Fashion, at least partly, is meant to be fun. Meadham Kirchhoff‘s brilliant show-cum-performance-art-installation today was a great reminder of that. It was one of the main things I wanted to attend during this London Collections: Men weekend and as an event it really didn’t disappoint. A somewhat show-weary and tetchy crowd were eventually filtered through the entrance to 3 Carlton Gardens and up the sweeping staircase to be confronted by a heavy, floral fragrance (later revealed to be Hammam Bouquet by Penhaligon’s) wafting across two rooms. Here, louche, lithe boys lounged around on mattresses: some masked, others with handwritten facial ‘tattoos’, all wearing the heady mix of colour, fabrics and texture that Meadham Kirchhoff are renowned for. In the presence of a large crowd complete with the likes of Suzy Menkes and The New York Times’ Bruce Pask, there was a definite sense of unease at first, like stumbling into the aftermath of a party the next morning, and perhaps of being here uninvited. There was a feeling of looking without permission as models played out their glassy-eyed, ‘stare if you dare’ roles to the full. For some attendees Kurt Cobain was the most immediate reference, but for those with a more arcane knowledge of London’s subcultural history another reference point is the legendary Warren Street squat, home (or at least meeting place ) to such legends as Trojan, where life was art, living was performance and there was never any need to wash your hands after painting yourself blue, or Pepto Bismol pink for that matter. The presence of former WS squat resident Jeffrey Hinton (as musical director) brought a note of authenticity to the atmosphere, although, these models really didn’t need much encouragement to live out the tarnished dreams of earlier fashion scallywags and style subversives. Huge, slightly overblown blooms in faded ‘granny’ shades like lilac, cream and dusky pinks masqueraded as the source of that pungent, floral smell whilst surfaces were littered with less wholesome debris like full ashtrays and Pepto Bismol bottles whilst models reclined ‘in bed’ with empty pizza boxes and rather skanky cuddly toys.
So what of the clothes?! Given how impressive the whole experience was, it took a while to really focus on the details of what was being worn but once you had, the result was as astonishing as the rest of the multisensory experience. Beautiful quilted jackets in florals, one in the form or a biker jacket, with an oval brooch clasp, and the lurex knits were the most outstanding pieces for me, alongside some beautiful faded primary cable knit sweaters and beanie hats.
Clashing colours, complex, detailed patterning and layered textures were familiar from the team’s womenswear collections, and whilst the use of such assumed ‘feminine’ materials as florals, lurex and bright saris will inevitably suggest androgeny, there was a hard edge to how these clothes were worn, and the lurex sweaters and quilted jackets will definitely be on the wishlist for many a London dandy – myself included! My attention was also drawn to the fact that many of the quilted, patchworked and crocheted fabrics covering chairs and those mattresses were actually Meadham Kirchhoff originals as much as the clothing. This kind of happening/event/whatever is what makes London, London. Sure, other cities have their own subcultural histories – New York has the distant memory of Andy’s Factory, and more recently The Club Kids, and Berlin could no doubt summon up a ghost or two, but these are OUR stories, and our history. After snapping away at the playful boys and their debris and being almost intoxicated by that Penhaligon’s scent, I reluctantly left 3 Carlton Gardens, not waving a Union Jack exactly, but more than prepared to wave a neon blue sari in the face of convention.
Please note, all photographs are original: copyright of Colin Chapman for Sharpened Lead, rights retained.