It is a rare but incredible privilege in the fashion world to be present at the very moment when a designer transforms into a true artist, I had that moment during London Fashion Week with Alistair James. The eponymous label is the lovechild of design duo Nicholas Alistair Walsh and David James Wise. Their unique charm, whimsical style and quintessentially British sense of humour translate into truly outstanding designs that capture the future of British fashion whilst also paying homage to its roots.
Nicholas and David met while working at Alexander McQueen, and his influence is evident in both their designs and their method. Story and narrative always play an integral part for Alistair James, with each collection focusing on a very specific piece of inspiration whilst also fitting perfectly into the over-arching story of the brand as a whole. These narratives are often conveyed through David’s meticulously hand-drawn patterns, which pair effortlessly with the strong feminine silhouettes that the duo create with every garment.
In the case of AW17 this story takes the form of ‘a love letter to the Bronte sisters’, in particular Emily and her iconic novel, Wuthering Heights. Rather than simply re-imaging garments from the time, Alistair James have created a collection for the modern-day Cathy Linton and the 21st Century Bronte sister. The Alistair James woman is free-spirited, curious and above all else independent, the garments in this collection challenge classic proportions and silhouettes in the same way that Emily Bronte challenged views of femininity and womanhood back in 1847.
The collection as a whole is simply breathtaking and encompasses a range of garments, from shirting with dramatic deconstructed tailoring to a floor-length sheer tulle gown that adds a macabre glamour to the collection. There are however two clear highlights for me, the ‘Heathcliff’ jumper-dress and the patterning used on several of the pieces.
Firstly, the ‘Heathcliff’ jumper-dress. This garment is sleek and simple and yet it manages to carve a strong and imposing figure that stands out from the crowd. The dress, with its puffed sleeves, side slits and crimson embroidery set against a stark black backdrop,is sure to be an instant cult buy for the label. The embroidery itself is simply the word ‘Heathcliff’, written in intricate lettering that is reminiscent of medieval calligraphy with a distinctly Gothic edge.
Patterning plays a key role in the Alistair James AW17 collection, much as it has in their previous work, acting to both enhance the garments individually whilst also anchoring them to the narrative of the whole collection. This time the patterning comes in two forms, the first depicts the Bronte sisters frolicking through the gardens, with only the shrubbery protecting their modesty. This pattern is both a celebration of the female form and also a subtle jibe from Emily Bronte to her comparatively prudish and conservative sisters. The pattern adds the signature whimsy of Alistair James to the elegance and strength their garments evoke.
The second pattern focuses once again on Heathcliff and his eyes, depicted in blue, staring across the otherwise red-toned moors. This pattern captures the other side of Alistair James, the side that for me is reminiscent of designers like McQueen, it is dark, intimidating and gloriously enticing at the same time.
The overarching theme of Alistair James collections has always been the strength of women, and the adversity that this strength inevitably encounters. Their first two collections were focused on magic and witchcraft, something that was used to condemn women for more than a millennia. However, what the duo found within these women strength and resilience, a revolutionary character that was often far ahead of her time. Whilst the theme of magic is less present in AW17, the idea of feminine strength is as prominent as ever, both through the narrative of the collection and pieces themselves. Nick and David somehow manage to create clothing that is lustful and seductive but is not classically ‘sexy’, garments that elevate and strengthen the wearer.
Who can say just what the future holds for Alistair James? All I know is that I’ll be watching and waiting with anticipation, excitement and glee to hear what’s coming next.
See you soon,