In emulating the French, we rarely succeed. Were Gustave Eiffel alive today he'd no doubt feel like he'd dropped a tab of extremely bad acid were he ever to go near Blackpool. Gourmands tell me they'd rather have a ham-fisted butcher reach inside their own bowels and give them an andouille-style purge than eat in any of South Ken's brasseries authentique. Even the Parisian-style sex soirees this writer may or may not have been to in a former Bourbon aristo's London mansion are always besmirched by British tarts, sporting a wheelbarrow's worth of slapped on Rimmel and sweat-stained Rigby & Peller shape-wear.
We have, however, with London Fashion Week, happily stolen a march on those languid frogs. While they've been getting minimal and wearable and rolling over like little Justine for the nouveaux riches of the East with their penetrating purchasing power and commercial tastes, the Old Smoke has been exhibiting the sort of creativity and panache not seen in Paris since the opium-addled fantasies of Chanel, or, at least since the downfall of John Galliano. Finally our schedule can boast a designer able to marry art and fashion as well as Schiaparelli did with Cocteau and Dali, and that maitresse of elegance is Holly Fulton.
Now preparing for her 8th show since her much lauded Royal College of Art 2009 MA collection, Holly inhabits a jersey-silk-draped atelier in East London's Centre for Fashion Enterprise, also the spawning pool of Erdem and Marios Schwab. Entering her studio-lair, one is confronted by prints so mesmerising that it is easy to fall into a sort of trance. Intricate and art-deco-ish, their forms are just as streamlined as the exquisitely cut dresses that crowd the rails in a orgy of colour. Boldly oversized perspex necklaces set with mother-of-pearl hang so tantalisingly from mannequins that wandering hands must be checked. Sumptuous mongolian goat fur bags are even more pleasing to the touch. Overall, one would be forgiven for feeling the ghosts of the Bright Young Things of the 1920's and Gianni Versace had got together to haunt one's waking hours.
'The inspiration for the last collection was Coco Chanel's highland romp with the Duke of Westminster.' explains Holly, a pre-War jolly on which by all accounts there was as much 'chasing of the dragon' as deer stalking, as she indicates the swirling smoky motifs of the prints. Fulton herself a Scot, hails from Edinburgh, where she studied fine art, a metier evident in her masterfully designed prints. Much like the great Schiaparelli, Fulton is influenced by her own artistic mentors. 'Eduardo Paolozzi is the artist I love; his pop eclecticism never fails to excite me.' Paolozzi's 1940's work 'I was a rich man's plaything' was essentially the first piece of pop-art and such a slyly deviant influence can be seen in the overlaying of Fulton's art-deco designs with graphics of fiercely pouting lips and invitingly-open legs.
Fulton also worked at as jewelry designer at Lanvin in Paris, giving her access to the house's archive from which she also draws her own inspiration. 'Alber (Elbaz) is wonderful in how he empowers his women with the cut and form of the clothes, but he's not so much about what Jeanne Lanvin did in the 20s and 30s which was my favourite period.' Madame Lanvin pioneered the use of beading, a floral colour palette and magnificent embroidery, thus Holly, whilst she'd be too modest to admit it, is carrying on a legacy of inventiveness and colour that the Parisian house, along with many of its peers, has forsaken.
'London is a great place to be if you actually need things to happen when you're starting. I love Paris, but there just isn't that sort of support there. People like Lulu Kennedy (MBE, founder of Fashion East) are amazing at finding funding.' There is also a certain abandonment here, a sense of indulging fantasy whatever the reality of one's surroundings, exemplified by soirees of tranny-filled Shoreditch where Holly's chums and fellow designers can be seen louching it up par excellence, with the late-BoomBox frequented by Gareth Pugh and even Jean Paul Gaultier.
Describing one collection as based on a girl who spends all her money on Milanese finery and then has to go to Margate clad in Moschino on her holidays, Holly reveals 'that was a true story, I couldn't afford to go abroad after a splurge on clothes. Ideally I'd've liked to have been somewhere 30's and colonial, or back to Los Angeles where I went for the first time this year.' Certainly, beholding the azure finery of her S/S 13 show last week, I could see the shimmering of the Pacific and the python-skin textures of the So-Cal desert, blended masterfully together with the badges and targets of pop-artist Peter Blake, creating, with gay abandon, the hybrid-styles that make Holly so original. The generous silhouettes too were a world away from last season, illustrating her ingenuity. 'I was really inspired by Patti McGee, the first female skateboarder in the sixties, so there's a looser silhouette and board shorts and sweat shirting, but used with fine leather and printed silks in a way that's still super-luxe.' explained Holly as the rest of the fashion pack tried to get a piece of her backstage, At least I think that's what her final words were, because I was far too fixated by a model wriggling out of one of her pink see-through plastic cup-cake dress covered in floral sequin embroidery. A creation of which the likes of Jeanne or Schiap' would have been proud.
View the Holly Fulton SS'12 Collection Here
Words - Sigmund Oakeshott
Studio Images - Aris Vrakas
Catwalk Images - Courtesy HollyFulton.com