Every fashion season, legions of editors and aesthetes converge online and at the shows to witness the turning of the fashion tides. Admittedly, the returns on this investment of time can be less than thrilling on occasion: Shocking! Last season it was the 50s, now it’s the 70s! Would you just look at all those wide-legged trousers! or Goodness me, can you believe the amount of orange around here? or Who would ever have thought of doing a romper in leopard print? Absolutely groundbreaking!
But then there are those moments that make it all worth it, those truly jaw-dropping collections that reveal an unexpected perspective, an astonishing beauty, or an outlandish wit. Mary Katrantzou’s Spring/Summer 2011 collection, entitled Ceci n’est pas un chambre, offered just that solace in London recently. Her deft transformation of women into exquisitely decorated interiors a la Architectural Digest was unquestionably surreal. The models wore poolside decks, country estate breakfast nooks, and dinner tables overlooking city lights, all impeccably detailed and tailored. The pieces included such elements as printed drapes and table runners that gave way into actual flowing fabric; lampshade-esque rose-printed skirts, and bits of chandelier as necklaces. The effect was jarring upon first view, as there was no readily available point of reference to which to connect it. It was truly odd, and truly exciting.
The title of her collection, of course, references the famous René Magritte painting The Treachery of Images (often called Ceci n’est pas un pipe) and the connection to the great Belgian surrealist artist is tangible. Magritte purported to create his art for the purpose of challenging viewer’s perceptions of reality and normalcy, and by so doing to elevate the experience of daily life through deep awareness. Like Magritte, Katrantzou’s work is clean and streamlined, with nothing to distract from the central, paradoxical messages of her collection: Yes, this is a room. No, this is not a room. Yes, this is a dress. No, this is not a dress. Yes, this is a body. No, this is not a body. This humorous philosophical exercise in suspension of disbelief was made possible by the hyperreality of the prints and the precise, clean lines of the collection.
This wasn’t Katrantzou’s first foray into trompe l’oeil imagery on clothing. Since her runway debut in London just a two years ago, she has focused on utilizing utterly realistic, mind-bending digital printing to achieve her fantastic effects. London has become a mecca for such revolutionary technologies, with Basso & Brooke and Alexander McQueen utilizing similar techniques. Her collections for these past four seasons have turned the models into exquisitely detailed perfume bottles, blown glass, jewels, and this season, windows glinting in the sunlight. In each of her collections, Katrantzou seems to be at her best when she captures the reflective quality of shiny surfaces in her prints, creating a sharp concentration of light. Perhaps in that pooled light we can best allow our perceptions of reality to be disrupted and reprogrammed.
This past Friday, Katrantzou won the Swiss Textiles Award, which will provide her with 100,000 euros to continue building her brand and developing her splendid vision. From that stamp of approval, it’s fair to say that a good number of people are more than willing to cast aside their previous perceptions of reality in favor of those that this amazing young designer brings to the table.