48 Hours With London’s Favorite Off-Beat Designer
Christopher Kane, the Glasgow-born designer whose collections have been an undisputed London Fashion Week highlight for just over a decade, is fitting a model in a bubblegum-pink damask dress. The fabric is a little bit bridesmaid-y, the type of thing you might expect of another designer who’s been in the business longer, and dresses a woman just a little bit older. It could also be upholstering a chair in a royal residence. But then Kane, 34, puts a pair of foam-rubber Croc clogs on the model’s feet. They are lined with mink —but the affect is still jarring. “These caused outrage,” he says in his strong Scottish accent, referring to the bejewelled Crocs he showed in his spring/summer 2017 collection, which he has updated for fall. He recalls a few of the unprintable comments left on his Instagram account. Then he laughs. “I feel like Kim Kardashian!”
Despite his affinity for Crocs, Kane isn’t interested in courting controversy, but he does enjoy pushing people’s buttons. He is drawn to the unusual, the off-kilter — to unexpected, and often neglected, sources of inspiration for fashion shows. He based one collection on hoarders, and another on “Crocodile Dundee” meeting Sissy Spacek in “Carrie.” His Central Saint Martins graduation collection — and much of his first show, for spring/summer 2007 — consisted of tight Versace-influenced mini-dresses made from pantyhose material and cheap stretch lace and brightly colored elastic usually used in sportswear detailing. Eleven years later, and two days before his fall show, Kane talks through the mix of fabrics and themes at play for his latest collection. Like the mink-lined Crocs, the collection feels more luxurious than that first show, but still a touch off. It includes a bunch of silk-taffeta in two-toned jewel shades. “Really beautiful iridescence, like a bluebottle, or a fly’s eye,” he says, skipping a beat. “Because I don’t want to ever mention a butterfly. That makes me want to vomit. I’d rather talk about a fly’s eyeball!”
The rest of the looks contain the weirdo combinations the designer has made something of a signature, a kind of fashion bricolage where a silk taffeta dress may be velcroed along the seams like a stripper’s tear-away pants, where a gabardine trench inexplicably sports a giant holographic sequinned flower on a pocket or where an otherwise prim silk cocktail dress has alien-shaped chunks chomped out of its body and is paired with those controversial Crocs.
It is in these final 48 hours before the show that Kane and his older sister Tammy, 38 — who also serves as the brand’s deputy creative director and who has worked alongside him since the label was established in 2006 — finalize the models’ looks. In their studio space, spread over four floors of an East London building, there’s an odd combination of high fashion and familiar coziness. On the linoleum floor sits Bruce Tito, Kane’s four-week old Boston terrier, as models circulate in elegant evening dresses. There’s a table heaving with handbags, the trapping of Kane’s position in the portfolio of labels owned by the luxury conglomerate Kering (they purchased a 51 percent stake in 2013). A shipment of shoes arrives from London’s Stanstead Airport, covered with foam. The foam may seem just like the packaging, but is actually an integral part of the design: Comfort is the idea, similar to Crocs. (The foam was painstakingly shaved to a suitable thickness.) That characterizes Kane’s approach: unusual ideas, executed with couture levels of precision.
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