While fashion shows can be fun and fabulous spectacles infused with adrenaline and a sense of occasion, there is also something to be said for being served a cup of tea in a beautiful china cup and being talked through a collection in fascinating detail by the designers themselves. The latter option was not one with which I was really familiar until I went to meet Antoni and Alison last week at their delightful corner shop on Roseberry Avenue in Bloomsbury which also comprises Ye Olde Worlde Super Modern Tea Room.
Settled in with a cuppa made by Alison, Antoni took to the floor to explain the duo’s Spring/Summer offering. “We wanted to do a plaaaaain piece of work” he began, with emphasis on the plain because-as you will know if you are familiar with Antoni and Alison’s 27 year-spanning oeuvre- it is more the opposite of plain for which they are known. “We thought the purest thing would be to conduct a colour experiment” Antoni continues. He explains how Alison’s children were enlisted to help, walking around London for an entire week picking up all manner of curious objects from the ground and sorting them into yellow/ green/ blue/ red/ pink etc carrier bags.
“We wanted to create something which was part gallery, part fashion” Antoni says, which goes some way to explaining why the pair had chosen this somewhat unorthodox manner of showcasing their collection. “We challenged ourselves to think about questions like ‘what shape is green?’ ” he says- and for a second this could just as easily be an art unveiling as a fashion preview. Then, the dresses come out, and it is all dresses because “they have such scale so are the perfect canvas”. They are divided into rails according to their colour, with 30% being black because that is Alison’s favourite “colour” (and let’s not get into THAT debate).
Each piece is the result of pattern playing experiments which the duo have displayed around the room, giving a great sense elf story to the collection. The results are surreal yet also make everything make a little more sense. Like the bow on this monochromatic column, you can see is stapled into place- “it’s so you understand the proportions” explains Antoni.
It’s a revelation too that a simply scrunch post-it note can suddenly become a vehicle for silhouette-shaping illusion. “Whenever we were tempted to add a different colour to a dress- like this flash of pink on the yellow- we would ask ourselves ‘are we allowed to do that?”. The project might have been about purity of colour but it seems wonderfully idiosyncratic of Antoni and Alison to break their own rule.
“We thought of it as flat sculpture” explains Antoni, telling me how each dress is the result of around 30 photographs. Nowhere is that better displayed that on the green square cut style which comprises shades from lime to grass and is perhaps the most surreal of them all with a small prancing horse rescued from a London pavement taking pride of place beside a neat bow and a garland of shimmering raffia.
The slightly faded tone of the yellow ribbon which holds this buttercup echoes its origins, discovered tied to a fence and now given new life…
It may look like an expertly cut gem, but the jewel details at the top of this red dress actually comes from a lost shard of bike light reflector.
And an abandoned plastic bag become a waist whittling cincher when it’s printed onto a dress from the blue collection…
You might have noticed the fabulously swishing hair which is in motion in every lookbook shot, mirroring the lively lines of the brush strokes, pleats and scrunches on each dress. It’s an effect which would be nigh on impossible to achieve on the catwalk, yet which looks more natural than a runway too. It’s the clever work of Antoni’s partner, Kerry Warn who is also renowned for creating the hair on films including The Great Gatsby, Australia and Grace of Monaco.
So what has the experiment with colour taught Antoni and Alison? “That we get a headache when we work with red!” they laugh, remembering that not-so-pleasant day in the studio. They’re agreed that the green is probably their favourite. But it’s also fascinating that buyers from particular markets were drawn to particular colours, “the Japanese were really into pink while the Italians were all about yellow” Antoni tells me. Perhaps it’s the bright colours or perhaps it’s the pair’s infectious enthusiasm for this alternative way of working, but I certainly leave feeling more buoyed, enthused and educated by this way of showing than I ever have a fashion show.
More SS15 mark-making by Antoni and Alison…