The Autumn/Winter 2019 Mary Katrantzou collection takes inspiration from the classical elements of Ioanian philosophy, as defined by Empedocles - earth, wind, fire, water. First devised in the fifth century BC, Empedoclean theories provide the premise for cosmogony, theorising the foundation of the universe.
Today, it has been replaced by the modern hypothesis of the ‘Big Bang’, the expansion of the universe from an origin of primordial singularity, its constant evolution. Still, the elements remain, as building blocks of life.
The human body itself is founded in the elemental. Those notions establish a basis for the collection, of silhouettes, patterns, decorative motifs. Together they evoke primal instincts: aggression, protection, seduction. A shift from last season’s exploration of the objective, this time towards the intangible, from ephemera to the ephemeral.
Clothes consume the body, fusing form with fabric, the woman with the elements. There is a tension between control and release, narrow and compressed shapes contrasting with nebulous supernovae of drifting feathers and exploded ruffles moving away from a body, like Hubble’s law. Resembling balls of energy, they surround the woman in a shimmering chimera of kinetic motion.
Ombré effects romantically evoke dawn and dusk, the shifting of the moon and sun, a shimmering horizon. They are compressed into tailoring, expanded into cumulus gowns. The elements are ideologically expressed - airy volume, fluidity, ruffles licking across the body, immolating the silhouette - and visually. Water droplets, flames, cumulonimbus clouds, all influence patterns engineered to map the figure.
Macro photography of fissures in the earth are translated into intricate jacquards, leather intarsia, knits and embroideries integrating Swarovski crystal. Land leads to landscapes, horizons woven into panoramic jacquards, expansive views. Topography of the earth is translated to the topography of a woman, from clothing through to footwear created in collaboration with Jimmy Choo.
The creation myth is examined through hyperreal collages, combining flora and fauna in fantastical fusions expressive of a new, imaginary universe and glistening with a constellation of Swarovski crystals embroidery across dresses scissored around the body to animate.
Throughout, boundaries are broken down between evening and day, between materiality: just as colours diffuse, materials melt from opaque to transparent, flat to meandering ruffles, fabric and faux fur striating into ostrich-feather appliqué like comets’ tails trailing away from the body.
Alongside the four elements, there was postulated by Aristotle to exist another - a fifth element, the first, dubbed æther, or quintessence, filling the universe above the terrestrial sphere. Luminiferous, unreal, a medium through which light could travel - in mythology, it was a pure essence breathed by the gods.
Here, it inspires a series of surreal finale gowns, dissolving fabric into vaporous trails of organza that frame the form shaded with an aurora borealis of rainbow hues, and finally the subdued shades of midnight black and a twilight grey, dawn treading. The power of the elements, the quintessential beauty of celestial bodies divine.