September 26, 2000. London Fashion Week.
A huge surveillance mirror cage, white tiling, and lights make one recall the padded cell of a psychiatric hospital. A dark and dirty glass box stands in the centre. The models step in, their movements are unusual, weird, while the bandaged head suggests a post lobotomy recovery. This is a performance.
Corsets and architectural garments, enriched with oyster shells and luscious feathers gleam before the audience’s eyes. This is fashion.
As soon as the last model leaves the stage and the lights turn low, a brightness starts to burn in the dark box while an uncomfortable heartbeat. An artificial breathing echoes through the audience. Dramatically, the sides of the box shatter to the ground, revealing moths fluttering around the masked and gasping body of Michelle Olley. A live, contemporary reinterpretation of Joel Peter Witkin’s 1983 Sanitarium. This is art.
I hear you fashion maniacs, jumping out of your skin!
That was the day in which the vibrant London fashion scene was shaken, dismantled, and resembled by Alexander McQueen. What was that? A catwalk? A performance? On that day the surveillance mirror cube staged “a coup de théâtre that has made ever-living history”. And that was the Vogue fashion critic Sarah Mower talking. That was quite something!
With the Voss show, McQueen marked a new era in the creative industry. Fashion stole languages and practices of contemporary art by questioning the crossover of beauty and gender, social boundaries, and mental health. In between the performance and the art installation, the catwalk rewrote the rules of the fashion game.
Fashion and art are undeniably tied together, inspiring one another around in a circle, feeding each other’s mastery, and pushing boundaries in a new cultural shift. So, with London Fashion Week coming to an end, TNC wants to celebrate this intersection, giving space to the new generation of designers that have melted artistic forms of expression with their craftsmanship, while inquiring about current, social practices.
Marie Lueder: “Let Your Eyes Be the Lens”
Inevitably, the works of Marie Lueder struck a chord with us!
Having graduated from London’s Royal College of Art in Menswear, Marie Lueders has engaged with different forms of art to question gender roles through fashion. As part of the DisoveryLab, Marie Lueder presented her SS23 collection in the Synthetic Fire fashion film: A recorded performance inspired by the scent of communion.
The film opens with a radio recording room; the speaker’s lips leave a message in slow motion: “you only know yourself what makes you happy, and …”. Suddenly, the spectator is thrown into a giant field; the dug sign of a spiral, Lueder’s signature, stands out against the green grass. At its heart, performers start a dance reminiscent of ancestral movements. The collection is slowly unveiled through the alternation of close shoots on details, confused mobile voice notes and – again- the radio speaker.
In the field, a subtle sound is already suggesting what comes next, recalling the gentle and somehow reassuring fire burning, and drawing the audience into the fire ritual.
“Taking the soles both spiritually and physically. The soles of your foot. Surrounding them around something that’s much freer than we’ve ever wished to be or hoped to be”
Feel the ground, feel what you walk on, leaving a mark.
The artist and designer artfully plays with different media and formats, mixing radio recordings, TV news, and dancing performance in the field. Aiming for a feeling of safety inspired by the scent of communion.
“Let your eyes be the lens”
Mastering the art of storytelling and acting as a sculpture over the body, Lueder’s creations represent a mind-armour for the wearer, preserving his identity against social imposition over gender. Confusing the borders between performativity and performance, her films are rather a conversational interaction between collaborative bodies and experiences.
Olubiyi Thomas: “The Eye Is Not Just a Lens, but a Projector”
Cutting his teeth in the Alexander McQueen house, the Lagos-born Olubiyi Thomas is the fashion designer that focuses on the node of performance, heritage, and identity. For this edition of LFW, his mastery has sewn together with an incredible number of ethnic references, celebrating freedom in self-expression and multiculturalism.
If the SS23 catwalk can be defined – with no doubt – as a proper masterpiece in Avant-guard aesthetics, what has also enraptured the public by the heart was the live performance. The garment, the body and the movement: three key elements that act as one during the ancestral dances of Nathan Goodman and Lulu Wang, that explore and rewrite the linkage between African culture and British Post-Colonialism. Like a Phoenix, rising from ashes, their bodies are on fire, talking about liberation and new life.
“It is a Yoruba philosophical concept through which the Yoruba of Nigeria conceive the power to make things happen and produce changes.”
All around the runway, some messages recall the ancient, cave paintings, giving us the key to a broader reading.
After almost 23 years since the McQueen revolution, the bond between art and fashion has been sealed for a new generation of designers that have brought different forms of interaction to the game. Boosting that traditional blending, and bringing into conversation different media to claim the freedom of identity expression.