As the hurricane-strength winds of Storm Eunice descended this morning, canceled trains and a stay-at-home warning from mayor Sadiq Khan may not have provided the most auspicious start to London Fashion Week. But within the confines of the 19th-century church in Pimlico where Bora Aksu showed his latest collection of whimsical tulle and taffeta confections, as the light streamed through stained glass windows while Gloria de Oliveira sang a sweetly mournful cover of PJ Harvey’s “Down By the Water,” you’d be forgiven for thinking there was no storm at all.
Continuing his thread of taking overlooked women from history as a starting point—last season that was the extravagant Dutch socialite Mathilde Willink—Aksu paid homage to the writer, poet, and historian Christine de Pizan, a 14th-century Italian noblewoman who served at the court of King Charles VI of France, and whose texts are recognized as some of the earliest feminist writings in history (if such a term can be applied to the late medieval period, anyway). It provided a perfect jumping-off point for Aksu’s frothy brand of romanticism, as well as the basis for a steelier subtext to the collection, rooted in tailoring details and a gentle touch of grunge.
“We wanted to take Christine and bring her into the 1990s,” said Aksu of the collection’s unexpected time warp. “I felt there was a parallel with the strength and freedom of the ’90s woman, and that attitude where you don’t really care what society thinks of you. We took that early Renaissance look and toughened it up a little bit.” To wit, his layered gowns with their full sleeves and billowing skirts were styled with stompy lace-up boots, while his models came with choppy bobs and kohl-rimmed eyelids. More interesting, perhaps, were the rich interplays of texture Aksu toyed around with this season—tweed and broderie anglaise, moiré silk and crystal embroideries—with many of the dresses built up from upcycled offcuts. Some of these constituent parts came artfully worn or stained, adding a touch of lived-in seaminess that nicely offset some of the looks that would otherwise have erred towards the saccharine.
Aksu also brought a touch of gentle humor to the collection, looking to a portrait of de Pizan in which she sits at her writing table accompanied by her beloved dog, the latter reappearing as handbags crafted from stuffed gingham and belt details in colorful plaids. The storm may have been swirling outside, but with his preternatural calm and infectious sense of cheer—even while playfully clashing together women from across the centuries—Aksu must have been sitting right in its eye.