There was something naively perverse and yet intensely British and alluringly eccentric in selecting Antoni & Alison's runway show to open London Fashion Week for Autumn/Winter 2012/13. Although they have worked together for 25 years, Antoni Burakowski and Alison Roberts have never been regarded as being part of the fashion establishment in the same way as most brands that book the main runway space at Somerset House, which begged the question, 'Why Antoni & Alison today?'
Antoni & Alison seem happy to remain outsiders to the multi-million pound fashion industry: despite their appreciation of high fashion, they give equal importance to photography, design, and art; and their dresses (which focus on the concept of print as an elusive creative medium that enables tromp l'oeil dimensions and textures) do not sell for thousands but just for a few hundred. As such, it was highly refreshing that the inaugural show of one the most relevant fashion weeks remained true to the designers' intent: the Antoni & Alison logo was stuck upside down on the runway wall, a cavernous repetitive tone accompanied the audience while waiting for the room to be full, and a recording of a voice could be heard reading from a text to introduce the designers and explain the collection. Most importantly, the collection was exactly what its title intended to portray: 'Models Walking Up and Down in Dresses'.
Antoni & Alison's unusually long runway show comprised 36 dresses of printed 100% Silk Crepe de Chine in shapes that did not vary much: the dresses had plain fronts and backs, there were three different sleeve lengths, and the height varied between mini, above the knee, or full-length. Occasionally, a cropped jacket could be spotted even though it was just a layer of fabric used to create the effect of another garment.
What made the show appealing was the fact that the models wore the elaborate prints (with layers of images at variable scales, from abstract and geometric designs to photographs of fabrics and objects) to create a veritable minimalist tableaux vivant that paid tribute to the process of making fashion: prints of tweed, houndstooth checks, thick knitted wool, feathers, and sequins were juxtaposed with photos of buttons, pins, staples, brown paper, twigs, and bin bags. And, on one occasion, the word 'dress' was printed on the front of a dress, in a playful process of self-referentiality.
When Antoni & Alison took to the stage to greet their audience at the end of the show, one could not but feel that, in a year when London is celebrating British excellence (whether through the Olympic Games or the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations), the work of these two outsiders ultimately embodies the qualities that have put London on the creative map: a celebration of art and its media, an eccentric flair towards ingenuity, and a daring attitude that favours individuality and originality over the establishment.