Fashion used to be a special spot I turned to when I was sad or bored or worried, and it was like an anchor, giving me safety and plenty of stuff to dream about. Now that feeling is gone (don’t ask me why, I don’t know!), I’m clueless on what to do with this void. Oh, wait: the feeling, the magic, the excitement are gone, but sometimes, in some rare occasions, there’s still something stirring inside of me. This is what happened when I saw the fall/winter 2013 collection by Meadham Kirchhoff, which has given me a beautiful iconographic set to ponder on. What I’m looking for in fashion is a vision, an imaginary world, poetry, and I’m glad the London-based designing duo has given all this to their audience.
I selected a few outfits from the collection, dividing them into main themes – Death in Venice, kinderwhore, Little House on the Prairie and Picnic at Hanging Rock. Let me tell you I am in awe of the whole collection, but these are the strongest numbers, the ones that make you really step into the message of the designers.
Death in Venice (1971) by Luchino Visconti was intended to be an adaptation of the novella published by Thomas Mann in 1912, but it turned out to be an exercise in style and a masterpiece of the unsaid. Piero Tosi’s costumes (the refined outfits designed for Silvana Mangano and reminiscent of Carla Erba, Visconti’s mother; Von Aschenbach’s dapper suits; Tadzio and his brothers’ sailor-inspired clothes) set a new, high standard in designing costumes for the cinema and represent one of the highest points of his career. The unripe beauty of Tadzio contrast with his uniform-like clothing, which served as source of inspiration for Meadham Kirchhoff’s collection. In the outfit above, a white pleated knitted front-buttoned skirt has been paired to a cardigan-like sailor top; the contrasting hems are all made of black patent leather (a recurring theme of the collection). The tulle and lace veil is another element referring to the same style (black lace is applied horizontally on white tulle, so as to create “stripes”), but it’s also a self-homage (the designers love veiling their models).
The previous outfit has been presented with some modifications: black patent leather panels embellish the pleated skirt and the top. The effect is unusual and bewildering, amplified by the knitted cream socks worn with silver and gold mary-janes. In this case, Death in Venice going sci-fi could be the theme.
A further variation on the sailor theme is the outfit above, where the collarless jacket à la Chanel with patent leather trims is paired to a frilled bra and patent baggy pants with frilled hems. Take a look at those: patent leather has been cut so as to achieve a broderie anglaise effect. I’m usually not a fan of tech or artificial fabrics, but the trousers and the matching bra are sublime. Don’t you agree?
The second theme in the collection is kinderwhore, which doesn’t come as a surprise, if you know that Courtney Love and her early 90s aesthetic have been a source of inspiration for Benjamin and Edward since their debut.
Peter Pan collars, gauzy fabrics, combination of different garments, crystal tiaras and mary-janes: these are the elements taken from that specific style and turned into a gorgeous set of clothes. In the outfit above, for example, a pair of wide-cut black trousers is paired to a polka dot chiffon shirt dress with lace trims and pointed collar. The exquisite swan-shaped crystal tiara and the point-toe shiny shoes are the perfect accessories.
This is probably my favourite dress of the whole collection: black velvet is paired to white lace, pointed collar and spotless cuffs; the result is a good-girl party dress turned into something a seductress would wear. Even if the front slit uncovers the legs, the mood that we get is not overtly sexy, but seducing and mysterious. The black tulle and lace veil covering the face of the model, topped with a crystal unicorn and heart tiara, add another layer of mystery.
This dress is magnificent, as well. The white Peter Pan collar tops a blouse with short puffy sleeves and a full skirt, embellished with lace coil-shaped appliqués. Two elements are particularly interesting here: the scalloped hem of the skirt is decorated by broderie anglaise, while the sleeves are finished by ribbons to be tied around the arms. This last detail, in particular, is so romantic and reminds me of my own wedding dress, whose cuffs had ribbons to wrap around the wrists.
The third theme – Little House on the Prairie – is somehow connected to the last one – Picnic at Hanging Rock. The popular tv show, aired between 1974 and 1983 and based on the book series by Laura Ingalls-Wilder, was set in the 19th-century American West. Most of the female protagonists – especially Laura, Carrie and Mary, the Ingalls sisters – wore long cotton printed dresses, work clothes which had to be durable and low-maintenance.
There’s nothing low-maintenance in this beautiful light peach dress, but the tiny pattern made me think of pioneer fashion. In this case, we can find the Peter Pan collar again, along with the scalloped hem (embellished by black lace and tiny black bows) and the ribbons to wrap around the arms.
A slightly modified version of the previous dress (shorter hem and long sleeves, decorated by black cuffs) has been paired to a dramatic black patent leather ruffled capelet, an accessory very much in tune with pioneer fashion. Ruffles are cut-out so as to achieve, again, a broderie anglaise effect. A detail which made me squeal with excitement? The straps tied around the ankles on the black frilled socks.
The last theme is connected to Picnic at Hanging Rock, a homage to the iconic 1975 movie by Peter Weir . Forever may Judy Dorsman, the movie’s costume designer, be praised, because she really made Victorian laces and corsets trendy again. We must not forget the film was directed in the 70s, a decade which saw a revival of fashion from the 19th century (pioneer fashion, too). The white dresses embellished with embroidered inserts seen on the students of the Appleyard College, their pleated or frilled blouses with high collars and puffy sleeves, their dreamy and romantic attitude, speak about the beginning of the 20th century, but bear echos from the previous century, too.
The essence of those white dresses and night-dresses has been brought back in this collection. The white number above, paired to black cropped pants, has frilled collar and cuffs and a loose line, which puts no emphasis on the waist-line. The gold and silver shoes, the dramatic crystal tiara and the red lips on the model provide the finishing touches of a stunning outfit.
The evolution of the loose dress we’ve just seen brings to the outfit above, another showstopper which has immediately entered my dream-doesn’t-cost-a-thing list. In my book of style this is pure perfection: the front-buttoned blouse has frilled collar and cuffs and is paired to a full skirt decorated with embroidered details. The homage to the movie by Weir is still there, but Meadham and Kirchhoff infuse it with much more mystery with the use of a white and black veil. By hiding the face of the model, they ask the audience to focus on the dress, but at the same time they cast an unfathomable shadow on the identity of the model herself. All this is extremely fascinating, isn’t it?
Thanks to Instagram and blogs, we mortals who have no access to the fashion shows can take a look at what happened backstage. Here is the model board, for example. Red hearts decorate it, along with the name of the collection – Helter Skelter – written in red ribbon.
The decorative use of red hearts is not a coincidence – you may remember the central part of the movie by Weir was set on Valentine’s Day – and the same can be said for the name of the collection. Helter Skelter is the title of a famous song written by Paul McCartney in 1968 and included in the Beatles’ White Album, but it also became the infamous name of the apocalyptic racial war predicted by Charles Manson, the reason behind the murders he and his followers committed in the 1960s. This contrast of sugary and demonic (or witchy) can often be found in Meadham Kirchhoff’s aesthetic.
There’s genius in the invitation, too, where the combination of the ribbon writing and red hearts is back. The invitation was sent with another card, cut-out like a doily; the drawing in the oval sees two hands (both of them have red-painted nails), one holding a ring, the other waiting for putting that ring on. The drawing, a homage to the cover of Softer, Softest (a single released by the Hole in 1995), is such a melancholic image: it’s supposed to be romantic, but that hand, longing for the ring, is unaware of the possible pain and suffering that will come next, and so it’s a source of sadness.
As a nail polish addict, I noticed all the models sported short red nails. I found out the nail polish they wore was Come to Bed Red (nice name!) by Butter London, an American brand which has often found inspiration in British culture. I don’t own this colour (I only have one Butter London nail polish), but I wouldn’t mind adding it to my collection, along with Pillar Box Red.
Last but not least, the signature scent of the collection. You may probably know that Meadham Kirchhoff have often worked with the English brand Penhaligon’s in choosing a scent for their collections. I fell in love with two of my favourite Penhaligon’s scents (Artemisia and Cornubia) after learning they had been chosen as signature scents for two Meadham Kirchhoff’s fashion shows (spring/summer 2012 and spring/summer 2013, respectively). This time they chose Ellenisia for its “overall femininity and old-fashioned sensibility, but also for its optimistic & restorative scent.” After reading the composition of the perfume (mandarin zest and violet leaf as head notes, gardenia, rose, tuberose and jasmine as heart notes and plum nectar and vanilla as base notes), I can’t wait to try it! In the picture above you can see Edward spraying the runway location with Ellenisia just before the show.
Here you can see the whole collection. What do you think of it? Do you appreciate it as I did?
 This movie is such an endless source of inspiration for photographers and film-makers alike.