Global and Local: The Fashion Conundrum

Since the autumn collections and my usual travel hopping – most recently from Belgium to Lisbon to Marrakesh – I have been pondering the fashion conundrum. How can a designer be both local and global?

The big brands’ concept of presenting identical shop windows in each city has faded slightly. Yet there is still a sense that to make it worldwide, there has to be an international look. And this so often produces a brand bland – a disaster for lesser-known labels. Without a vast budget to promote sales each season, and, crucially, a money-spinning accessory line to fund the clothes, how can designers keep a personal identity?

The struggle is tough enough for small but established brands where designers have name recognition but not the budget to back that up – although the success of Dries van Noten, for example, proves that consistently good design can find a place in a crowded industry.

For those starting from scratch, the struggle for recognition has been helped by digital development. Who could have imagined a decade ago that a fashion-student start-up could offer clothes online across the world? Or that local success stories from Australia or South America would spread through the international market?

But the reality is that there is no golden path to success for individual designers – and that many of the most talented new arrivals are sucked into big brands looking for talent. Two cracking good shows – from his own JW Anderson line and from LVMH-owned Loewe – have taken Jonathan Anderson from London’s East End to worldwide success, illustrating the fashion dream of all fledgling talent.

I studied four designers – two from India and two from France – to gauge the international stories.

Manish Arora: Sweet smell of success

Only a year ago, Manish Arora was jazzing up his colourful show with a dog whose fur was dyed blue. This season, the show was held in an elegant mini-palace on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. And the designer raised his game as he launched his first fragrance, “Ready to Love”.

Over the past 20 years, Manish has used skill and humour to weave together a personal style that had initially seemed to both accept and to laugh at the tropes of Indian style: the gaudy colours, the over-the-top decoration, and patterns on the wild side.

But there comes a moment when a successful fashion designer breaks through the barrier of time and place and becomes universal. Manish has achieved that, not so much masking his Indian heritage but absorbing it. The opening outfits for Spring/Summer 2018 were streamlined and casual, with wrap dresses that were gently patterned.

The decorative effects were literally global, moving from Islamic tile prints to Aztec animals and Navaho fish and embracing Nevada’s Burning Man festival and parties in Ibiza – all were cited as inspiration.

The result: surprisingly sophisticated, with just an acceptable amount of twinkle. It was all in honour of the new fragrance that Manish described as “a universal and eternal state of mind”.

Rahul Mishra: Let there be light

A kaleidoscope of light was Rahul Mishra’s starting point as he contemplated – and later captured in print for his audience – the prisms and blurry illusions extracted from a beam of light.

As the designer put it, “The balanced existence of nature and mankind, traditional and modern, is blended to create a fine world of art on textiles that form the collection.”

The story was of Indian craft, at the heart of Rahul’s work. He listed the details of ruffles, tie-ups, pleating, patchwork, and playing with volume on checks and stripes. Looking at the images afterwards (as I could not attend the show), I was convinced from seeing his previous presentations that those apparently simple geometric lines must be hand-embroidered, like the animals or even simple dots.

Compared to Rahul’s more recent shows, there seemed a lot going on. But having seen in Mumbai the designer’s classic and intricately detailed wedding collection, I had to admire his skill in placing the Spring/Summer 2018 collection in a geometric context of straight lines and Western clothes.

Jacquemus: “La Bombe”

The figures walking through the Picasso Museum in Paris seemed surprisingly sophisticated for a designer whose earlier collections had been deliberately brought together in clothes that always referenced the loss of his mother.

But it was that personal loss that inspired his collection. The designer recalled, “I don’t think I ever saw my mother more beautiful than on evenings after the beach, when we would go for a walk around the port, past the souvenir shops filled with earrings, ceramics, sarongs and headbands. ‘La Bombe’ as we say in the South.”

It was the bold, mismatched earrings – not to mention giant straw sunhats – that jumped out in this collection, and the kooky but chic shoes with heels mixing square and round. But there was also a new sophistication to the clothes, which were draped and shaped, often long but with slits for legs to escape.

Above all, the apparently casual draping was French – what is called “le flou”, meaning body conscious, demanding a fine young body. Will Jacquemus become a little less predictably French? Hopefully not yet. It is good to see a designer drawing flowering from his own roots.

Atlein: Making jersey sing

Drape and shape are the story of a smart new fashion generation. And Atlein’s astute handling of the malleable material has already been recognised by giving its designer, Antonio Tron, the prestigious French ANDAM prize and a nomination for the LVMH Award.

For his first runway show, the designer showed his originality: the venue was a Parisian chapel, where the models walked down the arched cloisters first in tailoring and then in body-conscious jersey. An asymmetric effect, sensually elegant on dresses that followed the body from bodice to mid-calf, were especially effective. Patterns seemed less exhilarating. But clicking on the Bergdorf Goodman or Neiman Marcus website and finding Atlein is proof that, even without a first runway show under his belt, here is a designer who is one year in the business and already has a global customer clientele.