Is this costume, or couture - and, out of those two, can we extract viable, wearable fashion for the female of today?
A Meadham Kirchhoff show is a fashion experience like no other. Riot Grrls meandering around banks of foliage, Children Of The Corn marching out amidst roadside shrines, veiled princesses in streamed-festooned, carpeted seraglios. Their vision is compelling, complete. It's a universe, not just the clothes.
For spring 2012 Edward Meadham and Benjamin Kirchhoff topped all of the above. Thousands of balloons, golden streamers, powder-puff toting madcap can-can dancers, a dozen preteen ballerinas, a giant wedding cake and the air thick with perfume. Amongst them, of course, were the clothes - the one element in this mix that defied description. Cashmere sweaters and mini-kilts embellished with kawaii motifs of smiley-faced clouds and Harajuku hearts, miniature bed-jackets crusted with gold bullion fringe, hooped skirts smothered in marabou or embroidered with pirouetting dancers, the whole lot sandwiched somewhere between glitter-crusted platforms and brittle blonde beehives. It was extraordinary, and the crowd rightly rose at the end to cheer.
But what were they applauding - the clothes or the show? And where to separate the two? It's a question we've been pondering for four seasons now at Meadham Kirchhoff. Is this costume, or couture - and, out of those two, can we extract viable, wearable fashion for the female of today? Personally, I'm a fan of stripping down: often intricate set-pieces and cast-of-thousands spectaculars can be about distracting your attention from clothes that aren't up to close scrutiny. That isn't the case with Meadham Kirchhoff - in fact, its in the showroom that their pieces really shine, given the intense examination the catwalk inherently denies. The presentation, however, is as an intrinsic part of their vision as that ever-intricate needlework.
The haute couture comparisons often thrown out about Meadham Kirchhoff's clothes are simply explained: smatter a bit of elaborate embroidery across a frock and the fashion world scrambles to label it as couture - both an explanation and an excuse for decorative excess. The allusion in Meadham Kirchhoff's sense, however, rings true on a psychological level - these clothes are a statement of intent rather that actual proposals for real women's lives.
Meadham Kirchhoff don't imagine women the world over donning their lace-dotted chiffon capes or swansdown tutus (however wonderful that visual may seem). It's about reinforcing the message of their brand, a statement of their aesthetic obsessions. We can take away the sweetness, the pastels and the overriding sense of youth in this offering - that synchs with the general mood emerging for the season ahead - whilst simultaneously appreciating the darker undercurrent, Meadham Kirchhoff's proposal actually questioning our own assumptions about women's role at the start of the twenty-first century. They titled this show 'A wolf in lamb's clothing.' That sums up their point perfectly.