Christopher Kane S/S16

Christopher Kane: Plastic Psychodrama

London's wunderkind pays tribute to art therapy and mental recuperation for S/S16, with his emotionally charged 'Crash and Repair' collection

Christopher Kane S/S16Photography by Sam Rock

To get to Christopher Kane's S/S16 fashion show, nestled in the heart of the city, you had to ascend hundreds of glossy steel stairs to reach The Sky Garden. Once there, one couldn't help but look outside, across the foggy skyline with the Gherkin looming in the mist, East London submerged in clouds. “I love how gloomy it is up here," said Kane after the show. "I didn’t want sun. Bring on the storm!” As the rain fell outside and a soundtrack of pounding music started up (including tracks from Kin to Coal by Vessel and Blawan by Peaches) a metaphorical fog was lifted and the ideas of one of London’s most prolific designers revealed themselves with clarity through his latest collection. It’s a lucidity achieved after what has been a tumultuous year for 33-year-old Kane, having lost his mother and his long-term mentor, Louise Wilson – but from sadness came a renewed vigour that saw his well-established tropes emerge stronger and tougher than ever. 

Outsider Art, Outsider Fashion
“Tammy [Kane's sister and creative partner] and I used to do art therapy together years ago,” explained Kane. “Forget art galleries – that is some of the best work I’ve ever seen. So the collection was inspired by this outside person: broken and damaged but with an amazing imagination.” Kane isn’t a designer that throws out lofty art references for the sake of it. By looking at the piled-up car crashes of sculptor John Chamberlain as well as the outsider artist Scottie Wilson, Kane was trying to eke out the process and mindset that he describes as “New Primitivism”, where the outsider approach to art is applied to clothes in a liberating fashion. Stitches on a silk shirt are chaotic, appearing as though the sewing machine used spun out of control. Chunky, hand-knitted sweaters came with haphazardly stitched elbow patches. Fringing, which Kane generally dislikes because it’s a bit “shitty and fa-fa” was applied as though it were an accidental brush stroke. 

For Kane, these clothes are “damaged goods” but they’re for a real person he knows intimately. “I grew up around that woman and she’s damaged,” said Kane. "I’ll never say who she is, but she’s very real to me.” There’s something brave about describing one’s collection as a “car crash” but Kane knows how to speed into the fast lane of so-wrong-it’s-right territory precisely because his codes and motifs have been so clearly defined and refined early on in his career.

"I grew up around that woman and she’s damaged." – Christopher Kane

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Christopher Kane S/S16
Christopher Kane S/S16Photography by Sam Rock

Acid, Not Neon
Kane was keen to emphasise that the shades of highlighter orange, green and yellow were not “neon”, but acid – the difference being that there’s a darker undertone to these exuberant colours. There were fuchsias and electric blues thrown in as well, as seen in the finale looks of fractured lace dresses which were a carry over from last season, inspired by life drawing and body alchemy. Kane has maintained an affinity for these acidic hues ever since his explosive graduate collection back in 2007, which then evolved into a collection inspired by Princess Margaret on acid for S/S11.  At the time, Kane said "Neon gets me going. Every other color is so banal.” Kane is never shy with his palette, constantly flirting with the boundaries of an aesthetic danger zone.  Nor is he scared of using every colour all in one go, as seen in the rainbow graffiti dresses and biker jackets which looked like they had been lifted from a Chamberlain sculpture. The smears of vivid colours looked menacing as opposed to joyful. 

"Neon gets me going. Every other color is so banal.” – Christopher Kane

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Christopher Kane S/S16
Christopher Kane S/S16Photography by Sam Rock

Plastic Fantastic
Kane’s preoccupation with unusual plastic materials can be traced back to his graduate collection, when safety belts straight from a baby car seat popped up as belts on dresses (it’s still a stable motif of the brand). Equally notable was his A/W11 collection, which featured brightly coloured plastic pouches filled with glycerine and vegetable oil, inspired by kitschy pencil cases – and in S/S12, puffed-up girly floral stickers were stuck all over skirts. This time round, Kane wanted a spiky plastic element, to echo the brusque nature of his outsider artists. Instead of looking back at sweet teenage nostalgia, Kane looked instead to his contemporary surroundings instead. Bring forth the cable ties, which like the plastic flowers and gel-filled pouches of the past, will now be entrenched as the symbol of this particular collection. They came jutting out from the necks and wrists, as well being practically used as used as fasteners on skirts. 

“I was thinking about the mentally ill – especially in Hackney – and how they’re restrained,” explained Kane.  Journalists backstage seemed eager to have plastic cutting into skin as they enquired whether these multi-coloured ties would be available to buy.  Clear jelly-like panels also appeared as cut-outs on colour block dresses and as enlarged hobo bags, echoed by the metallic mirrored surfaces of Michael Howells’ gleaming set.  Whilst it wasn’t the only main theme of the collection, Kane’s plastic was the big take away from the show, snaking its length around your head and giving it a seductive squeeze before you even knew it.  

“I was thinking about the mentally ill – especially in Hackney – and how they’re restrained." – Christopher Kane

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Christopher Kane S/S16
Christopher Kane S/S16Photography by Sam Rock