Spring/Summer 2016 Mary Katrantzou

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In what was surely one of Mary Katrantzou’s most directly wearable collections yet, the designer returned to cosmology and the world as a starting point – we saw elements of it two seasons ago to spectacular couture-like effect, before last season’s beef-up when it came to size, texture, proportion and play. But the designer has been drilling down into the MK DNA, what makes both her and her customer tick and finding the common ground between the two, especially of late when it comes to her pre-collections – and you could see all of this had been learnt from, instigated and translated into this collection.

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The word she kept saying backstage was “light” and “desirable” – she’s always had the product, but now she’s refining it. “I wanted it to be enchanting and beautiful,” she said. There’s no doubting it was – who can say no to a shimmering little dress, a series of which she paraded out with to begin. They were microscopic in their sparkle and tied at the back or fluted in the sleeve. They were the ultimate sort of party dress with no potential pitfalls to put any shopper off.

She followed up with jewel tones for frilled and flounced numbers whose hips bloomed rose-shaped peplums. Tailoring too made an appearance – again here the emphasis was on being sharp and light. She noted that it had been about building upon structure in the past – here she seemed to be deconstructing it to just as beneficial effect.

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Best Set Designs of LFW

 The fashion month catwalk sets are helping to turn fashion shows into the awe-inspiring spectacles they’ve become. Designers are enlisting the help of highly regarded artists-turned-set designers to create the impressive catwalk sets, which are often scaled down and carried through to window displays to complement collections. Catwalk set design also serves as inspiration for high-street retailers wanting to create eye-catching window displays and in-store installations relevant to seasonal trends.

This year compared to last years set designs are even more spectacular than before.

Below are my favourite and more inspiring catwalk designs from London Fashion Week 2016

Anya Hindmarch

Always known for crafting an intricate runway set, this time, Anya Hindmarch went for a pixelated look. The set was like one big game of Tetris, with movable square panels that flashed colors and lights, in time with the music.

Set designer: Set designer Stuart Nunn of INCA Productions
Theme: Retro 8 bit graphics and arcade games inspired the collection, comprising colourful pixels, Pacman ghosts and space invader motifs. This playful concept was carried through to the set design, where the floor and wall was made up of acrylic LED panels. Reminiscent of both 8-bit graphics and Rubik’s cubes, the light-up cubes began as a giant wall, before sliding across the floor.

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Roksanda

Set designer: London based set designer Gary Card
Theme: Roksanda’s set was a 160 metre midnight blue mural all hand-painted by Gary and his team, to complement the collection inspired by cult classic The Night Porter as well as the work of legendary photographer Deborah Turbeville.

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Mulberry

With former Céline accessory designer at its helm, Mulberry’s getting a whole new look. And after lagging behind in the handbag and shoe department, it’s a welcome return to the scene. New creative director Johnny Coca served up envy-inducing printed totes and studded purses that will be considered “it” bags in no time.

Set designer: Brussels-based company Villa Eugenie which designs and stages fashion events
Theme: The first collection from Creative Director Johnny Coca was inspired by everything from Shakespeare, tradition and royalty through to punk rock. This eclectic ensemble was carried through to set design, made up of a multi-faceted mirrored backdrop which contrasted against the Guildhall’s historic stained glass interior.

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Mary Katrantzou

Set designer: Special events company, Bureau Betak
Theme: The collection is based on a love story of opposing halves, drawing inspiration from twisted tales of romance such as Wild At Heart, Natural Born Killers, and Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet, resulting in a country and western-meets-50s Americana aesthetic. Influenced by Andy Warhol’s The Factory, the simple-yet-striking set comprised an aluminum catwalk and metallic silver helium balloon backdrop.

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London’s Print Designers

 When is a print designer not a print designer?

When they are, in fact, a fashion designer.

When you think of print, there are handful of designers that instantly spring to mind: Jonathan Saunders, who started out fashion life with his colour-blocked bold designs in 2003; Mary Katrantzou, who seemingly singlehandedly put on the map and cornered the market in hyper-real and digital print back in 2009; and Peter Pilotto, the Antwerp-trained duo whose rise began in vivid sharp shots of mesmerising moving colour.

“The idea of creating something so hyper-real had never been seen in print,” recalls Katrantzou. Perfume bottles and interior surrounds that morphed into lampshade skirts followed and she was the queen of a new generation of designers embracing print in a new way.

This was circa five years ago and print then went big, becoming a firm high-street trend. “It got so diluted,” reflects Katrantzou. “No one expected print to be such a big phenomenon.” It became, she says, a tool that everyone used – even so far as the means to “commercialise” a collection, and eventually for her that wore off. “I felt I had nothing more to say.” It was time to do something new. But how, when that’s what worked to launch your brand? When that’s what your audience – customers – are just beginning to know of your work and turn to you for exactly that: print?

Leapfrog forward to now and while all of the aforementioned designers can still be strongly associated with print or more specifically digital print – and all happily so by their own admission – they’ve moved well beyond it too, successfully so. The fashion riddle is how?

“It can be quite conflicting for a designer growing up so quickly with something that defines them,” says Katrantzou. For her, it took about year to figure out how to move on once she felt it was time to – and the introduction of resort was key to this, somewhere to dabble in different ways to use print, of surface design.

“Print used to decide elements and define the silhouette. So many details we didn’t think of before got lost in the print are now the focus,” she says of her evolution, summing it up at the time as “print obliteration”. But now she’s deconstructed that and notes lace, brocade and embroideries as being just as much a part of her DNA as those initial hyper and surreal prints. Take a closer look at them and you’ll see they spell out Mary Katrantzou. For her, overall it’s about a visual language – be that by print or by texture.

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Peter Pilotto (the eponymous half of the duo along with Christopher de Vos) takes a similarly laidback approach to the role of print in defining the label’s career.

“It just happened to be that way and our intention never was that we would be a print-only brand.” It just so happened that around 2010 (though they launched in 2007), two names  – his and Mary K – were excelling especially well at it. And in a busy London – international and global fashion market place – standing out is key. They did.

“When we started we did a couple of collections that had print and other things, but the print was the best way to personalise a collection at the time.” The print industry was supportive and the stores were eager. “So we were like, let’s push that technique.”

For them it was a first step, other techniques and ideas simmering away in the background. “It was all about a signature we subconsciously developed,” Pilotto explains, as we sit in the brand’s east London bright and spacious studio. He recalls an insightful anecdote to illustrate the point. “It’s funny, one celebrity wore an embroidered skirt and the knit top as an outfit and then people still wrote ‘printed dress by us’ – so ultimately it was about the aesthetic and the technique itself was not so important.”

It happens still, but seems actually to be a grounding, rounding if not reassuring exercise. It means they – the brand – are recognisable, they’ve made an impact. “For a long time, even in spring/summer 2012, one of the collections that got loads of attention – there were other techniques – but people just couldn’t see the difference as much. But ultimately that doesn’t really matter – there are so many things that surround us we don’t know exactly what they’re made of but so long as we’re attracted to them that’s what counts,” he says.

It’s a refreshing non-precious perspective. And Pilotto points out that essentially it means they’ve managed to push the craft – whatever it may be – to beyond a technique, to the point that regardless, it’s become recognised as “very brand signature”. And that’s worth something. “The important thing is that the result is effortless for the customer – whatever the technique they assume it might be, it doesn’t matter.”

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Jonathan Saunders, whose designs were on the catwalk while the likes of MK and PP were still studying in class, points out that there is a distinct difference between being a print designer and a fashion designer.

“I studied textile design at Glasgow School of Art and textile designers are very strongly linked with the fine-art department. You could design a textile and it could quite easily be fine art – you had to justify it. The textiles takes the priority. When you start working in fashion you understand that the garment has to dictate, it has to be a product that someone wears,” he explains.

“When I started out, it was so simplistic because I was saying so much with this textile. But if that garment becomes something special I want to say, then the print takes secondary position – and that’s why I became a fashion designer – as opposed to just textiles.” That’s the difference.

“Designing clothes you have to think about the person wearing them – she doesn’t want to wear a house, she doesn’t want to feel like the painting is more important than how it makes her feel” – it goes back to Katrantzou and Pilotto’s point, it just becomes a vehicle that facilitates the designer’s idea or collection, it’s not the overall objective.

By his own admission, Saunders agrees he could, back then, be and was considered a “print designer“. And though he’s flexed his skills well beyond this, it’s fair to say he, like the others, will always be linked to a certain vibrancy of pattern in our minds. Did he and does he ever feel pigeon-holed because of that – and how easy or not was it to get past?

“I don’t think that’s the case now and British fashion is much more sophisticated.” And not using print when he was potentially expected to gave him the chance to learn and grow as a designer – even though, similarly to Mary, it was perhaps difficult for customers and press to comprehend. “Designers that are smart create a signature that is really identifiable and they say that at the beginning and once established that allows them to expand and grow,” he says. And he perhaps hits the nail on the head essentially with what all of them have managed to do. Even beyond the seasons of when  there was the idea that “print was in fashion”.

“From a customers’ perspective, someone who finds the joy in decoration and products wearing things that are decorated and colourful and different techniques – that has always existed,” he points out. It’s not really an “in-fashion” thing.

Like anything, there are seasons when we see more of something than not and the moral of the story is: there is more to life than print, certainly for these three designers anyway.

Need more winter print visit: here

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Autumn/Winter 2015-16 Mary Katrantzou

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It was a play on contradiction at Mary Katrantzou, a fact that could have been decoded from her runway; a maze of pyramid foam in Pepto-Bismol pink, equally spiky and hard edged, as it was soft and spongy. She said she was looking at the relationship between the horror vacui art movement and reactionary modernism, which translated to heritage opulence vs techy utopia – usually brought together in a single look.

It sounds like it shouldn’t work, well, clear plastic frills juxtaposed with decorative flocking and Belle Époque grandeur? But it did. Katrantzou opened the show with seamless moulded tailoring in grey felted wool partnered with flounced skirts that hugged the body tightly before kicking into full, ruffled eruptions below the knee.

Surface decoration and texture clashes got more and more innovative from flocked duffle coats with hoods stuffed with plastic frills to a damask dress crammed with sequin shards and colourful crystal embroidery. Even strips of that foamy pyramid catwalk popped up on waistbands. No doubt, it got more and more expensive too. Heaven knows the price tag of that flocked intarsia mink coat, with boiled wool back, and plastic geometric tablets appliquéd to the front.

Her ultra-sophisticated demi-couture show pieces were nothing short of spectacular, questions like, “but how do you dry clean it? Heck, how do you sit down in it?”, are irrelevant here. What women will be taking away from this are those ribbed and moulded cropped sweaters in citrusy brights, her cropped new-shape flares; with bell bottoms folded and tucked like origami, those guipure lace dresses, skirts, and decorative parkas no doubt tweaked and tamed a little for production.

Above all else, this incredible body of work showed one thing Katrantzou isn’t short on, and that’s a bubbling mind full of brilliant ideas, not least the gumption, conviction, and all-out expertise to weave them altogether into some magical kind of reality.

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