okay, so if you follow me on twitter you may have seen some of my incoherent ramblings about being unable to write my essay/dissertation for college! we had to pick a textiles/fashion designer and write an analysis/overview of their work. at least, that's what i did. to be honest, it wasn't massively clear what we were supposed to do!
anyway, i spent quite a lot of time on it & i'm actually really pleased with and proud of what i wrote. i've never really ~analysed a fashion collection before, and this is one that i absolutely adore & it really speaks to me. i thought i'd post it here for you guys to read - that is, if you're interested! i may have been a bit heavy handed with the similes in some places, but it was pretty late when i finished writing it.
Designer Profile of Meadham Kirchhoff and Analysis of their Spring/Summer 2012 Collection
Edward Meadham and Ben Kirchhoff are a design duo from London who launched their eponymous womenswear label Meadham Kirchhoff in 2003, a year after they both graduated from Central St Martin’s. With their exceptional instinct for performance, there is no other place for this fashion label to be than London with their inherently quirky style and unmistakeably British gift for humour and satire. London fashion is famous worldwide for its eclectic, individual street style and the unpredictability of its independent designers, such as Meadham Kirchhoff. In their short history, they have become infamous for the eccentricity, political undertones and social commentary displayed in their collections.
Both Meadham and Kirchhoff are avid supporters of the Feminist Movement, and an exploration of the trappings of femininity can often be seen in their designs. They also take a lot of inspiration from the Riot Grrrls of the 1990s; especially Courtney Love, whose 1994 Reading Festival dress Edward Meadham faithfully remade in a multitude of pastel hues for the can-can dancers who opened their Spring/Summer 2012 catwalk show. Their collections have garnered a reputation for being “angry” and they are notorious for deliberately pushing against the fashion mainstream and ignoring trends. Meadham Kirchhoff decorate and adorn the walls of their creative workspace with hundreds of images, which they look at in between seasons to contemplate the aesthetic and meaning behind their next collection. These images, according to Edward Meadham, “include representations of every classic beauty: sex symbol, goddess, Hollywood goddess, showgirl, little girl, Shirley Temple, Marilyn [Monroe], Jayne Mansfield, old paintings and portraits from Ingres, Marie Antoinette, dolls, the Virgin Mary.” This wide range of inspirational imagery and referencing demonstrates the designers’ sheer love of collecting and all things “happy and light and funny and gross and pretty”, and also shows their exact path from here to the finalised collection. This eclectic mix also showcases an obsession with representations of supposed idealised beauty.
For their S/S 2012 collection, Meadham Kirchhoff have taken all of these different facets of girlhood, taken in what it means to be feminine and spat it all back out again in a gorgeous pastel scream of rebellion. This collection is fit to bursting with rich textures, eye-popping colour combinations and a decadence last seen in Marie Antoinette’s Versailles palace home. The pair has stated that this collection was “about taking all the things that little girls are taught are beautiful and pretty from an early age – and destroying and celebrating them at the same time.” From just glancing at the whole collection, you can see this in force; the beautiful bubble-gum pastel hues which are the epitome of sugary girlishness contrast with the harsher, darker colours of the occasional navy tie or pillar-box red pinafore, which perhaps reference unsettling male schoolgirl fantasies, or evoke the iconic costume worn by Britney Spears – another victim of the trappings of femininity. Further coquettishness appears with the peekaboo cut-outs in a pink button down cardigan which reveal a crystal-encrusted bra. It certainly seems that Meadham Kirchhoff are trying to playfully poke fun at the constant objectification of women in the media – and indeed the world of fashion – by adding a pair of fluffy powder puff breasts to an intricate 18th century brocade sack back coat. These coats as well as some of the sumptuously embroidered dresses in the collection have an exaggerated hourglass structure; a design feature which shines a light on constant scrutiny of the female form while simultaneously celebrating womanliness. Other stand out pieces were crystal encrusted hot pants, large skirted marabou coats and exquisitely embroidered cardigans; all adding a touch of pantomime drama to this “oddly moving” show all about poignant childhood memories and the loss of innocence. The shoes (designed by Nicholas Kirkwood with marabou pompoms and crystal bows added by Meadham Kirchhoff) are another example of the design team’s great sense of humour. They are ludicrous and hilarious and reminiscent of illustrations in Dr Seuss books, but edgy and fresh at the same time. All of this works together to create something that is kitsch and nostalgic without being tacky. Everything from this collection could have come out of a child’s dressing up box or from a theatre’s dressing room, but it could also fit perfectly in your wardrobe. These clothes are for a real girl, one “not defined by feminine frippery, though she may occasionally indulge in it.”
Made by any other designer, this collection would seem overly kitsch or flippant, but Meadham Kirchhoff have always been serious about what they do. The painstaking attention to detail comes from a real dedication to their craft and an exceptional technical ability. One dress in the collection is made solely from strips of ballerina embroidery with Broderie Anglaise lace ribbons stitched between the bands. This was inspired by “those old Spanish postcards where the flamenco dancers have real fabric skirts”, and this is plain to see as each ballerina’s sequinned tutu lifts up, and they each have individual pearl necklaces and crystal bead tiaras. This couture-worthy level of detailing is extraordinary; especially as such tiny additions like this would be almost invisible on the catwalk. The extremely labour intensive technique of zardosi embroidery has also been used several times in this collection on the wonderfully named “Madonna” jackets. It is the process of creating a pattern by stitching tiny coils of metal to a piece of fabric, and is traditionally used “in ceremonial Catholic dress and ornamentation”, which harks back to the religious influences and iconography seen on the pair’s studio walls. More of their meticulous attention to detail is seen in the cutesy animal and doll motifs which are hand-embroidered, appliquéd and, in some cases, even have 3D leather-appliquéd eyelashes as an added touch. A lot of work has also gone into their bubble-gum coloured marabou frock coats, each weighing a huge amount with a hem of 26 metres and taking hours to stitch just one band of feathers to one hem. Edward Meadham wanted these skirts to feel “endless”, and their sheer density and luxuriousness ensures that they certainly seem that way. Meadham Kirchhoff also have an incredible capacity to think outside the box, choosing to use an “iridescent tinsel yarn” originally designed to be used for fishing as a trim for some of their turquoise ballerina embroidery. The wealth and understanding of traditional and contemporary textiles techniques shown by the designers is very impressive, especially given the way they are able to weave it together with their fresh and individual designs.
Meadham Kirchhoff’s Spring/Summer 2012 collection is simply beautiful. Combining a wealth of inspiration with an old-fashioned aptitude for textiles techniques, this collection is truly a work or art for the modern age of fashion and textiles. By drawing on the many representations of women and girls throughout history and their own beliefs, Meadham Kirchhoff have created a collection which celebrates all that is good about being female and being a feminist and what this means to us in the 21st Century. It is sugary sweet without being saccharine and girly without being overly cutesy. It is femininity with a theatrical, rebellious edge. If you cut Meadham Kirchhoff through the middle, they would read “eccentricity” like a candy coloured stick of Brighton rock.