Show Report

Show Report: Claire Barrow A/W 16 Womenswear

by Lou Stoppard on 25 February 2016

Lou Stoppard reports on the Claire Barrow A/W 16 womenswear show.

Lou Stoppard reports on the Claire Barrow A/W 16 womenswear show.

Few designers have as much of a mandate for calling their work art as Claire Barrow. Her practice is illustration and hand-painting. Her ethos focuses on one-offs and unique commissions. While she’s built up enough of a cult following to sell tops and bags with printed illustrations, those who buy them think of Barrow’s specially painted jackets and leathers - the special, one-of-kind pieces on which she built her name. She’s in the middle of preparing for her first first solo exhibition, which opens at the M. Goldstein Gallery in London in April. So what better time to ask us to question how we define her work - art or fashion? Indeed, when you’re an advocate of considered, political, empowered - and to an extent, angry and urgent - fashion, as Barrow is, it must be a strange time to be showing at London Fashion Week. How does a designer like Barrow find her place within the punishing pace, the ‘Instagram-able’ moments, the street style circus? Does the fashion sphere actually even suit Barrow’s work? (If it doesn’t, thats its loss not hers). Those questions seemed to be on Barrow’s mind for A/W 16. She staged her show at the ICA in a set-up that resembled a museum display, or a faux art show, complete with gift shop and curator’s notes by each garment. By ‘elevating’ her work in this context, she toyed with the significance and relevance of her designs - something for a season, or something to go down in history? She referred to it as ‘blatant narcissism’ - an irony, given the quantity of narcissism at fashion week, and given that Barrow is actually one of the most self-aware designers showing. She was questioning us as well as herself.

It doesn’t take a genius to observe that nostalgia is having a moment in fashion. Alessandro Michele at Gucci once called his work ‘fake vintage.’ Hedi Silmane copies old silhouettes and shapes and re-packages them for shoppers who can’t be bothered to thrift. Head to Instagram, and you can’t move for nineties shots of Kate Moss and Winona Rider. So far, so literal. In keeping with the spirit of questioning that ran through her presentation, Barrow was keen to dig a little deeper into why old feels new and relevant. Her show notes mused on that ever pressing question in fashion - is it even possible to create anything new in today, such is the weight and depth of what has gone before? Is everything just a new take on an existing idea? A clever ode to some other genius? ‘Originality becomes an increasingly complex and tenuous subject to approach because how we reference is now so oversaturated with repetition,’ she mused. With this in mind she dreamt up ‘The Retro-Spective’, a show which mashed together elements from Edwardian dress with eighties touches, nods to Punk and recognisable emblems of Greek mythology - most notable in one of the three films that accompanied the collection, an ode to Medusa by artist Liv Fontaine. This was an ordered mess - a considered piece of chaos. Delightful clutter. 

Barrow had taken a post-Tumblr approach to her referencing, pulling from here and there at whim, while also questioning this same online obsession with the old, the obscure and the strange. Barrow’s work always feels personal - you get the sense these are her obsessions, not just a nod to the fads and throw-backs that others find appealing. The best garments - the ones we all cherish in our own wardrobes - are ones with a story. Most collections rely on one good narrative - some given theme or reference. Barrow spun a lot of yarns for A/W 16 and all of them were enticing. 


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