With their flowing lines, striking ornamentation and geometric headwear, the designs of Ashley Isham balance drama and elegance. Isham brings this talent for effortlessly majestic designs to his Autumn/Winter collection, which was showcased at the Freemasons’ Hall on the opening day of London Fashion Week.
As the exquisite hall begins to fill with an eager audience, 20s swing is interwoven with swelling, futuristic synths. No one quite knows what to expect from the man who, in Spring/Summer 2014, offered an extensive range of low hanging bucket hats with eye level cut-out designs.
Isham’s designs are often distinguishable by their oriental and classical influences, so, as the distinctive tones of a guzheng silence the audience, and a soft, yellow lighting is raised on the runway, we are prepared for the flowing wraps and embossed geisha-inspired forms that begin to grace the room.
However, as a trap beat penetrates the composition and the first model emerges into full view, a tasselled veil, cascading from the model’s fanned head piece, waterfall-like, to her feet, sets the tone for this collection. Striking exaggerations and elegant embellishments to loose, free-falling designs are the order of the day.
It’s a refreshingly long show that propounds full immersion in Isham’s creations. Asymmetrical silken wrapping and panelling are the predominant features of the collection’s first phase, with loosely tailored floor length pieces accessorised with subtle belting. Diagonal trims introduce more tasselling, reminiscent of the ornamentation of everyday drapery. Plush, dramatic turquoises and reds and intricate embossing punctuate heavy blacks and greys for a regal, mystical feel.
A curious rope effect is introduced, encasing the model’s neckline like an industrial scarf. It becomes apparent that cords of varying thickness are a theme of the collection. The fine tasselling becomes progressively more severe, culminating in this heavy-duty, nautical binding.
As items become more purposefully tailored and textures more diverse, there is a sense of passage through time; corduroy and quilting are incorporated as outfit staples, and bombers and biker jackets are subjected to brutal fur treatment. Isham plays with everyday forms and outlandish fabrics, and seems to have plenty of fun in the process. As silken capes and monochrome gingham come into play, it’s entirely impossible to pin down any cohesive themes spanning the collection – it’s a case of absorbing, rather than observing.
Yet, the most arresting consistency is observed through Isham’s headpieces. Fixed, curvaceous panels, in every sense at odds with the smoothness and intricacy of the models’ features, are adorned with LEDs and placed like fascinators atop scalps. They make for jarring additions, yet bring an ethereal fluidity to the collection itself. As a body of artistic work, it’s hard to pin down. There are so many elements at work and in conflict.
Yet Isham succeeds in creating something beautiful from an uneasy blend of substances and styles. Monochrome meets purple furs and adorned helmets collide with shimmering cloaks, yet a sense of Isham’s vision seeps through without restriction. The collection is a hall of mirrors and the fascination stems from its inconsistency.