Lorenzo Belenguer, an art curator, investigated the previous Fashion Week and explains why London is best and give it a review from a curator's point of view.
On the steps up to St George's Hanover Square. It's a cold, grey February afternoon. A smart church in Mayfair, but this is no usual service. This is homage to something rather different. At the top, there is no priest but a woman - an intern? - with a clipboard, her own medieval shield. Only the chosen are admitted to this church: those on her list. This is the Julian McDonald show at London Fashion Week 2011. As an artist and curator, I've long been interested in just what Fashion Week is all about. I wrestle daily with 'art' and its meaning and purpose. Is this - i.e. one of the top shows at the pinnacle of London's fashion industry - just a commercial exercise? Or art? I'm interested to find out. But at this rate, it's not even clear if I'll get in.... The guardian at the gate is pulling my sleeve and threatening me with calling security. I hoped she did. I needed protection.
I did not manage to get in. And I was disappointed. Julian MacDonald has always intrigued me - the elements of design and colour have always intrigued me. He represents a very restrained baroque, strong colours toned down on uncomplicated silhouettes with unexpected accessories that suit strong and modern women very well.
It's hard to get into London Fashion Week. Photographers are always wanted. Big buyers are treated like kings and queens. And Anna Wintour is the Queen Bee. Writers are out. When PR people see you taking notes, they panic. Nothing good comes from words. You're viewed with suspicion. The lower your profile - the better. Unless of course you work for VOGUE.
Art curators look down on fashion at the best of times and ignore it most of the time. So when London Fashion Week, or LFW for short, came round again I decided to venture over and put it to the test. Having convinced the press officers that a curator writing about fashion might just produce something of interest, eventually, a press pass was emailed.
There I was on my way to Somerset House, LFW headquarters, with a copy of the email to get the press pass printed. With my immense naivety, I thought the press pass would allow me to see all the shows. A bit like an Oyster card for the catwalks. To my surprise, the press pass only allows you to enter the entrance hall. To actually get into the space where the catwalk takes place, you need a specific invitation per show. Just to stand up. At the back.
So I entered the entrance hall, had my pass scanned, and was told to wait in the ticketless queue. Queuing. You do that all the time.
The person next to me was from Spain. I could read that from her pass. A fashion designer from Madrid who wanted to see the LFW, as they say. I'm from Spain myself and she helped me. When you finally get inside, you've got about two seconds to spot an empty seat. She told me the most likely places to be vacant are at the back.
I saw the show by the Turkish designer Bora Aksu and was instantly hooked. This was creativity alive, buzzing through its passionate participants. The enthusiasm is contagious. He sculpted the body with a freedom usually only expected in Fine Art. It became more and more a promenade of geometry and angles. Although softened. And hard at the same time. There were always at least two elements that would remind us that the female body is not always curves: a highly defined corset in black and grey or an oversized scarf. I couldn't stop thinking of Brancusi's sculptures.
PPQ - seen as the best kept secret of the fashion and music scene: luxe pop-chic and underground London cool - was all about metal carefully positioned and about framing the face. In fashion, designers obsessed with the human body sometimes forget the importance of the face. Many people look at the face before the derriere. PPQ delivered just that. Even the two long braids helped. It became a series of portraits. Beautiful, of course, because they are models. And then the fragments of metal will drag your attention to the dress and to the figure. Mainly playing with one colour made the collection very strong. Simple lines. It reminded me of Mondrian in black and white.
House of Holland - graduated from London College of Printing - was fun and very clever. Granny chic with crochet squares. He was playful, witty, very pop art, but restrained. We are going through a financial crisis and not interested in taking risks. Tights and socks clashing with the dresses and, somehow, kept taking me back to Pop Art.
What else?. Matthew Williamson rocks. I understand why he is a favourite of fashion students. He takes huge risks and it always works. Abstract Expressionism, there, in your face without shouting at you. You are kept on edge. You continue watching beautiful paintings that exquisitely blend with the model. It is as if they have been made for each other. The dresses, the paintings and the models.
Vivienne Westwood and Paul Smith were wonderful, as always. They represent the best of British tailoring. In Vivienne's collection - considered as one of the six most influential designers in the world, the colours seem to have the need to depart from each other. Nothing makes sense. You see it as a fact without the need for understanding. There is a bit of Dada movement in it that I found very appealing and liberating. She finds inspiration in British fabrics and 17th and 18th century art
Paul Smith was like watching an Impressionist show at the Tate Britain: beautiful, well-crafted and safe. Nothing was wrong and you know you are in a safe pair of hands. The colours and the forms all combined in an exquisite manner.
Burberry was magical. No one does coats like Burberry. It developed into performance art based on an 19th century French painting. Beauty, melancholia, good manners, happy times, an autumnal picnic, golden leaves, cheese and red wine. Time to slow down from the crazy summer. Times for silences. Long and deep. Right colours. Right shapes. You want to be in it rather than out of it.
Emilio de la Morena - a Spanish designer who studied at Central Saint Martins and the London College of Fashion - brought us a very unique Latin minimalism. He's a monochromatic Mondrian who sculpts the female body and takes it to another level. You find new shapes and forms that you didn't know were there.
It was comforting to see private companies promoting and nurturing emerging talent. Fashion is an expensive business. From Topshop, I very much admired Richard Nicoll - a graduate from Central Saint Martins. He makes you appreciate beauty in an unexpected way. His talent to rethink what a woman can possibly wear is exceptional. He's a fashion cubist in the way he destroys and deconstructs garments in a revolutionary and quiet manner. Mary Katrantzou, - a graduate from Central Saint Martins - shows lampshade skirts, this time in a more elaborate and sophisticated way. Russian dolls come and go. It's fun. It's being the centre of attention. It's Rococo - extreme and deliberately outrageous ornament - in the 21st Century. And Meadham Kirchhoff - also a graduate from Central Saint Martins - with an interesting palette of colours. An abstract painting in acid. It works. It's a volley of colour rich punches. From Vauxhall Fashion Scout - which has been responsible for some of the most exciting new talent- , the designers A. Hallucination showed a mature and well-cut collection with earthy colours like going through a dry river. Anselm Kieffer - a German painter that uses grey colours and earthy materials - . Rather beautiful.
After five days, you end up exhausted. I don't know how buyers and editors can do the entire circuit. New York, London, Milan, and Paris each host a fashion week twice a year with New York kicking off each season and the other cities following.
If I had to choose my top three experiences, they'd be: a stimulating conversation with the talented TeatumJones, the Burberry show and the KTZ moment. KTZ combined top quality, superb originality and fun. One exquisitely beautiful garment after another. Abstract Expressionism, Mondrian, Malevich and Barnet Newman, all chewed in and spat out like there's no tomorrow. They managed to attract the coolest crowd and brought the LFW to a grand finale.
In a nutshell, I was very impressed by the passion shown by the public. Something you don't always see in art exhibitions. The variety of colours, styles and presentations of the garments was astonishing. I found very difficult to find a common point as you sometimes see in fashion magazines telling you what it's in fashion. And the speed. A show lasts about ten minutes. And this it. You don't have three weeks like in an art show. You blink and you miss it. But, is it art? I'm not sure yet. What I'm sure is that LFW rocks.
Follow Lorenzo Belenguer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/_belenguer