What sort of a writer would I be if I didn't post something this week about fashion and film?
Watching John Rocha's Autumn/Winter 2012 show tucked out of the way backstage this swirling marabou skirt made me think back to last year's Oscars when Natalie Portman won for best actress for her turn as a disturbed ballerina in Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan, I was doubly happy at this result as I could a) relive my days at ballet class and b) drool over the beautiful swan costumes in the film. Sofia Coppola's film Marie Antoinette and Tom Ford's movie A Single Man give me the same enjoyment. And even though watching and dissecting a film with fashion credentials is enjoyable, I think I'll stick to the fashion and leave the real film critiquing to the far more competent Lauren Laverne and her wonderful BBC6 Friday Film Club and The Observer's rather brilliant Mark Kermode.
I'd like to make one final point about this year's Oscars before I forget... I agree the film The Artist is a little thing of great beauty and joy (both in film and in fashion) and that its success through nostalgia is a sort of measure of a universal mood at the moment... a longing for a more refined and simpler time but I cannot express how much I deeply love the success story of another movie The Help.
Thankfully the good forces in film deserve a pat on the back for making it. If you haven't heard about the writer Kathryn Stockett's own story then it goes something like this... In 2009 Kathryn Stockett finally published her novel The Help after spending five years writing it. The book (her first) about African American maids working in white households in Jackson, Mississippi, during the early 1960s very nearly didn't get published at all. Kathryn had sent it out to find representation and had 60 rejections before literary agent Susan Ramer agreed to take her on. I wonder how did Kathryn feel when she read a glowing review in the New York Times?
Shortly after the review appeared her book took off and spent over 100 weeks on the New york Times bestseller list, has been published in 35 countries and has sold over 5 million copies. USA Today called it "a sleeper hit" - a book, film, single, game or TV show which grows in popularity over time as people promote it through word of mouth. Like BBC4′s The Killing or the BBC's Great Expectations and these little joys were spread like a secret whisper passed among friends and I was reminded of all of this goodness by John Rocha (the humblest of London's design geniuses) in this moment above backstage.
The counterpoint to the loud blasts of colour this season predicting next autumns trends at fashion weeks everywhere was Hong Kong born John Rocha's whisper of muted black at London Fashion Week. Murmurings of sweet nothings backstage "quiet", "soft", and deeply textured with hours of handwork to help accentuate the movement of the material and honour the female form. Watching John Rocha at work, I regressed to when I was tiny and my mum used to dress me for ballet class and even if ballet wasn't your thing, I'm sure you've all had a moment when you remember a mum or aunt or sister correct your skirt, tighten your belt, tie your plaits and make you feel instantly perfect. Just for a split second.
Each model got the full John Rocha treatment and it took hours of preparation backstage to get the hair and make-up for the John Rocha look just right. It's at moments like this, staring down the lens at such perfection that I realise how much longer it would take me to actually make myself look remotely this good. (Of which much more later.)
Both "Black Swan" costume designer Amy Westcott and anyone who has had to labour over a handmade piece will appreciate the time and all together different level of talent required to hand crochet this dress above. It took 50 hours to make this one crocheted piece.
Luckily John Rocha was on hand for a brief moment to highlight the skill and time taken to hand manipulate fine wool to create this. The fact that a lot of his collection is entirely handmade and available to order from his atelier elevates his brand to couture level in my humble opinion.
So how to continue reviewing this collection without using an excess of superlatives. I'll try to keep the count low but it wasn't an easy task not to get completely swept away in the moment when you're faced with this staring down your lens...
It goes without saying that this collection is strong on detail. Very strong.
And apart from designing hotels, glassware, buildings and diffusion lines, John Rocha has his own store, a five-storey building on Dover Street in Mayfair two doors next to Japanese label Comme des Garcons Dover Street Market - one of London's most influential shopping locations in Europe. And at this point along, although I don't want to appear all 'fashion comment-y' I guess my idea of a browse is going to be a little different considering the amount of images I have swirling about in my nut. However my affection grows instantly for a designer and a collection when I can identify wearability and clever use of accessories and this wonderful shaggy Mongolian lambskin pulled in just so with a belt worn OVER a skirt might just coax us into wearing a) belts and b) a skirt again.
Coats, well that's an entirely different matter. I have many and my coat love will continue and documentation of what I like to do while wrapped up in one will never cease. Where John Rocha further excels is when he introduces interesting textures and proportions quite sparingly into his daywear. And there's the perfect use of a belt again, the clean lines roughed with a Mongolian lambskin bag and boots.
Here's a closer look at those beauties.
The slightly high positioning of the belt is not only good for holding things together but changes the proportion on this coat.
Or this huge belt which is not only for wrapping but an accessory to be shown off.
Or positioning your buckle slightly off centre while simultanously cinching in a billowing top.
The way the belt in tucked up and almost hidden is a clever way to modernize evening wear. It makes layering on top like this less... Thickening?
John Rocha has his business in London but returns to his family in Dublin and took several references from his native Hong Kong and Irish painter Sean Scully's textured abstract canvases for this collection. Ballooning taffeta jackets were balanced with either light or heavy skirts, black on black, the marabou skirt here reticent of the surface of one of Scully's textured oils.
Or in the case of this particular silk dress it's quite easy to see John Rocha's nod to artist Sean Scully's famous striped canvases.
Far more seasoned fashion editors than I (International Herald Tribune fashion editor Suzy Menkes and fashion's single most influential critic) says that John Rocha's collections are "A lesson in master craftsmanship". Judging by this year's red carpet disasters at the Oscars (actresses afraid to take risks and few embracing black) can we just dwell on Suzy Menkes words for a moment and consider the detail in this skirt above again and imagine an Oscar winner in it next year please?........
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