It's not often that a delicate smell of roses meets you on entering a fashion show. Sometimes it’s sweat, sometimes hairspray. Walking into the Crypt on the Green in Clerkenwell tonight, a soft, floral aroma was present. Phoebe English’s A/W 18 presentation was fragranced with a scent called ‘Rose Silence’. If I had stayed outside the church, inhaling alone, I might have imagined the collection inside to hold draped silhouettes and ethereal fabrics, pastels and pinks. I could be making an ‘English Rose’ pun as I write now.
But I pushed inside, past the crowd of onlookers. In the space, models filed, one by one, into a staging area created by a three-sided rectangle of white duct tape. The collection immediately contrasted the scent. The folds were angular, the transparent dresses were layered with elasticated bandages. Black satins and velvets were shredded. Each look was as taut as the duct tape framing it.
The press notes implied that this contrast was purposeful. 'For Wendy', said the opening line. 'Different manifestations of loss.' In the areas of skin shown through the fabrics, the formal shirting and the monochrome palette, one could read absence in the work.
As ever, the casting was exquisite. Girls with languid looks, locks and limbs were chosen. One wore long dreadlocks encased in scraps of fabric, two presented shaven heads. Make-up from Inge Grognard and hair by Tina Outen unified the models, whilst simultaneously celebrating their differences. 'A visual poem', read the press notes. I think if anyone else called their collection 'a visual poem', I would have a hard time keeping my disdain down. But Phoebe English’s collections are presented with such a humble beauty and earnestness, to be cynical is to ignore the authenticity present.
Backstage, English was upbeat and open. 'It seems like only yesterday we spoke last!' she exclaimed. Yes, her menswear A/W 18 collection - shown in January - may seem like only yesterday but the comparison with this season’s offering indicates a development that transcends time. Whatever the inspirations behind this womenswear presentation, the delicacy with which English uses her craft is inspiring. This collection had a tension to it, a sharpness that cut through the scented air.