After 29 days in four cities, the international fashion shows for Spring/Summer 2017 came to an end with this conclusion: Although the “See Now, Buy Now” strategy may work for some brands, it is far from being accepted or encouraged by the majority. Only in New York and London were major brands such as Ralph Lauren and Burberry embracing the instant-sale service to customers.
Milan and Paris more or less rejected the idea — and for good reason. The fashion business, especially in Italy, is built on craftsmanship, making the idea of instant display-and-deliver unfeasible. Paris is the epicentre of artistic imagination, and “See Now, Buy Now” is risible in relation to a brand such as Comme des Garçons, say, where the show is a concept, not a sales pitch; or even at Haider Ackermann, where the colour mixes are unique. Chanel’s woven tweeds - often an illusion created by hand — are another example.
To round off the season, I have picked two houses — Alexander McQueen with the exceptional skills of designer Sarah Burton and India’s poetic Rahul Mishra — to review the power and the beauty of fashion created by human hands.
Alexander McQueen: A Scottish odyssey
The carpet alone, its intensely woven surface undulating across the set, told the story at the Alexander McQueen show. It was the tale of the Shetland Isles and the soaring imagination of Sarah Burton after her visit to the wilder side of Scotland.
The show was intense and all-embracing even before the models came out wearing a romantic, almost painterly vision of the Scottish islands — what the designer called “knitting as fine as Shetland lace, fishing-net dresses, birds on the waves, the shipwreck and the bells”.
There was a nod to McQueen’s tailoring experience in three-piece suits in London’s Savile Row, especially a long, lean shape belted at the hips and worn over trousers. Even a mini kilt with a hint of Punk was seen on the runway carpet.
But the show’s bulky leather boots did not stir far from the Highlands, with intensely patterned Fair Isle knits introducing strong shades after the pallid colouring at the start.
The flourish of colour came with flowers — blooms embroidered both on a black leather jacket or on the lightest chiffon. The tiny white flowers looked like a froth of wild water while other floating chiffon dresses had shadowy pictures of mythic sea creatures.
The show was a beautiful spectacle. But to understand the intricacy, I realised that I needed to be backstage, where Sarah’s team showed me how intense handwork had fashioned tulle to look like the crest of a wave or flowers as sea foam.
“See Now, Buy Now”? In your dreams.
Sarah Burton’s ability to feed the McQueen heritage is astounding, adding a sweetness and gentility that was never part of his tortured fashion soul. But, plaids and knits apart, this collection was more a statement than an offering; more couture than easy-to-wear.
But why should that matter? I did not hike to the buyer’s show room to see the simpler and easier to sell part of the McQueen creations. I was happy to define Sarah as a flag bearer of what all those who love fashion believe in: creativity unbound.
Gingham skirts, soft culottes and a blazer shrugged over palazzo pants — this summer odyssey might seem simple without the story behind Rahul Mishra’s aesthetic. The Indian designer infuses handwork with such lightness and subtlety that every outfit requires human intervention — but whispers that skill rather than shouts it.
That print of tropical birds and beasts on a faded blue cotton top? The decoration is embroidered entirely by hand. The red and white gingham check maxi dress? Its denim-blue, sleeveless jacket is embellished with hand appliqué.
The lush green equatorial jungle as painted by Henri Rousseau was the inspiration for Rahul Mishra. But as with the dedicated way he handles the decoration, the artist’s influence never overwhelmed the clothes. Only a “bursting tree”, reproduced in embroidery on a bomber jacket and worn with pleated circles of denim on the skirt, was eye-popping — but the designer had the good sense to create the outfit in black and white.
The tropical forest seemed sweet and charming as a brief and light cape over a skirt and the gingham that planted the show’s roots firmly in Spring/Summer 2017. Yet at the same time, the designer was speaking out for rain forests endangered by human carelessness and greed.
India should regard Rahul Mishra, the winner of the 2014 International Woolmark Prize, as a national treasure. For it is so very rare for a fashion designer not only to make respecting nature a design goal, but also to be willing to support other creatives, such as the Oceedee luxury footwear brand from Delhi that produced simple, modern shoes with a touch of craft, as in a bird motif embroidered on white sneakers or a jungle on a pair of slip-ons.
In the frenzy of today’s Fast Fashion, how heart-warming to end the marathon of the collections with Rahul Mishra’s message in the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “Earth produces enough to satisfy every man’s need — but not every man’s greed.”