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Essay: Sirens

by Alexander Fury on 11 February 2010

Alexander Fury contextualises our 2009 Design Download with an essay on the enduring appeal of Price's potent eveningwear.

Alexander Fury contextualises our 2009 Design Download with an essay on the enduring appeal of Price's potent eveningwear.

Antony Price's clothes are built for seduction. They are built for drama, for theatre. Indeed, it is between these twin poles of sex and spectacle that Price operates. A woman buying an Antony Price dress, or indeed a man buying one of his suits, is buying confidence, for themselves and for their sexuality. Price's clothes serve to craft that confidence and frame it: his dresses wasp the waist and plump the breast, his suits cut knowingly too snug, trousers hugging the haunches, jackets sliced away at the hem to suggestively expose an emphatic bulge. In the eighties and early nineties, Price was prime purveyor of 'result wear': boned, bombasted and buttressed cocktail frocks designed, as he stated, by a man for a man - but nonetheless worn by the most sexually assertive women in fashion. Today, Price dubs himself the frock surgeon, creating made-to-measure evening attire for a discerning clientele who come to him for nothing less than a new body.

The hourglass figure is the hallmark of Price's style, built around a rigid foundation achieved through ingenious cut and traditional corsetry methods that cut their own curves with and against the body. Witness Price's sculpted, sculptured evening gowns, cantilevered like Chrysler bonnets, soaring across the chest, wrapping the shoulders or cut in a deep 'butterfly' across the cleavage, the rest reduced to a razor-sharp outline. Glossy, surreal, artificial - these dresses are reality reshaped. Men too are subject to his whims - Price designs for both sexes, his approach fusing them into one and the same.

Sketch by Antony Price

But this is the polar opposite of anodyne, genderless androgyny: it is the exaggerated differences that bizarrely fuse them, bringing man and woman to the same aesthetic conclusion. The strength and aggression of Price's femininity is almost macho, bordering on drag; his masculinity is cartoonish, pushed to the extremes of camp. Tight waists, narrow hips, wide shoulder - basic Barbie doll meets action man, with a hefty dose of tongue-in-cheek chic. His clothes are high-kitsch make-believe.

Antony Price's legendary shows, more performance than fashion and staged as such, served to underline these notions: witness striptease on the catwalk, Sea Queens and Dambusters, Marie and Jerry revving motorbikes and the self-same Ms Hall exploding out of a velvet box at the Royal Albert Hall in Price's Schéhérazade lace and lamé. It is a mark of the potency of these images that, even today, they look fresh - Price's performance pieces straddled that uneasy divide between business and pleasure, providing a playground for his wildest fantasies to be played out in flesh and fabric. Sometimes people found it difficult to take him seriously - even Price himself declared 'I'm not part of fashion, I'm really in the theatrical business'. That spectacle could have overshadowed the clothes - if they weren't cut quite so well.

Basic Barbie doll meets action man, with a hefty dose of tongue-in-cheek chic. His clothes are high-kitsch make-believe.

The 'Macaw' dress, offered to SHOWstudio as our latest Design Download, was shown as part of Price's Spring/Summer 1989 collection. Despite the twenty-year gap, Price's design segues perfectly into this season's key themes: abbreviated of hem, dramatically asymmetrical and emblematic of a preened and polished tribalism. Pierced with exaggerated 'feathers' curled and boned around the breasts, ruched, darted and pleated against the figure, The 'Macaw' exemplifies the glamorous, body-conscious style Price has consistently championed. Sex-appeal is seamed into the cinched torso, the gathered fabric and intricately-cut splay of 'feathers' across the poitrine demonstrative of Price's technical prowess.

Shown on the runway to the sound of birdcall, Price's 'Macaw' was the first of a series in this show to explore his ornithological obsessions: its successors, the 'Pheasant', the 'Chicken' and finally, triumphantly, the 'Bird of Paradise'. Atypical of Price's customary self-deprecation, his own succinct description of his bombshell eveningwear rings true: pure art, crafted around a 22-inch zip.

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