Essay: Dress by Christopher Kane
Christopher Kane always errs on the side of the bizarre when it comes to the inspirations behind his eponymous collections, and Autumn/Winter 2010 is certainly no exception. Think Priscilla Presley, the Woman's Institute and juvenile delinquents, wrap it up with a lot of buttery-soft calfskin and send them teetering out on reworked ghillies with a savage stiletto heel.
If the foliate embroidery elsewhere in the collection leaned towards the W.I., this dress is pure Priscilla, with a dazzling array of multicoloured gemstones clustered across raw hide spliced with lace. Leather and lace is the oldest rock groupie cliché in the book, but here it is interesting because those cheap components are combined to create a distinctly high-end final product.
It's interesting that the Kane team of Christopher and sister Tammy choose to undermine their luxury product this way, giving a look that could otherwise veer into staid madame territory a distinct edge. The Kane siblings call that slightly bad-taste and sometimes even downright cheap aesthetic 'dodge', evident in a slightly off colours, slightly sick fabrics or slightly tacky embellishments making the whole outfit look a bit skew-whiff. It's evident throughout fashion today - just think of those eighties references we've been riffing on for the past decade or so - but it's seldom articulated so adroitly and consistently. Kane creates outstanding clothes, but his collections are rarely about individual pieces. It's more about articulating a mood and aesthetic motif that runs throughout the whole show.
What then, of this dress? Coming in the final portion of the show, these bejewelled dresses were the perfect example of Kane's combination of high and low. A bejewelled dress has many antecedents: to our contemporary eyes, we're reminded of Dolly Parton, of Cher in Bob Mackie gowns and of Priscilla in studded leathers. It's equally redolent of Chanel's Vedura cuffs, combining paste brilliants with enamelled gold in fashion's first fusion of mass-market and haute couture. Looking back, Marie Antoinette wore court gowns encrusted with millions of livres worth of jewels, an extravagance of decoration expressing both her official role as Queen of France and unofficial position as Queen of European fashion. At the same time, those dresses were totems devised to visually represent the might of the French crown - most notably, she clad herself in gowns studded with gems after the fall of the Bastille, a talisman of a crown that was already eroding away. Maybe Kane's support of handicraft, something increasingly lost in the ever-accelerating demand for fast fashion, is a similar espousal of a cause that seems all but lost in contemporary style.