Catwalk Report: The Elysium Concept Show

A varied programme of young and talented designers

By Finola Austin

Admiring the beautiful setting of Oxford Town Hall and rifling through my show goodie bag (Sassoon hair products and Lush cosmetics – er, yes please!) I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Elysium Concept Show, which director Alison Rackham promised would challenge, not only our interpretations of the theme, but our ideas about fashion itself. In the hour that followed, however, we were treated to a varied programme of young and talented designers, who, despite their numerous differences, seemed to be in dialogue regarding some key ideas about the possibilities of designing for women, with exciting results.
Crimson-Rose O’Shea
The show started with a bang, with an eye-catching collection from Central St Martin’s fashion graduate Crimson Rose-O’Shea. O’Shea’s pieces were large, loud, multi-coloured and distinguished, as her earlier work, by an interest in the combination of unusual materials. She has previously spoken about the joy of turning something ‘trashy’ like plastic into Haute Couture and this same spirit was definitely on show. Delicate organza and ribbon was combined with cellophane and lametta, creating unusual silhouettes (puffballs, oversized rosettes). 
Drama came from the rustling and reflections which accompanied the models’ movements, in astonishingly high cut-out platforms, their faces masked by what looked like sheets of wrapping paper. The looks were topped off by outrageous headwear – wide-brimmed hats, large horizontal rolls secured by ribbon below the chin – made from a matte paper.

Oxford Brookes
The students of the 2012-3 Foundation Art and Design course showed off a sporty collection – lots of latex, exposed midriffs and swimwear-inspired pieces, mainly in black and white with neon orange providing an accent colour. Graphic prints gave the impression that the black and white latex wrap skirts were paint splattered, while the oversized accessories (sunglasses and sideless handbags) gave a playful touch.

Yiannis Kariotoisis
Call me boring, but the most wearable of the night’s collections was also my favourite. Greek-born Yiannis Kariotoisis, trained at Bradford Art College and now based in Athens, has designed a beautiful range of chiffon dresses in a rich yellow/gold. The designs were all about drapery – trains, cape effects, fluted sleeves – and showing just enough skin, through the translucence of the material or with the glimpse of a shoulder. There was occasional use of more metallic fabrics, playing with light and texture in a less overt way than Crimson-Rose O’Shea. The first look on the night included gold trousers, glimpsed through the folds of chiffon – metallic sections highlighted the cut of other pieces, tracing the line of the models’ bodies.
Statement necklaces gave a tribal edge. These were made with braiding and pebbles, suggesting the inspiration of a Mediterranean beach, along with the Eastern/desert vibe, but also included central sheets of colourless plastic, emphasising the fluidity of the clothes by the contrast with these clean, machine-cut lines.

Nayuko Yamamoto
Another graduate of Saint Martin’s, Yamamoto’s collection relies on contrast – between the androgyny of tailoring (buttoned up collars, long sleeves) and Geisha-style femininity, suggested by her delicate blue prints and laser-cut origami details, and between the image and text, with her pieces acting as a canvas, yet also suggesting illegible pages torn from a poetry book. 
The beauty of the detail was thrown into relief by the sharpness of tailoring in white shirt material. The crispness of the shapes nodded to utility while the concept suggested something much more whimsical.

Popham Hair Design
Following a short film about the life and work of pioneering hairdresser Vidal Sassoon, we were treated to a live demonstration of how styles inspired by his work can feel fresh and modern today (Popham’s RE-BORN collection). Blunt-cut hair, central parts, full fringes, Cleopatra-length bobs and geometric pixie cuts were modelled by the women, while the rule for men was to keep length on top, while keeping hair short at the sides. 

Chloe Reynolds
Chloe Reynolds’ ‘Black’ collection stripped fashion back to basics – elegant drapery, beautiful use of fabrics and simplicity of cut – and makes the freelance fashion and costume designer’s interest in new approaches to pattern cutting clear. 
Her monochrome creations (including hooded dresses, capes and jumpsuits) played with asymmetry – of hemlines, cut-out details (often at the hip) and side slits – often introducing the unexpected. A leather belt appears through a cut-out panel at the hip. The entirely black palette flags up differences in material and makes us more sensitive to the possibilities of different fabrics, giving real dimensionality to a single-coloured outfit.
That Reynolds is inspired by the minimalism of Japanese design is clear, as is her reluctance to spend too much time thinking about recent trends. What I found exciting about the collection was its ability to appear simultaneously classic and refreshingly modern.

Sarah Palin

A recent graduate of University of Central Lancashire, Palin’s collection was the most overtly flirty and feminine of the evening, featuring fifties-shaped dresses which looked like they could be made of paper, all tiny waists and full skirts with rough-cut edges.
One of my favourite sections of the show, what interested me most about Palin’s designs was her delicate use of colour – prints appeared through ripped ‘layers’ of the clothes in shades of pink, yellow and turquoise, giving the impression of a distressed watercolour. Details, such as the long sleeves of one look which were in fact open to expose the inner arm, added to the feel of fragility, as did the way in which the fine white silk of the skirts moved as the models walked. 

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Finola Austin

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