced like ballet slippers, echoed the ribbon ties on the breast of high-waisted light, long dresses.
“This season there are jacquards with distressed sections that were actually woven into the fabric with lots of cotton and silk,” Erdem said. “The idea was to recreate these fabrics in a jovial way.”
The show opened with a trouser suit, its jacket also just about held together with ribbons, and there was also an interpretation of a day suit, fancied up with fringed ruffles and worn with a period-style white shirt.
But the point of the show was for the audience to take a long look at the clothes and be convinced that ankle-length hemlines have really become a style for the 21st century. Suit jackets with ankle-skimming A-line skirts were not specifically evening wear, like the lacy gowns, but more of a romantic take on daytime dressing. And, once again, there was a faintly seductive look to bared shoulders and a carefree exposure of flesh.
After the show, with its faintly dishevelled beauty and exceptional workmanship, Erdem tried to explain his thought process. The dress found on the seabed in the North Sea earlier this year was traced back to a lady-in-waiting to King Charles I of England, who had been sent to the Netherlands to pawn the Crown Jewels. Fast-forward 300 years to 1930s Deauville, where a group of society women had a mission to embrace a pre-feminist attitude, with a racy wardrobe to match.
I am fascinated by a creative director’s thought process, but the significance was not really how Erdem got there, but how his show seemed to capture elements from the past that are relevant to today. The clothes did not look antique or vintage; rather, they were saucy and seductive. While using accoutrements from the past — no shorts or stretch trousers here — the collection was modern. Especially for a generation brought up on exposure for whom not revealing all has a sly satisfaction.