The show notes at Neil Barrett’s S/S 16 show were the fourth set I read on day one of Milan Fashion Week that talked of 'fusing Western and Eastern references.’ There were similar professions of a global view at Dolce, Armani and Marni, and I’m sure at countless other presentation and showcases I didn’t make it to. Despite all the nods and smiles in that direction, the genuine aesthetic references veer from professed but non-existent to costumey and borderline offensive, with little in the middle.
Barrett fell towards the first end of the spectrum. Despite the stated influence of Eastern styles, Barrett was really just going for business as usual - great coats with a techy twist, a solid bomber, a strong graphic, super skinny trousers cropped at the ankle, albeit with a slightly dropped crotch this season. Tellingly his show notes also talked of this being about a reintroduction of Barrett’s ‘classics’, notably the buffalo leather. So why the big statement about those in the East? Well it's obvious - everyone’s name-checking them because they’re the big spenders. Really their influence came through in little more than the Japanese denim and keffiyeh checks, though both are now so ubiquitous in Western style that they hardly suggested Barrett had dug deep in the cultural melting pot.
On the surface this was a strong collection. Sharp, clean, well edited. But it’s fashion as a whole, not the clothing in particular that has a problem. Globalisation is in the air - well at least in the show notes. Milan designers have realised that they need to move with the times or get left behind. At Dolce the nod to Asia was stuck on a print on a t-shirt - at Barrett it informed the ethos more than the surface. His musings had resulted in his collection being seasonless - full of coats and jackets and a rounded wardrobe offering despite the fact it’s a S/S show. Why? Because given fashion sells all over the world the seasons make no sense. Whose S/S dictates the calendar? Not those who are today’s big spenders. These are themes designers are now considering, but the system still fails. Designers can only talk seriously about globalisation when we’re not still working on a strange outdated A/W S/S system, showing clothes that aren’t available to buy for 6 months, selling coats in July and shorts in winter and casting 80% of a show with white models. Still, it's the thought that counts.