Charles Baudelaire reasoned that genius is childhood recovered at will - and, although the term 'genius' is bandied about far too often in fashion journalism, certainly Bernhard Willhelm's aesthetic has always adhered to a thoroughly child-like naivety. His first collections, with their crocheted cupcake hats, biro-ed makeup and Disney-print dirndls set the tone for a career that has occasionally drifted into the dark and sinister, but always with a definite playful innocence. Evidently, this season he saw no reason to stray from this well-worn path, regardless of what other designers may propose. And, perhaps, wisely so. Willhelm has a loyal cadre of supporters willing to buy whatever madcap mayhem he proposes as 'fashion', though these individuals are always safe in the knowledge that somewhere amongst the mix will be simple, saleable separates with all his childlike charm. This collection, arguably, was more grown-up than some - Willhelm has evidently been looking at early 1990s Seattle grunge (think 4 Non-Blondes meets that Marc Jacobs for Perry Ellis collection and you get the idea), or even contemporary New Age travellers for inspiration. His look was multi-textured and intricately layered: a single outfit, for example, could consist of a patchworked dress in mattress-ticking, checked wool-tweed and printed and pleated silk over crocheted neon cycling shorts, football socks, paint-covered doc martens all covered with a chiffon snood or slashed and unravelling neon argyle cape. If that sounds like something of a sensory onslaught, it was. Amongst the designer deluge, there seemed to be some kind of political statement - the make-do-and-mend patchwork seemed straight out of a third-world shanty town, currency was glued to models faces and banners fluttered from hems with bold Katharine Hamnett-type slogans ('OIL NOW', 'LOOK GOOD FEEL GOOD') - whether these were intended as agitprop anti-capitalist comments or just styling gimmicks is uncertain. With Willhelm's whimsical sense of humour, it is unlikely he intended this to be a genuine didactic homage to the ethos of either proto-political protestors or anti-fashion travellers. Rather, it was an opportunity to ally his visual language with theirs and trick out easy toddler-styled separates, maxi dresses, trapeze shapes and multicoloured mayhem with all the fun of the dressing-up box.
Willhelm has evidently been looking at early 1990s Seattle grunge or even contemporary New Age travellers for inspiration.