In fashion, as in politics, extreme is the posture of the moment. This spring, a new group of young designers, mostly from the British Isles, who have come of age in destabilising times, have built their collections around declarative, visionary shapes that jettison old ideas about symmetry and balance. Consider the voluminous dresses of Richard Malone, the Irish designer committed to sustainable sourcing and limited production; his red, blue and green confections, made of jersey regenerated from fishing nets and plastic bottles, billowed out from diagonal seams, spilling across the runway in an evocation of rising seas and melting glaciers. Then there’s the work of the York, England-based Matty Bovan, whose Hope and Fear collection featured unnerving sculptural forms — like oversize collars and inverted hoop skirts that alluded to dystopian courtiers — swathed in nostalgic Liberty fabrics that didn’t so much conform to the body as they did create a protective shield sitting loosely around it.
On the other end of the spectrum were the second-skin cuts and military-inspired lingerie of Charlotte Knowles’s Venom collection, the very name suggesting a kind of biting feminist armour, at once defensive and defiant. Meanwhile, Richard Quinn imbued hyper-feminine tropes with gothic eeriness — extravagant bows, exaggerated A-lines, giant puff sleeves — as if issuing a warning about the perils of fantasy. And the New York-based line Puppets and Puppets presented several looks that were hyper-fitted above the waist and bulbous below it, playful parodies of Lacroix pouffes from the gilded ’80s and European royals from centuries prior.
Arriving in the wake of the boho-chic early aughts, the utilitarianism of the post-recession days and the sentimental softness of the mid-2010s, these designers are building an aesthetic language for now: sly, assertive and somewhat unhinged. Surely their inclination toward radical, heightened silhouettes feels fitting at a time when conventions dissolve by the day. It’s also a time, of course, when everything feels political — see the British-Indian designer Supriya Lele’s Fall 2019 collection of futuristic doctor attire (gleaming rubber coats, deconstructed hospital dresses), a nod to the National Health Service’s dependence on immigrants as British multiculturalism fades into fallacy. Is extremity the antidote to bewilderment, to apathy, to the middling status quo? As uncertainty follows us into a new decade, fashion’s next generation seems to be reminding us that there’s benefit in being a figure who resolutely stakes out a bit of space, and whose outline is impossible to miss.
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