#SuzyLFW Erdem: A New Slant On Diversity
While researching his Spring/Summer 2019 collection, Erdem came across the story of Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton - known as "Fanny" and "Stella" - Victorian-era clerks who lived as women in order to be together. They were taken to court in the 1870s but acquittedFrederick Spalding [Detail] / Courtesy of Essex Record Office
Gender is the most explosive subject in fashion today. For years, decades – even centuries – “devious” sexual orientation was hidden, or, if discovered, was considered a crime.
So the strange spirit engulfing the Erdem show was both open and secret at the same time. Among the boldly tailored trouser suits or prim, Edwardian-style dresses with satin bows at the back, trickling down the spine, weren’t there some odd men out? The accent being “men”.
Backstage Erdem Moralioglu unveiled the story he had found, as he does each season. Plumb in the middle of his research into the Victorian era was the arrest of two men, dressed as women, known in notorious nightclubs as Fanny and Stella. Unlikely, but true, is the fact that they were let off “the abominable crime of buggery”. The rest of their lives were genderless, as were many other hidden movements away from strict propriety.
The story is fascinating – so relevant today, yet a part of history.
Could the same be said of Erdem’s collection? The models walked through the National Portrait Gallery, past the statue of a loved-up Queen Victoria and her husband Albert in Anglo-Saxon dress, carved by sculptor William Theed.
The male/female thing, transferred to the clothes, produced on the one hand, mannish tailoring with wide-shouldered Prince-of-Wales check trouser suits; on the other was a slithering crepe coat or shiny satin dress, both running down to the ankles.
There were some shorter hemlines, which was where I thought I saw some hairy male legs. But the bulk of the clothes swooshed across the floor and had grandiose, colourful touches such as flamingo-pink ribbons.
Erdem said that the collection swung from the repressed Victorian times to the hedonism of the Nineties club scene. Victoriana seemed the winner.
“I fell in love with this story of creatures of the night who dabbled in theatre –Stella and Fanny had a powerful love story,” Erdem said after the show. “I was looking at cross-dressing in the National Portrait Gallery archive and discovered that women dressed up as men in Victorian times. Then I imagined Stella and Fanny alive today. They would have been so cool.”
“I wanted something that felt joyful, but odd,” the designer continued. “Even the lace boater hats in the Victorian era were about hiding the face.”
Maybe Erdem had studied too deeply the idea of concealing identity, for our own current and contemporary age barely came through in this elegant but stage-y collection.
Yet when the clothes hit the stores – without the Victorian extras – they will seem much more like Erdem’s whimsical, modern style.