Framed by the ornately gothic space of Freemasons’ Hall, the Ashley Isham Autumn/Winter showcase allowed onlookers a lavish date with experimental extravagance. Having dressed notable figures such as Zara Phillips, Kylie Minogue and Florence Welch, the Singaporian can be expected to aim as high as high culture will permit. This year, that means resplendent gold crowns alloyed with spikes, wire and the occasional four foot feather sitting atop models in sweeping gowns shimmering with rich colours. All this and more for the “uber, polished breed of woman”, a statement that the brand endorses.Though these oddly worded press materials might contain compliments normally reserved for a pedigree cow or a well-kept shoe, the showcase was perfectly capable of flirting with its target market. Opening modestly, upon a series of black dresses and shirts frilled at the shoulders and complimented by canary yellow leggings, the collection found its sense of avant-gardist attitude with the introduction of multiple printed dresses and trousers electrified by red bordered frills and drapery. Tailored for exclusive parties and champagne events, these items are hard to ignore while fingertips dipped in gold glitter flaunt the fact that everything emits a taste of luxury. Continuing this theme, the swirling makeup accentuating the radiant cheekbones of the models and arching into a dash of silver glitter across the eyebrows gives the collection a flavour of intensity.
The showcase included a glimpse of men’s fashion, such as a dark velvet one piece suit. This minimalism flows into transparent roll-neck shirts, draped scarves with elegant folds and block print patterns ensuring that both women and men can dress expressively in the dreary London winter. The show really hit its stride, however, when unveiling slick multi-layered collages such as that produced by a heavy burgundy plait-effect top underscored by a muted striped shirt. Operating under a similar principle, one look combined a brightly adorned pencil skirt, a black roll-neck and a jacket scored with abstract shapes, resembling the fashion equivalent of Henri Matisse’s cut-outs. With styles like this, his explanatory notes do their job, revealing that the designer actually took inspiration from Igor Skaletsky, a painter concerned with creating hybrid works of art to fuse the classical with the modern.
As Isham cross-pollinates distinct styles to create poised designer patchworks, the lines of connection between him and his obscure source of inspiration are not hard to follow and kick in most resonantly with the meticulously layered soundtrack. Operatic harmonies and syncopated percussion infused with vocal loops from Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ deviate into a string Swan Lake, sounding just like try-hard classiness that wants to be cool.
Fortunately enough for the future of fashion, Isham often gets what he wants. Commanding attention as the show continues, his models tread confidently in lavish teal chiffon, contrasted by 1920s feathery glamour in shades of sienna and bronze. A diminutive series of loose fitting trousers made from corduroy, then velvet and finally printed fabric take a 50s turn into casual wear. Isham played extensively with similar items in his Summer collection, a mix of colourful florid prints, knee-length skirts and swimwear, but of course this season he doesn’t dither long in the area. There’s little time for informalities when a designer has a dazzling rainbow coloured reflective floor-length to flaunt, fitting in with LFW16’s taste for the metallic.
These are supposedly the styles that “make a woman ache with desire” (another of Isham’s ambitious intentions) and though no-one actually fainted in awe during the show, the reception was positive, with excited murmurs and wide-eyed glares coming from behind a wall of smartphones. One photographer even felt impelled to move in closer to the dresses, earning a sharp word of warning which carried across the hall and shattered the aura of sophistication for a split-second.
Exposed at a moment like this, the ethereal un-reality of high fashion seems faintly ludicrous, especially when the finale involved a model sashaying the catwalk wearing a star on her head. And yet, without the extreme accessories, the show would lose some of its power of attraction. This is clearly an arena for theatrical flourishes, where the division between art and fashion is irrelevant and where models take on the look of spectacular deific sculptures. Walking down the corridor of models, Ashley Isham emerges with his arms spread wide to lap up the deservingly warm afterglow, a showman through and through.