#SuzyPFW Poetry In Motion: Rahul Mishra And Olivier Theyskens

Rahul Mishra: White as colour

India in the 1980s: Black and white TV; bedcovers made into gossamer white curtains, filtering the burning sun; the makers of this handwork wearing crisp blue and white.

Rahul Mishra can tell you every object or experience that inspired his Spring/Summer 2019 collection – from taking his three-year-old daughter to the countryside, where she sketched hydrangeas, to thinking back to his own childhood when his mother would open a trunk full of curtains, saris, and Daraz-work from Lucknow in northern India. That skill of ultra-delicate embroidery is now in the hands of the last few remaining artisans.

The Indian designer speaks like a poet, and this collection appeared on the runway seeming so fresh and simple that it stood out against its presentation in the richly gilded Mona Bismarck Cultural Centre in Paris.

The show opened with all-white shirts, a long pleated skirt, and a jacket – each revealing a traditional Indian skill – but looking like a breezy summer wardrobe.

That was true also for a slim, white ankle-length dress, or a long pleated skirt with a firmly shaped lace blazer. For the feet, there were slipper sandals.

“My job is to make simplified things, so my clients can layer them, wear them like a dress or maybe wear them individually. It’s all about making interesting shapes and separates,” Rahul said backstage, showing me the delicacy of the Lucknow lace or a chiffon dress, cut on the bias with clusters of embroidered wild flowers.

There is also a lot of tailoring, inspired by the Indian tradition of pattern making. Here, the shaping (normally only applied to male clothing in India) is done using tailoring techniques.

These masculine influences included a white blazer with handwork stitching, a mannish shirt – the sleeves embroidered with white lines – or a tailored jacket shading into an almost transparent skirt dotted with wild flowers. The bright navy effects on white also had a crisp look and the entire collection turned a straight back on the Indian sari’s basic concept of drape and shape.

In his nostalgia for the India of his childhood, the designer might seem to be drowning in a romantic view of his country’s past. Yet his work with traditional craftsmanship produced fine examples of modern fashion – the apparently simple beginning easier to digest than the more elaborate evening looks.

But Rahul Mishra is a rare Indian designer to bring his creativity literally and figuratively away from his homeland.

And he could not do it with more grace and poetry, writing in the show notes, “When memory’s floodgates are open-ended, you are confronted with the decision of details, preserved somewhere in your being – like the dew drops on lotus leaves.”

Olivier Theyskens: Haunted by images

“She Walks in Beauty” was the title of an exhibition of Olivier Theyskens, held this time last year at MoMu in Antwerp. The Belgian designer’s darkly romantic vision had entranced Madonna back in 1998 and his work for the French house of Rochas marked him as an interpreter of Gothic romance.

But for Spring/Summer 2019, Theyskens stepped more deeply from the exquisite to the discomforting: a long-sleeved coat-dress in dirty purple moving graduating towards the green of ageing oxidised copper; what looked like leather harnesses on the back.

Above all – and at this time, when male attitudes to women are a particularly sensitive subject – the designer printed dresses with a focus on female nudity. Naked figures, and their writhing printed over actual female bodies, suggested a discomforting vision of women, inspired by Hans Bellmer, the German artist with a fetish vision best known for the fetishised pubescent female dolls that he produced in the 1930s.

“I never integrate art or elements of art in my work, but I had this thing with Bellmer, the artist-photographer,” said Theyskens. “Some of his photographs were really haunting me and I wanted to integrate parts of them to create this girl out of it. And I wanted to explore some technical things with the ribbons.”

And those “harness waistcoats”? The designer said he wanted to “have something on the top of the jacket that was a little bit feminine but a bit like a hiker”.

The collection still had the kind of dark beauty that is Theyskens’ signature. But I left the show feeling that there was a story within a story that was difficult to grasp.