The AW11 issue of stylish French fashion and culture magazine Mixt(e) carries Serge Leblon’s languidly sumptuous ‘House of Dolls’ shoot, styled by Joanna Schlenzka. It’s a misty, nostalgic affair with the air of a bygone age, a fragile belle époque scenario teetering on the edge of exhaustion with ennui. The fashion, however, is entirely up-to-date.
It’s ethereal faded tones – like some beautiful flower pressed between the leaves of a leather-bound tome before finally being rediscovered- are the perfect match for the muted and rather historic silhouettes selected from the likes of Chanel, Kenzo, Emilio Cavallini, Roberto Cavalli and cult British milliner Noel Stewart.
The hats, incidentally, are one of the key ingredients of the story, underscoring just how much this season’s collections connect with the fashions of the early and mid-twentieth century’s foray into creating a modernist image of fashion. Perhaps nothing captures this more succinctly than the double-page spread in which models Iris Eliza Egbers and Elise Schwimmel flamboyantly flop around a rich early modern interior in stunning creations from Jean Paul Gaultier, Prada and Dries Van Noten, all of which revisit the craze for cubism in textiles that characterized the fashion of the 1920’s. It’s a bit like encountering a double vision of Dominique Sanda’s deliciously unruly Futurist rebel in Bertolucci’s classic ‘1900’; too bored by the restraints of society and its irrelevant values, she only wants to live for a future of excitement.
One of the particularly striking aspects of this stunning fashion shoot is how it cleverly plays with the formal qualities of the textiles that pepper this season’s dark and muted palette. Harlequin diagonal prints and even tartans are brought together with the bold geometric prints evocative of 1920’s fashion in a subtle and clever way that all become something new and fresh. A similar conceptualization of the fluffy knits, pelts and furs that are a key feature of the season –and no one will complain at their promise of warmth- as something that is connected with early and mid-twentieth century design, yet entirely contemporary, is brought beautifully into focus by the very careful choice of location. The particular interior, with its sleek wood finishes and objets d’art, captures that exact moment in design history on the cusp of tradition and the modern. This frisson is mimicked in our recognizing what about the season’s silhouettes are familiar and retro in contrast to what is entirely new.
There is also a certain way in which this shoot becomes a kind of alternative to some of the pervading rumours about the future direction of fashion. If the idea that we are about to see a mass reappearance of hippie chic is already old news, it’s as if Mixt(e) offers a classic up-market French take. No, it says, why have the folksy version of hippie chic when, instead, you can look back still further to the original icons of modernist Bohemian style.