It is undeniable that the borders between fashion and celebrity culture have become increasingly easier to cross over the last decade. People who are deemed to be famous whether owing to their hard work, innate talent or merely because their presence is captured in the public realm of media are often seen wearing designer clothes in a process quite often intended to promote both the designer and the celebrity wearer. However, when the worlds of sartorial creativity and innocuous celebrity become dangerously blurred and both arenas fail to improve on what they can contribute to society, the results can be utmost disappointing. And this is what one needs to bear in mind in order to understand any critique of James Small's runway presentation of his Autumn/Winter 2012 collection, shown during London Fashion Week on 23 February 2012.
I have been following Small's ascending career since he took his first steps in the calendar of fashion weeks with a promising Autumn/Winter 2010 menswear range. We were tremendously impressed with his 'Marching Band' collection for Autumn/Winter 2011, where the choices of fabrics and patterns were perfectly allied to competent tailoring techniques. However, his 'Dark Arctic' Autumn/Winter 2012 collection could not fail my expectations any more than it did.
Other than being extremely limited when it came to the number of looks (I counted 15 in total), the collection's colours and patterns were disappointingly repetitive. Even interesting details such as external diagonal pockets and belted coats did not manage to save the overall lack of originality of a collection that focused mostly on manifestations of unflattering and derivative outerwear: coats were oversized by resorting to fake grey or black fur in its entirety or in parts (either sleeves or in the front and back of a blazer), or incorporated belts tied around the waist or buttoned to one side. Trousers came in the form of skinny jeans, athletic pants with contrasting arch on the inseam, or baggy grey dungarees with straps that crossed at the back, worn over flannel shirts. The sombre ambiance of the venue (the grand room in London's Freemason's Hall) did not help the colour palette which consisted of black as well as dull greys and blues.
For buyers and journalists who attend as many fashion shows as possible to analyse the creativity and potential on display, the fact that James Small's runway show was the very last of a hectic week didn't help. However, most people were forced to wait even further for the presentation to start until a bevy of celebrities arrived late to take their front row seats. What was irritating (although not atypical of many runways shows these days) was that these celebrities were not renowned fashion editors or influential buyers keen to see the collection, but a parade of Small's friends (Caroline Flack, Sadie Frost, Chloe Green, Nick Grimshaw, Jamie Hince, Mr Hudson, Kate Moss, Jaime Winstone, or Jo Wood, not to mention N'Dubz's Fazer Rawson as one of the models on the runway) who gathered not to see the clothes but to support him and grace the audience with their social status.
Although it is nice to have your friends cheering you on, it is crucial to realise that a runway show is essentially an opportunity for business and if the key audiences cannot see the clothes, then there is little point in doing it. An online search for James Small's Autumn/Winter 2012 collection the day after the show retrieved more photographs and information about the celebrities in attendance than about the designer or the clothes. Ultimately, this perverse result addresses James Small's concern (as he was quoted claiming in an interview) that his collections are not being bought. I will not dismiss James Small's talent and intend to keep following his future collections as I have seen what he is capable of achieving. However, in the future I hope to be able to find out more about James as a fashion designer through his clothes than James as someone whose fashion shows are known for the celebrities on the front row.
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