The twisted and dark undertones of Henry Darger's mind and his 15,145-page opus The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion have inspired a number of artists since its author's death in 1973. However, using the story of the seven Vivian princesses and their insurgence against child slavery, as Darger depicted in the hundreds of watercolours contained in three elaborate volumes of The Story of the Vivian Girls, was an ambitious challenge that fashion designer Bora Aksu undertook and won with outstanding results in his Autumn/Winter 2012 womenswear collection.
Born in Turkey into a family of doctors, Aksu started being inspired by art and illustration as a young child. After realising that he could ally drawing to fabric, he moved to London to study at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, where he completed a BA course. After a year away, Aksu returned to Saint Martins to undertake postgraduate studies. Upon finishing his MA in 2002, his graduation collection made him the star of the show by a number of publications (including The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and The Independent newspapers), and allowed him to secure sponsorship by the ARG group to produce his debut off-schedule runway show at London Fashion Week in February 2003. It was at this stage that Bora Aksu founded his eponymous label that went on to receive the NEWGEN sponsorship for four consecutive seasons. In 2005, singer Tori Amos famously bought his entire Spring/Summer 2005 'Living Waters' collection for her Bee Keeper world tour, and over the years he has seen his clothes being worn by a number of celebrities including Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller.
For Autumn/Winter 2012, Aksu continues to explore the contrasting worlds of delicate and feminine existence and the resolute and masculine way of life by delving into Darger's ornate illustrations for inspiration. The contrasts between innocence and perversion were masterfully resolved in Aksu's collection at all levels, from the choice of fabrics to the combination of colours. With William Morris's wallpapers and 1950s tapestries serving as tonal sources of motivation, Aksu resorted to dual oppositions to portray the Vivian girls' world of dreams and nightmares. As such, greys and blacks provided classic wintery and dark tones that were softened by feminine dusty pinks and creams. To add a visual shock to this combination, and to mirror the horror of slavery, Aksu added unexpected explosions of fuchsia, burnt orange and ruby reds.
The duality continued in the fabrics and cuts used throughout the collection. Soft, feminine and fluid silk jules and georgettes (used in tops and shirts) contrasted with layered coats, jackets and capes in heavy cottons and wools. Cashmere prism knits reminiscent of 1950s spinning tops, and crocheted trims on skirts and dresses were used to evoke comforting childhood memories, a notion also present in the shapes chosen for parts of the collection: shorter-length dresses and skirts were infused with girlish charm in the shape of pleats, drapes and pussy bows. However, such manifestations of infant innocence clashed with the emotional and physical growth imposed on the Vivian princesses in order to overcome their domination. To stress this transition, Aksu resorted to tailored waistcoats, jackets, capes, and pencil skirts. The growing maturity of the girls is also embodied in the leather clutches produced by accessories brand Bracher Emden for the collection.
After having produced 16 collections, and selling in retailers in China, France, Greece, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Turkey, UAE, Ukraine, and the USA, Bora Aksu has undoubtedly established his name in the British and international fashion scenes. Despite the uncomfortable and dark representations of femininity based on the opposition between innocence and subjugation, Aksu's designs and ornate garments will most certainly keep the fashion community on its toes for many collections to come.