The third day of London Fashion Week saw Storm Dennis throw frighteningly violent gusts over the English capital. Fashion troopers, or at least those contractually bound to multinational media corporations, threw literal caution to the wind and showed up at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, and were duly treated to Roksanda Ilinčić's art-fashion spectacle.
The spectacle in point wasn't just the mise-en-scene Ilinčić had conjured together with the London-based artist Rana Begum – although the 250-metre long, rainbow-fluorescent fishing net spanning the height and length of the building didn't detract. 16 days after Britain left the European Union, this interconnected installation might have been slightly on the nose, but, if anything, set the stage for Ilinčić's high-brow art references to shine through.
On the runway, models sported an assortment of soft tailoring, impeccably draped dresses and luscious knits. Her tailoring, of which there were a few, came with invitingly round shoulders and a generous waist. Several tailored looks were a real lesson in layering – sleeveless coats, colour blocked and layered were clever styling tricks. Evening-wear, offered in shiny satins and velvets, showed off her signature silhouette, and was cut, trimmed and puffed in all the right places. Volumes were big. Grand, in fact, in a way that complimented the scale of the building, and vice versa.
The Serbian designer cited the abstract impressionist and figurative painter Lee Krasner's works as a reference for her colour palette – more specifically, Krasner’s monochromatic phase after the death of her husband Jackson Pollock. Ilinčić didn't take this literally – she explained that her colour story mirrored the emotional journey of mourning and the rediscovery of colour after a tragedy. Translated to the runway, Ilinčić rendered a sober palette: rich burgundies on leather separates, joyful yellows and fuchsia on satin, punctuated by dark neutrals and painterly prints. All of which were incredibly wearable, realistic, and on the right women, downright intimidating.
This season also saw Ilinčić's first serious foray into knitwear. Her enveloping silhouettes, often draped with silks or lighter cottons, were now colour blocked with a hugely oversized, chunky knit pattern. The slightly Michelin-man result (look 20) was a humorous play on her signatures, and while obviously fantastic, showed off the extent of her technical prowess – an unexpected but welcome addition to the show.
Ilinčić's references to Kranser might be more multi-layered than she lets on. The designer might not shout about her artistic references (as certain other designers might), but her feminist credentials are solid through and through. In a 2017 profile of the designer by Elizabeth Paton for the New York Times, Ilincic said, "I want a client to feel shielded from society, her confidence boosted, more self-assured because she is in that dress. And that’s important when we tackle moments of intense attention or are in difficult surrounding environments. All women encounter those moments, whoever they are and wherever they are in life." Her primary design consideration is still the woman who puts it on – her design process prioritises comfort in both cut and fabric choice.
Ilinčić's citation of Lee Krasner instead of Pollock, Rothko, or really any other abstract expressionist of that time is itself a notable statement. Krasner, who was married to Jackson Pollock until his fatal accident in 1956, seemed doomed to live in the shadow of her husband’s incredible fame, as well as the other larger-than-life artists of her time – De Kooning, Kline, Motherwell, and so on. She wasn't alone. Elaine, the lesser known de Kooning, was an active artist in the growing abstract impressionist movement of the time. Today, she has been largely reduced to Willem de Kooning's wife despite her own artistic contributions to the movement and some hundred articles written for Art News magazine. The latter contribution established her as one of the first American artists of the generation to become a critic.
Last year, London's Barbican Centre staged the first major presentation of Krasner’s work in Europe after more than 50 years of neglect. Cologne’s Museum Ludwig houses an entire collection of abstract expressionists – Krasner is conspicuously missing. Where Rothko has an entire room at the Tate Modern dedicated to his murals for the Four Seasons, Krasner has but one piece on display. Ilinčić's nod to Krasner thus felt like a return to credit where credit was long overdue – a celebration of women’s contributions in a field like art where there is still frustratingly little recognition. Where other designers who take on feminism come across as cringeworthy, an attempt at being relevant, Ilincic’s compelling approach rang with authenticity. We love to see that.