LONDON, JANUARY 8, 2016
Ask Craig Green—British fashion’s favorite conceptualist—how he feels about being labeled thus, and he wrinkles his nose a bit and grins incredulously. “We never start with a concept,” he shrugs. “It’s just things that feel right.” Maybe that’s why Green’s shows, and his clothes, resonate quite so loudly. There isn’t a great deal of gumption being thrown around when he describes his clothes: It’s all about fabrics and techniques. And Sylvanian Families. “They inspired all the colors at the start,” he said, swiftly adding, “. . . maybe I shouldn’t tell you that.”
As ever, the layers of references embedded in Green’s garms are only matched by the ones each individual viewer reads into them. All those small parts add up to a big whole. It links back to what feels right: This time, Green was thinking, in abstract terms, about the new and the old, about disposability—he mentioned tear-away hospital scrubs, which his clothes often superficially resemble—versus things you keep forever. “Like the blankets,” he said, throwing his hands wide to indicate the intricately embroidered, quilted, washed, and re-washed coverlets that resembled the ones Linus clutched in the Peanuts comic strips.
Those ideas were played out again and again: A bouclé was, in Green’s words, “like an old towel”; silks and leathers (the first time Green has used either) were heavily processed, by hand, washed, and re-washed, the subdued sickly colors a riposte, he said, to last season’s acid brights. By contrast, other garments were either strapped firmly—permanently—against the body, or dissected by lacing or buttons only half fastened, as if caught in a moment before furling away. That notion, of the dispensable versus the everlasting, is something fashion is tussling with as part of a bigger picture right now. It’s why brands are differentiating between “fashion” and “luxury,” the former referring to flibbertigibbet seasonal upheaval, the latter to staid styles built to last forever. Conglomerate CEOs are struggling to wrap their heads around reconciling those two antithetical conceits; seeing a designer as green as Green nailing it is arresting.
Thinking back to Linus, and indeed to all our childhood blankies, I couldn’t help but stumble across the notion of protection. That’s why we cling on to those scraps of cloth, after all—to feel protected. Green opened his show with a tailored hazmat suit—he referenced uniforms; layering tailoring; the pourpoint doublets of medieval knights, stuffed to pad out the convex shapes of plate armor. Green called the down-stuffed pads clutched in models’ hands or dangling from their belts his “punching bags.” He was initially going to strap them around his models, as if armoring them against the world.
It’s difficult to pinpoint why this collection felt so right, as Green says. But it did. Perhaps it’s because, as global financial markets shudder, again—$2.3 trillion was wiped off them this week—we all want to feel protected. Maybe Green himself feels wary, and unsure, a young designer showing in a turbulent industry, whose very foundations are shifting as we watch. But how prescient he built protection into his collection, because Green’s clothes—his talent—are just that. They’re his armor against the vagaries of the fashion world. And they’re utterly exceptional and unique. No concept needed.