Charlotte Knowles and Alexandre Arsenault tell us the story behind their collaboration with the London-born photographer and their 1970s, ‘flower power’-inspired new collection
In the midst of a pandemic and a fashion industry facing an unprecedented present and uncertain future, Charlotte Knowles – alongside her partner Alexandre Arsenault – forged forward yesterday with a hopeful new collection entitled PETALS, presented digitally as a short film by London-born photographer and director Harley Weir which closed out London Fashion Week’s part-physical, mostly digital Spring/Summer 2021 season.
In the film – which also saw a collaboration with the make-up artist Thomas de Kluyver, who is global make-up artist for Gucci Beauty – models spin ceaselessly to a pulsing, glitchy soundtrack by Freeka Tet, the cyclic nature of the movement a nod to the frenetic, disorientating pace of today’s fashion industry. But from this neverending cycle there is hope: interspersed throughout the film is time-lapse footage, taken over several days by Weir, of flowers coming into full bloom. Regeneration, regrowth – these were ideas on the minds of Knowles and Arsenault after the outbreak of the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns, which the designers took as time to slow down, to focus on craft: meticulous whip-stitched leather and suede, hand-braided jersey, prints made from scratch, as well as painstakingly developed eco-friendly and new-this-season jeans, all feature (the designers say they were looking towards the ‘flower power’ movements of the 1960s and 70s, and their DIY aesthetic). “It’s a chance to re-evaluate things, slow down and do things in a slightly different way, which is refreshing,” says Knowles.
Here, alongside the Petals short film – styled by Georgia Pendlebury – Knowles and Arsenault speak about the label’s Spring/Summer 2021 collection, in their own words.
“Last season was really reactionary. We felt like we were fighting, a bit like ‘get out of my way’, pushing back against what was happening. And then, obviously, Covid hit. This season, when we started designing, we were in lockdown and working remotely from each other. We were feeling super uneasy, especially about not being together, so research became a form of therapy and a source of joy for us, in a way. We were trying to find really positive imagery: beautiful things, crafty techniques, a lot of 1970s references, ‘flower power’. We wanted this collection to be more positive than collections we’ve done in the past, more uplifting. The prints are very acid, quite loud and playful. And there’s always those 00s references in our work – that cheeky, sassy vibe.
“In the lookbook, all the models have a slightly fake version of their eye colour to create this sense of artificiality. During lockdown, everyone was really close to each other but it was very artificial, this digital ‘togetherness’ through Instagram and social media. We wanted to capture that strange feeling.
“We first worked with Harley Weir on Void for 1Granary a few years ago. We knew we wanted to work with her again, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity because we felt like she’d vibe with the ethereal, bohemian energy of the collection. The idea behind the Petals film is that things were spinning so fast, almost out of control, within the whole fashion industry. It’s also about the cyclical nature of the industry, that feeling of always trying to catch up. In the film, the models are on this spinning platform and the colours build until they’re bathed in a deep red. The looks are interspersed with these time-lapse videos of flowers blooming, which represent how we feel at the moment. It’s been nice to take a step back, re-evaluate things, slow down, and do things in a different way.
“Usually with a regular runway show, because we’re such a small brand, there are so many limitations in terms of budget or resources in the way of truly conveying the season’s message. You either try to do it with music or with pace or with casting. But through video, we were able to go full-on and really convey the emotion of the collection.
“In terms of the pandemic, it’s quite scary moving forward. No one knows exactly what’s going to happen yet. We do think that, moving forward, the main thing that will affect our work is Brexit, rather than Covid. That will have much more of a fundamental impact on so many things.”