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Photo by James Gourley/REX/Shutterstock
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Chainmail, Cardboard Couture and a Sense of the Absurd at Fashion Month

Picture of India Doyle
Updated: 6 March 2017
AW17 collections have offered ample reactions to the current political climes, with designers lining up to make palpable protests against the new order. While notable examples include the pussy hats at Missoni and protest slogans at Ashish, a subtler trend was the move towards headwear – introduced in both understated and exaggerated forms – alongside protective capes and hoods. The inference being that now is a time for making a statement, for community but also for protecting oneself and those around us.

This trend started at Copenhagen Fashion Week, where oversized hoods were the creation du jour. While one may predict the experimental from new and emerging brands, the locus of this movement lay firmly in the big leagues. In London, Burberry’s extravaganza featured an extensive series of couture capes, inspired by the work of Henry Moore. Later juxtaposed with sculptures by the artist at the Maker’s House over London Fashion Week, the parallel between Moore’s interest in mother and child, and the theme of protection, was evident. Moore’s majestic bronze sculptures were distinctly organic in form and execution, and Burberry’s capes (though embellished with the likes of ostrich feathers, crystals, ceramics and often made from hundreds of thousands of stitches and hundreds of hours of labour) clearly responded to the artist’s preoccupations. With chainmail hoods and loftily woven rope hoods, the timing of this aesthetic felt apt beyond its sartorial confines.

Photo by PIXELFORMULA/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock
Photo by PIXELFORMULA/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock

Trump and an uneasy future were also the focus of designer Gareth Pugh’s show in London. In a cavernous space deep underground in an Islington venue, Pugh had his cast of activists and friends walk in bug-eyed contact lenses (that rendered them almost blind) to a soundtrack that eerily transitioned from Julie Andrews to the sound of Trump shouting ‘build that wall’ over and over. Collars were built high, and models wore thick black military caps, covered in sheer veils and adorned with feathers. Another design shrouded the model in faux fur, denying even the slightest hint of humanity. His horror could not have been more clear.

The palmer // harding duo opened their first show with an oversized black hood that draped around the wearer, a morose start to what was a sombre but imaginative re-working of traditional silhouette and drape. At Ashley Williams, cowboy hats worn over hoodies that were printed with slogans such as ‘Misery’ and ‘Save the Planet’. These undaunted hoodies are sure to become a coveted accessory this season.

GarethPugh AW17, Backstage (British Fashion Council, Anabel Navarro) LoRes
Gareth Pugh AW17 | © British Fashion Council, Anabel Navarro

The discontent wasn’t particular to London, though the city is known for edgier and emerging talent. More surprising perhaps was the the rebellion in Milan, where Gucci‘s extraordinary melange of materials, eras and influences included a series of glittering scrum caps – a move anticipated by few. There were also silk turbans, woven headbands and oversized sun hats on show – an eclectic mix distinctly pulled from Alessandro Michele’s expansive bed of ideas; the endless Gucci garden. As ever, this was not the apeing of eras but a palpable invitation to join Gucci’s club, a protective and fantastical unit that exists outside of reality.

Moschino‘s cardboard box hats, styled with paper bag tops and parcel inspired jackets gave way to eclectic collage prints and scotch tape dresses, where crystal hoods, bicycle wheels and candle sticks as hats featuring heavily. Jeremy Scott’s call to action was DIY orientated (though the dresses will invariably sell for far more than your average distressed curtain). The up-cycled nature of the collection embodied a sense of the absurd, which again felt apt.

Photo by REX/Shutterstock
Photo by REX / Shutterstock

During Paris, Jacquemus styled models with exaggerated bucket hats pulled down low over the eyes, covering the face – a sombre re-imagining of the sophisticated Parisian woman. Meanwhile Rick Owens acknowledged politics directly in his AW17 show, using his design to consider community in a chaotic world. ‘It’s a lack of community that has created this divisive situation. Maybe there’s not enough ceremony. But fashion shows are contemporary ceremonies, where people bond over beauty,’ he said.

Rei Kawakubo looked to future, introducing a new female silhouette that was distinctly un-human in its rendering; models were placed within large organic shapes that partly covered their faces, and most wore extravagant grey wool wired wigs. Kawakubo is known for placing art over functionality in her catwalk displays, yet one couldn’t help but read this latest offering as a nod to a new world order, where the lines between reality and imagination are increasingly blurred – the coupling of each outfit with Nike trainers only emphasised the hybrid.

It seems that as the world becomes increasingly unstable and uncertain, bundling up and bundling together will be key to making it through.