Fashion and war: iD Emerging Designers, April 2015

The timing of this year’s symposium allowed many of those who came down for it to get to one or more iD Fashion Week events, for many of us starting with Emerging Designers. Here’s Elaine Webster’s report, pictures courtesy of iD Dunedin Fashion Week Inc:

iD Fashion Week, Dunedin 18-26 April 2015

Dunedin Fashion week was one of the richest fashion events for years, overlapping with the CTANZ annual symposium and accompanied by a host of related fashion events around the city. Always home to a resolutely fashionable few, Dunedin was transformed briefly into the style capital of New Zealand. Streets, cafes, shops and fashion venues filled with stylish women and men, and the city’s per capita puffer jacket ratio fell significantly. (Ed: the weather helped with that.)

This crowd was interspersed with people commemorating Anzac day, a mix no doubt contributing to the great variety of poppies appearing alongside military insignia and flags. And although war and fashion don’t naturally cohabitate, both emphasised the use of cloth in making a public appearance. Flags fluttered above hordes of carefully attired people thronging the public space, many of them wearing splashes of red at the lapel, self-consciously declaring an affiliation with fashion, war, or both.

People really enjoy the big fashion show, but my favourite is the Emerging Designers. A display of sometimes outrageous but always provocative fashion, it showcases what might be, what could be, and what will never be worn anywhere else. But this show is not about wearing, it’s about ideas that are big enough. And while each item displays the designer’s skill in translating ideas through the use, cut and combination of materials, through colour and surface pattern, it is the collection that reveals what matters most. So while watching the Emerging Designer show, I look for that big, startling idea and if it’s amplified or just repeated in the collection.

The show itself is staged with wonderful drama. The runway washed in coloured light, the stage drapery framing the fashion portal, and the loud music reducing us to mute spectators, as one by one the models surge out from that mysterious place and time before this moment. Each one emerges alone and walks up and down, parading the idea embodied in one garment, then waiting at the portal till all five or six in the collection have walked, before parading the collection as a whole. We have time to observe each model, the garment, shoes, hairstyle. We take in the look plus some details, one facet of the collection. As they pose briefly together then make that last walk up the runway, that impression builds or falls. It’s the crunch point.

The standard was high across the twenty-eight collections. Recurring themes included an artistic approach to colour, simple shell-like forms which ignored the body, and commentaries on waste with up-cycling and re-purposing. Collections with more subtle palettes placed more emphasis on shape, layer and texture, and less on stage presence.

JessicaOldfield_499 WilsonOng_516 MoniqueDuggan_507

Left to right: Jessica Oldfield, Wilson Ong, Monique Duggan (pics iD Dunedin Fashion Week Inc)

A few collections really stood out: Jessica Oldfield’s collection of bold and clever yet subtle garments, combining plaid and pinstripe using an accomplished felting technique to create something new and quite beautiful. Wilson Ong’s white clothes with sparse lines and crisp surfaces evolving into melting grey transparency, highlighting surfaces and clever construction. Laura Fanning’s gorgeous colour and wild bricolage climaxed with a disturbing four metre bridal train of recycled dresses, trailing like corpses. Jessica Ng with her gender-neutral collection “Hollow eyes” repeated black squares in various textures and Jorge Alfaro used facet-like piecework in gauze, leather and vinyl to create science fiction elegance out of biological robotics. Monique Duggan showed artistry with white globular forms marked with bold, rich colours, as did Jillian Boustred with her striking, colourful prints. She splashed complex, abstract patterning and colour onto shapes almost perched on the body as if the body wasn’t there: just the spectacle.

Erica Deluchi’s stunning collection was a complex whole created through exquisite colour and mastery of form, cloth, and texture. Yi Ming showed accomplished tailoring and elegance, her long, soft dresses and coats with layered lapels giving form back to the body. Petra Kubikova also produced elegant, well-crafted and original shapes in a sophisticated palette.

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Left to right: Erica Deluchi, Yi Ming, Petra Kubikova (pics iD Dunedin Fashion Week Inc)

But for me the most exciting designer by far was Jessie Kiely (below, right). Her collection “Fashion Baggage” of six red “couch dresses” was literally made from couch covers. These stately, sculptural, immense dresses almost defy description. The skill in cut and drape was astonishing, fitting the body at the shoulder and upper torso to fall away in heavy folds reminiscent of eighteenth century couture yet made stranger with unusual padding and bulk. The heaviness of the cloth was accentuated by an abject gauze dress thrown over one shoulder like an albatross: an apt and lucid metaphor. If it wasn’t for the skill in execution, the power of the idea and the complex beauty of the dresses, these may have been dismissed as wearable art. Yet many fashion designers lead out their season with garments as dubiously fashionable as these, relying on their power as forms to create exJessieKiely_500citement and novelty, while also channelling the zeitgeist. Jessie did exactly this, with immense skill and creativity exaggerating themes of discarded waste in these enormous, outrageous forms. Although Jessie did not win recognition from the judges, without her surprising and cohesive collection the show would not have been half as much fun, not half as interesting or as challenging.

Just two of my choices were rewarded by the judges: Erica Deluchi and Monique Duggan. Other winners were Tara Gurisik, Emma van de Merwe, and Vanessa Emirian. The overall winner was Steve Hall of Massey University with his samurai/ninja shapes, his chunky jackets and wide trousers combined with soft pleats, dropped waist and skirts in a kind of uncomfortable androgyny (below, left). But how many more times can skirts for men be considered bold fashion statements when they never actually emerge as fashion? Why and how is a man wearing a skirt and a beanie be more cool than a woman wearing a red couch?

SteveHall_511Maybe I was the only one thinking this, because the talk after the show was all about androgyny. But it wasn’t about girls wearing body-obscuring clothes. Instead it was the idea of skirts and soft clothes as a wardrobe for warrior men.

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