Monday 3 July 2023

Paris Haute Couture Autumn/Winter 2023-24: Iris van Herpen's Futuristic Fashion Inspired by Aquatic Architecture

Exciting biodynamic shapes, futuristic techniques and beautiful materials, inspired by aquatic urbanism, were key to the new haute couture collection by Iris van Herpen. Main photograph above and cover picture by Elli Ioannou for DAM

Iris van Herpen's Autumn/Winter 2023-24 haute couture collection, presented in Paris, drew inspiration from architects, oceanographers, and futuristic floating cities, her creations blurred the boundaries between fashion and architecture. With a palette that echoed the ocean's hues and designs that mirrored the adaptability of marine life, the show took us on a journey through uncharted waters, towards a future where we live on both land and sea, writes Antonio Visconti. Photography by Elli Ioannou

Laser cut designs in sea-colored 
hues suggest architectural forms for
ocean living. 
At the heart of her latest collection, called Architectonics, is Dutch designer Iris van Herpen's exploration of aquatic urbanism. Inspired by the works of Jacques Rougerie, van Herpen bridges the gap between scientific exploration and fashion innovation. 

The collection pays homage to Rougerie's underwater habitats and floating laboratories, translating their structural intricacies into wearable art. Another significant influence is the revolutionary 'Oceanix' floating city in South Korea, designed by architect Bjarke Ingels, which integrates sustainability principles into waterborne urbanism. Vincent Callebaut's ocean architecture projects, including 'Lilypad' and 'Oceanscrapers,' further informed van Herpen's ideas, showcasing the synergy between architectural design, fashion and ecological preservation. 

The Autumn/Winter 2023-24 show was held in the beautiful gardens of the Hôtel d'Avaray, an 18th century mansion located in rue de Grenelle, in the 7th arrondissement of Paris, in the Île-de-France (see below). Built in 1718-20 for the Marquis d'Avaray, it was designed by the architect Jean-Baptiste Leroux. Although it remained in the Avaray family until 1920, it has since been the property of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which made it its embassy from 1920 to 1973. More recently it has served as the ambassador's residence.

The collection pays homage to underwater habitats and floating laboratories, translating their structural intricacies into wearable art

Dutch designer Iris van Herpen wears one 
of her new creations in the gardens of the 
Netherlands ambassador's residence in Paris

A Chromatic Harmony:
Van Herpen showed the 17 new designs amid the greenery, which enhanced the ideas behind her ecological themes. The striking gowns have her signature combination of futuristic technique with an ethereal elegance that makes them seem from another world. 

The laser cut and shaped bodies formed the "trunk" of the tree with the "branches" forming shimmering extrusions around the head and body.  The fluidity of diaphanous fabrics gave the designs the flow and movement that suggest the sea.  

Fashion and Futuristic Urbanism: 
The collection's avant-garde ethos resonates with a radical shift in urban planning and new concepts for more resilient cities of the future. Embracing principles of parametric architecture, the designs embody fluidity, fragmentation, and dynamic patterns. 

Explosive interplays of light and shadow dance around the body, while fractal forms and distorted perspectives redefine conventional fashion boundaries. Van Herpen's fusion of new ideas about fashion and floating architecture is a testament to the designer's commitment to pushing the limits of creativity and innovation. 

The striking gowns have van Herpen's signature combination of futuristic technique and ethereal elegance 
Abalone shell flakes form a
glimmering sheen on this 
striking design

Cutting-edge Techniques:
The collection introduces revolutionary couture techniques that intertwine fashion and architecture. The 'Biophilic' technique involves the intricate bonding of architectural structures to create molds for injecting marble-textured silicone. Abalone shell flakes are hand-inlaid culminating in a play of textures and iridescence (see at left). 

The 'Oceanix' includes graphic polygon patterns that deconstruct and evolve with the body's movement. 'Sensorama,' characterized by 3D fractal formations, creates seductive cutouts within sculptural silhouettes. 

Aquatic Harmony and Elegance: 
The harmonious color palette of the collection embraces oceanic hues, ranging from mint-green and abalone-blue to pearlescent shell shades. Graphic contrasts of white and black are accented with metallic detailing in silver, bronze, and gold. 

The collection's boots were created through digital modeling and 3D printing in collaboration with Scry, along with face jewelry co-designed with Malakai and Rinaldy Yunardi. Each piece tries to express the idea of waterborne urbanism, blurring the lines between human habitation and marine ecosystems. 

The designer challenges us to reimagine our existence and redefine our relationship with the environment

Futuristic face jewellery created 
for the collection with Malakai
and Rinaldy Yunardi. 

Architectural Convergence: 
As concerns over rising sea levels grow, the ideas that inspired van Herpen's work resonate as a response to the urgent need for innovative living spaces. 

With themes drawn from the world's first floating city, and those visionary architects Rougerie and Callebaut, the collection symbolizes a future where humanity seamlessly navigates both land and water. 

Through her work in haute couture, Iris van Herpen challenges us to reimagine our existence and redefine our relationship with the environment, working with ecosystems that define our world.

Bionic architecture has emerged as a response to climate change concerns. This architectural movement integrates biological principles to design self-sufficient structures responsive to environmental shifts. By studying nature's responses to forces, architects create buildings that modify themselves, fostering harmony between society and nature through intricate interactions of form, material, and structure.

Iris van Herpen's Architectonics collection marries these architectural concepts with haute couture, delivering a glimpse into a future where humanity and the oceans can coexist. As our world faces pressing environmental challenges, this collection offers not only a visual feast but also new ideas about creating a more sustainable future. 

Highlights from Iris van Herpen's Architectonics AW 2023-24 Collection in Paris

Subscribe to support our independent and original journalism, photography, artwork and film.

Sunday 25 June 2023

Wooyoungmi: Bridging Cultures through Fashion and Exploring Jeju Island's Contrasting Identities

A translucent and shimmering design with delicate illustrations of the Nomura jellyfish, a highlight of the new Wooyoungmi collection. Main photograph (above) and cover picture by Elli Ioannou.

As the world's attention turns towards South Korea, with the explosion of K-pop, local label Wooyoumgmi's Spring 2024 collection explores the country's culture and the global fascination it inspires. Creative director Madame Woo drew inspiration from the contrasting facets of Jeju Island, showing the dichotomy between the raw and rocky environment of the haenyeo divers and the vibrant party culture adored by the nation's youth, writes Isabella Lancellotti. Photography by Elli Ioannou

Immersed in the blue light of a
metaphorical sea, Wooyoungmi's 
creations glimmered tantalizingly.

Emerging from the inky blue depths of the half-lit 
Théâtre National de Chaillot, in Paris' Place du Trocadéro, the models of the Wooyoungmi show looked as if they were creatures from the sea. 

This was all part of the theme of Madame Woo's new SS24 collection. She was thinking of the resilient female divers from the volcanic South Korean Jeju Island who dive for seafood to support their families, a tradition that dates back to the 17th century. Known as haenyeo, these divers don repurposed garments, layering them under utilitarian diving gear. 

Madame Woo explores the culture of Jeju by juxtaposing two contrasting aspects: the laborious world of the haenyeo and the party atmosphere of the island. 

The collection's silhouettes oscillate between figure-hugging and voluminous shapes and play on the opaque and transparent nature of different materials. Scuba gilets, trousers, and tops embrace a body-conscious line, contrasting with the loose-fitting lightweight tailoring reminiscent of an Eighties summertime sensibility. 

Madame Woo explores the culture of Jeju by juxtaposing two contrasting aspects: the laborious world of the haenyeo and the party atmosphere of the island 

The voluminous shirts and trousers
recalled the '80s party scene
on Jeju Island. 

Madame Woo's keen observation of the connections between her own culture and Europe is another key theme in the collection's narrative. Inspired by history, her designs also draw from the encounter between South Korea and the West in 1628 when a group of Dutchmen were shipwrecked on Jeju. 

Hendrik Hamel, one of the survivors, documented this encounter and published the first account of the kingdom in Europe, in 1668. Recalling this historical event, the collection has a modern take on a 1600s aesthetic with ruffles, ruches, and diaphanous garments. Dutch seaman's hats find parallel expression in the scuba-inspired accessories. 

The collection also embraces the island's natural wonders with scientific illustrations of the Nomura's jellyfish, indigenous to the waters surrounding Jeju, printed on shirts, tops, and even the models' skin. 

Neon-bright graphics recall rave culture and the techno party aesthetic of the island with draped dresses and tops adorned with embroidered tentacles along with voluminous tech workwear and denim pieces.  

Asymmetrically-tied, second-skin tops pay homage to the art of bojagi, a Korean wrapping technique but have the technical construction of a swimsuit. Evocative, translucent materials are used for outerwear, tops, trousers, and skirts, while a resin abstraction of jellyfish is designed as striking jewelry pieces, including necklaces, earrings, and ear cuffs. 

The designer's keen observation of the connections between her own culture and Europe is another key theme in the collection's narrative

This was sleek yet sumptuous collection that 
was both original and very wearable. 
The color palette draws inspiration from the natural landscape of Jeju, incorporating black, brown, navy, slate, light blue, and sunset reds and pinks, invigorated by vibrant electric hits of neon colors.

By intertwining historical narratives, contrasting elements of Jeju's identity, and nature-inspired aesthetics, Madame Woo creates a collection that is both visually captivating and culturally significant. 

This exploration is woven into the collection's silhouettes, materials, and colors, creating a captivating story that reflects the historical meeting between South Korea and the West and the world of the divers and party people of Jeju. 

Subscribe to support our independent and original journalism, photography, artwork and film.

Breaking Boundaries: Henrik Vibskov's New Collection Unboxes Fashion's Conventions and Celebrates 20 Years of Creative Excellence

The vivid orange boxing rings of Henrik Vibskov's presentation at the Lycée Henri-IV in Paris. Main photograph (above) and cover picture of the Wooyoungmi SS24 show by Elli Ioannou for DAM. 

In a departure from conventional inspirations, Danish designer Henrik Vibskov broke new ground with his Spring/Summer 2024 collection, presented in Paris. Drawing from the unexpected realms of cardboard boxes and the art of boxing, Vibskov challenges the limits of creativity and reimagines the concept of packaging. By exploring the symbolic and physical dimensions of boxes, the collection ignites curiosity and prompts us to reconsider the very essence of fashion, writes Antonio Visconti. Photography by Elli Ioannou 

For the new collection, Vibskov was
inspired by both the world of packaging 
and boxing in the ring. 
In a world where fashion constantly seeks inspiration from the unlikeliest sources,
Henrik Vibskov presented a collection that pushes the boundaries of creativity and challenges the notions of packaging. 

For the new SS24 Studio collection, the designer found inspiration in the mundane yet intriguing world of cardboard boxes and the captivating universe of boxing. 

The concept of the box ~ able to both contain and protect precious items during transit ~ resonated deeply with Vibskov. He and his team delved into the significance of boxes, exploring the meticulous act of carefully packing goods, the thrill of sending and receiving packages, and the curious excitement that accompanies the unboxing experience. 

As they explored the ideas, they realized that the human mind has an inherent inclination to sort and categorize, to put things into boxes both physically and symbolically. This unconscious reflex became the driving force behind the collection and reflected this theme in many aspects of the design. 

For the new collection, Henrik Vibskov found inspiration in the mundane yet intriguing world of cardboard boxes and the captivating universe of boxing

The installation of the colorful boxing arena 
created an intriguing space where 
fashion and sport meet. 
The installation of the Vibskov boxing arena in the courtyard of Paris' Lycée Henri-IV was like entering a kaleidoscopic world where fashion and sport collide. The ring, soft and fringed in brilliant orange, pulsated with energy and life. 

Guests were introduced to the fighters ~ Vibskov's creations ~ as they took center stage within ever-changing boxing rings. 

Their movements echo a waltz, gracefully dancing around the rings, inviting viewers to explore the uncharted territories of fashion and self-expression. The collection is even called the Unboxing Waltz Tutorial.

With this new collection, Henrik Vibskov once again proves his ability to challenge conventions and redefines fashion. By drawing inspiration from the world of boxing and the art of unboxing, Vibskov presents a collection that not only celebrates the transient nature of our lives but also promotes sustainability and mindful consumption. 

The designer challenges conventions and redefines fashion, creating a collection that promotes sustainability and mindful consumption

This striking 'boxy' checked suit was part of the 
new SS24 collection. 
Through his innovative designs and conscious choices, Vibskov invites us to unbox not just physical objects but also the symbolic boxes we inhabit, encouraging us to embrace the unexpected and explore the possibilities that lie beyond the confines of tradition.

Dresses and shirts take inspiration from unexpected deliveries, with front and back designs that can be interchanged, blurring the lines between what is expected and what is unconventional. 

Garment details play with the shape of handles, mimicking the practicality of boxes, while textiles reminiscent of bubble wrap add an element of surprise and contrast to the otherwise structured boxy styles. Woven textiles toy with the notion of being in transit or out for delivery.

Prints feature flat unfolded boxes, dynamic collages of boxing rings, and boxing glove flowers: symbolically knocking out preconceived notions and standards. Even the delivery bird makes an appearance, transformed into a peace dove, spreading its message of harmony and unity. 

Vibskov invites us to unbox not just physical objects but also the symbolic boxes we inhabit, encouraging us to embrace the unexpected

This garment (above) has "out for delivery" 
as part of its textile design worn with
an abstracted boxing belt that
 reflects the collection's themes.
To complement the collection, Vibskov collaborated with jewelry designer Vibe Harsløf. The result is an array of silver showpieces and accessories. 

Handmade with intricate detail, these pieces feature silver birds and band aids as pendant earrings, necklaces, and nose pieces. Headpieces adorned with cartoonish birds circling add a touch of whimsy and playfulness to the overall aesthetic. 
In an era where sustainable practices in producing fashion are vital, Henrik Vibskov and his team have made conscious choices to ensure the collection aligns with their environmental values. All fabrics used have been upgraded and transformed to be either recycled or organic. In fact, 83% of the garments in the SS24 collection consist of certified fabrics. Vibskov remains committed to increasing the use of both certified organic textiles and using nontoxic dyes and prints.

The designer believes sustainable practices in producing fashion are vital and has ensured the collection aligns with his environmental values.

The knitwear in deep purples and ochres depicts 
bird in a striking pattern. 
Special to this season's collection was Henrik Vibskov's celebration of his 20th anniversary of artistic endeavors in France. The designer graduated from London's Central St Martin’s in 2001 and two years later, in January 2003, he was made a member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Mode Masculine. 

For more than ten years, Vibskov was the only Danish fashion designer to be on the official show schedule of the Paris Men's Fashion Week. 

Along with his fashion collections, Vibskov has also exhibited at the Hyeres Festival as well as at Galeries de Galeries, Saint Etienne Biennale, Maison du Danemark and Palais de Tokyo. Multi-talented,Vibskov is also a musician, and has played a number of concerts including with electronic artist, Trentemøller, on stage at the Bataclan Theatre in Paris. Other work encompasses designing costumes for Alexander Ekman’s Swanlake shown at Le Théâtre des Champs-Elysées.

Subscribe to support our independent and original journalism, photography, artwork and film.

Friday 23 June 2023

Tradition and Modernity in Homme Plisse Issey Miyake's Spring/Summer 2024 Collection

Wearing a symphony of soft sage greens, a model walks in the new Homme Plisse Issey Miyake SS24 show in Paris at the Louvre's Museum of Decorative Arts. Cover picture and all photographs by Elli Ioannou.

The new Homme Plisse Issey Miyake collection.  showcases the Japanese brand's commitment to innovative design and impeccable craftsmanship. With its fresh color palette, imaginative silhouettes, and intricate pleating techniques, the Spring/Summer 2024 range, presented at Paris Men's Fashion Week, is a testament to a successful fusion of tradition and modernity, writes Antonio Visconti. Photographs by Elli Ioannou

The new garments in the SS24 collection float
above the runway, as the rest are unfurled
below from pleated paper.

The Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, occupies the north wing of the Louvre Palace, known as the Pavillon de Marsan. With over one million objects in its collection, it is the largest museum of decorative arts in continental Europe.

Under the soaring, arcaded ceiling, Issey Miyake latest Homme Plisse men's collection was presented, captivating the audience with its innovative approach to design. 

Called Everyday, One of a Kind, Now and Hereafter, the collection expresses Issey Miyake's originality, drawing inspiration from the art of pleating that has become synonymous with the label. The collection has an array of fresh and simple silhouettes, infused with a vibrant color palette. Embodying Issey Miyake's philosophy, with its combination of purity and technology, the new designs are well suited for quotidian life.

The Spring/Summer 2024 Paris show began with a dramatic spectacle: a giant roll of pleated paper cascaded down the museum gallery, unravelling to reveal meticulously wrapped garments. Accompanying this rather mesmerizing display, the design team emerged onto the catwalk, dressing the models in these carefully crafted pieces. By integrating elements of the pleating process into the scenography, the performance showcased the potential of this technology.

The new collection expresses Issey Miyake's originality, drawing inspiration from the art of pleating that has become synonymous with the label

The brilliantly-hued finale of the show, 
evoking the bright prints of the
Picturesque series.
One of the collection's highlights is the Monthly Colour series, which introduces a selection of hues each month. For this season, the palette offers a harmonious blend of soft and rich shades inspired by the natural world. These colors evoke the tones derived from dyeing organic materials, creating a visually striking ensemble.

The Rectangle series draws its name from the construction of the fabric when it is stretched out. However, when worn, it transforms into an asymmetrical silhouette, with the edges gracefully cascading along the contours of the body. 

The Picturesque range introduces a series of prints depicting naturalistic landscapes such as mountains, wind, and earth. Presented in simple triangular and round shapes, these prints are layered with translucent paints to accentuate the depth and boldness of the colors (see above). This interpretation of nature breathes life into the collection, embodying the spirit of artistic expression.

The Horizon Pleats demonstrates a breakthrough in the brand's pleating technique. By altering the direction of folds, the garments achieve horizontal pleats, infusing the silhouettes with a sense of movement and lightness. Years of experimentation have made this seemingly simple innovation possible, demonstrating the brand's commitment to pushing boundaries and evolving their technology.

Altering the direction of folds, the garments achieve horizontal pleats, infusing the silhouettes with a sense of movement and lightness

One of the standouts of the collections is the
Wing Coat with its graceful lines and 
voluminous silhouette.
Drawing inspiration from the wings of airplanes and birds, the Wing Coat (see at left) offers a visually captivating interpretation of flight. The back vent expands gracefully in the wind, imbuing the garment with a sense of dynamic motion. 

Crafted from a lightweight stretch fabric with a natural texture, these pieces exude an airy and comfortable fit, embodying Issey Miyake's commitment to merging form and function.

The "PL Ramie Shirt" series showcases a design reminiscent of a hood, with added layering at the shoulders. The smooth texture of the fabric enhances the draping effect, resulting in a luxurious feel. Available in three models and varying lengths, these shirts offer versatility for different occasions.

The Edge Ensemble and Edge Light Coat feature a wide accordion pleat that defines its aesthetic. Made from recycled polyester with a subtle sheen and material texture, that lends an ethereal touch to formal attire. Meanwhile, the coat is available in two new models: a trench coat and a hoodie jacket, providing contemporary and stylish options for outerwear enthusiasts.

Drawing inspiration from the wings of airplanes and birds, the Wing Coat offers a visually captivating interpretation of flight

The Edge Coat features a wide accordion 
pleat in recylcled polyester. 
The new footwear in the collection includesge, the Like Loafers line which offers a moccasin designed for comfort and versatility. 

Crafted from elasticated materials, these loafers blend casual and formal elements, making them very wearable. There are three color choices - beige, anthracite, and black.

The Homme Plisse Issey Miyake collection epitomizes the storied Japanese fashion house's dedication to innovation, craftsmanship, and everyday functionality. 

By delving into the art of pleating and integrating it with cutting-edge design, this collection marks a significant milestone in the label's journey. 

With its vivid color palette, innovative shapes and thoughtful details, the collection invites wearers to embrace their individuality and embark on a sartorial journey that combines tradition and technology. 

Subscribe to support our independent and original journalism, photography, artwork and film.

Tuesday 20 June 2023

Beyoncé's Heliosphere Gown Shines on the Renaissance World Tour

Beyonce on stage in Amsterdam wearing Iris van Herpen's Heliosphere gown. Photograph: Andrew White
In a dazzling fusion of art and performance, Beyoncé entranced audiences during her Renaissance world tour with the magnificent Heliosphere Gown. Designed by Iris van Herpen, the bespoke creation was meticulously crafted with innovative techniques and shimmering crystals, writes Isabella Lancellotti

The singer has championed designers.
from every country where she has performed.
Photograph: Andrew White 
Beyoncé took the stage during the opening act of her highly anticipated Renaissance tour in Amsterdam wearing a haute couture creation called the Heliosphere gown.

Designed by futuristic Dutch couturier Iris van Herpen, the gown captivated the audience. The singer has championed designers from each country where she is performing. 

"It has been a huge honor to design and create the custom 'Heliosphere Gown' for Beyoncé," says Iris van Herpen. 

"In her epic Renaissance tour, Beyoncé embodies feminine empowerment. She emphasizes that confidence radiates from within, and that beauty thrives in diversity. Her style is a kaleidoscope of elegance that inspired me and my team in every stitch, every bead, and every petal - along the 700-hour journey of creating her halo-shaped gown."

Designed by futuristic Dutch couturier Iris van Herpen, this gown captivated the audience and was a symbol of a powerful woman. 

Iris van Herpen's design for the gown.
To bring the Heliosphere gown to life, a process combining innovative techniques and fine craftsmanship was employed. 

A total of 980 shapes, resembling celestial arcs, were carefully 3D constructed by casting silver-marbled silicone into mirrored laser-cut outlines. 

These molds were then formed, laying the foundation for the gown's otherworldly charm.

Each shape was individually stitched onto nude tulle, creating a delicate interplay of transparency and opulence. 

The gown's embellishment was further enhanced by the sparkling Swarovski crystals, interspersed between the shapes.

The most dramatic aspect of the Heliosphere gown was 'halo', a feat of both engineering and artistic vision. Shaped with a hot-air gun, using a transparent material, an almost invisible, floating structure looked like a crown of light around Beyoncé'.

To bring the Heliosphere gown to life, a process combining innovative techniques and fine craftsmanship was employed

Beyonce backstage at her concert
in Amsterdam wearing the gown. 
Photograph: Andrew White
The gown's voluminous cape was crafted from glass-organza, adding an element of drama to the ensemble. Adorned with an intricate artwork embellished in mirror-mylar, the cape dazzled with reflections of light.

Twelve of Iris Van Herpen's team at her atelier poured their passion and expertise into the piece along with 700 hours of work. The attention to detail and creativity makes the gown more a work of wearable art than fashion.

Van Herpen designed the Heliosphere gown to be a harmonious fusion of innovation and craftsmanship. While it not only celebrates the remarkable talent of Beyoncé it exemplifies the power of fashion to convey messages beyond the quotidian. As the singer graced the stage, this diaphanous creation, was an atmospheric addition to the soaring musicality that kept the audience enraptured during the show. 

Subscribe to support our independent and original journalism, photography, artwork and film.

Thursday 8 June 2023

Sustainable Fashion Takes Centre Stage at Chloé

Gabriela Hearst melds classic design with concern for the planet creating her new collection. Cover picture by Elli Ioannou for DAM MODA. 

Chloé's Creative Director, Gabriela Hearst, understands the power of pieces that are crafted to last and with her latest Spring 2024 collection, she celebrates sustainability in the fashion industry, craftsmanship, and a commitment to leaving a positive impact on the planet, reports Antonio Visconti

Hearst creates stylish and elegant
collections while being aware of 
how they affect the environment.

The Spring 2024 collection at Chloé embraces notions of consciousness, circularity, and timelessness. These themes are interwoven throughout the aesthetic and technical aspects of the designs, creating a harmonious balance between style and sustainability. 

Hearst emphasizes that "reducing the Maison's carbon footprint and prioritizing materials that enable this are of the highest priority, without compromising on design and desirability."

"In the ever-rapidly moving world, I find solace in timeless design – pieces that are long-lasting in their execution and made to be atemporal with the hope of being passed down from one generation to the next," Hearst says. Her vision is clear: to create garments that not only captivate with their beauty but also embody a commitment to environmental responsibility.

Taking a closer look at the collection, there is a tapestry of eco-conscious choices and exquisite craftsmanship. For instance, one look features denim trousers made almost entirely from upcycled cotton, a shirt cut from deadstock cotton, and sunglasses crafted from recycled acetate. 

It's a testament to the power of putting the environment first without sacrificing beauty or elegance. Hearst remarks: "When I see look six, for instance, it gives me great pleasure to know that the decision to put the environment first didn't affect the beauty of the design but empowered it."

The collection delves into the natural world, expressing both its resilience and vulnerability through design choices. A turtleneck sweater in recycled cashmere combines with jeans made from recycled cotton and hemp denim, developed exclusively with Adriano Goldschmied. The incorporation of botanical motif guipure lace inserts in a lower-impact wool rib knit further accentuates the connection to nature. 

Gabriela Hearst aims to create garments that not only captivate with their beauty but also embody a commitment to environmental responsibility.

All rugged up in shearling,
denim and suede.
But sustainability doesn't stop at materials; it extends to the very essence of the garments. Some pieces cleverly play with appearances, inviting you to experience their texture. 

A light indigo jacket with a shearling collar and matching flared trousers may seem like denim or corduroy at first glance, but they are actually soft suede. 

A lace crew-neck sweater and skirt, too, deceive the eye, revealing a technical knit of contrasting matte cashmere and lustrous silk, adding depth and a feminine fluidity to the designs.

Chloé explores classic garments and heritage textiles, infusing them with a modern touch. The Maison introduces a bespoke cotton-wool tweed with multicolor mouliné threads, used for a trench coat and new renditions of the Penelope shoulder bag. 

A bow motif adorns bags, jewellery, shoes, and dresses. The marriage of jewellery-inspired embellishments with ready-to-wear techniques results in innovative designs, such as chains whip-stitched onto the lapels of jackets and overcoats or transformed into buttons on a cape coat.

Gabriela Hearst's interest in fashion history is evident in her exploration of the Chloé Archive. Inspired by the work of Karl Lagerfeld, who spent 25 years designing for the Maison, she distilled his vision into 28 looks for the Met Costume Institute exhibition 'Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty.' 

"I find solace in timeless design ~ pieces that are long-lasting and made to be atemporal with the hope of being passed down from one generation to the next."

Fluid femininity created with
wool knit and a botancial guipure
lace insert,
At this year's Met Gala, she paid homage to Lagerfeld by creating custom red-carpet creations, including a column dress for actress Maude Apatow. 

The Spring 2024 festive capsule draws inspiration from Lagerfeld's iconic designs, featuring wool crepe coats, dresses, bags, jewellery, and footwear adorned with arrow-shaped crystal embellishments.

Chloé's commitment to sustainability goes beyond the runway. The Maison incorporates eco-friendly materials into its products, such as recycled cotton, linen, acetate, and bio-based nylon. 

The Marcie bag, Penelope bag, Nama sneaker, and eyewear ranges all showcase the brand's dedication to a more conscious and responsible approach to fashion.

As the world of fashion continues to evolve, Chloé stands as an example of how good design and sustainability can coexist harmoniously.

Scroll down to see more highlights from Gabriela Hearst's Spring 2024 Collection 

Subscribe to support our independent and original journalism, photography, artwork and film.

Tuesday 6 June 2023

George Eliot’s Middlemarch: egoism, moral stupidity, and the complex web of life

Rufus Sewell as Will Ladislaw and Juliet Aubrey as Dorothea Brooke in the BBC adaptation of Middlemarch (1994) IMDB
Helen Groth, UNSW Sydney

In our Guide to the Classics series, experts explain key works of literature.

Middlemarch (1872) is a slow read and a deeply immersive one.

George Eliot – the pen name of Mary Ann Evans (1819-1880) – built rich and complex fictional worlds that she hoped would allow readers to be “better able to imagine and to feel the pains and joys of those who differ from themselves in everything but the broad fact of being struggling, erring human creatures”.

This avowedly humanist world-building would come to be called realism. Middlemarch is often cited as a template of that now familiar mode.

The novel’s subtitle – “A Study of Provincial Life” – suggests a serious project guided by ethical and scientific principles. This aim was a far remove from the conventional marriage plots and melodramatic style of “silly lady novelists”, as Eliot snarkily called them. She offered her readers multiple perspectives and ways to study the lives of others.

These are elucidated in rhetorically astonishing passages and justly famous metaphors. One of the better known is the pier glass, which the narrator details in one of the novel’s many transitions from third- to first-person:

An eminent philosopher among my friends, who can dignify your ugly furniture by lifting it into the serene light of science, has shown me this pregnant little fact. Your pier-glass or extensive surface of polished steel made to be rubbed by a housemaid, will be minutely and multitudinously scratched in all directions; but place now against it a lighted candle as a centre of illumination, and lo! The scratches will seem to arrange themselves in a fine series of concentric circles round that little sun. It is demonstrable that the scratches are going everywhere impartially, and it is only your candle which produces the flattering illusion of a concentric arrangement, its light falling with an exclusive optical selection. These things are a parable. The scratches are events, and the candle is the egoism of any person now absent …

Eliot visualises the illusory coherence generated by egoism. Readers might apply this understanding to their own selective vision, as well as to the characters that fill the pages of Middlemarch.

Moving fluently from one intricate psychological characterisation to another, Eliot illuminates her characters’ minds, while subtly reminding us of the mediated nature of that access. As readers, we are never entirely sure what her characters see and what the narrator sees on their behalf. In the process, we are invited to think about the complex nature of character, memory, love, friendship, work, greed, hypocrisy, discovery, community and so much more.

The fabric of life

Portrait of George Eliot – Samuel Laurence (1860). Public domain

Middlemarch is specific and local rather than universal in scope. It is set in a small English village called Middlemarch in the 1830s, a period of heated political debate and unrest. The noisy unevenness of progress is ever-present. Machine breaking (anti-industrialism), vociferous crowds and the shifting moods of popular opinion unsettle the lives of Middlemarch’s citizens.

Allusions to historical events – such as the passage of the 1832 Reform Bill (which enfranchised many previously disenfranchised voters) and major developments in medical science – contribute to the novel’s complex organisation, in which affinity and community are deeply felt and sometimes oppressive.

This organisation is more akin to the interwoven threads of a piece of intricately patterned fabric or the neural networks of the human body than a spider’s web. In another aside, Eliot’s narrator explicitly differentiates the web-like structure of Middlemarch from the freewheeling and expansive storytelling of 18th-century precursors, such as Henry Fielding’s picaresque novel Tom Jones:

We belated historians must not linger after [Fielding’s] example: and if we did so, it is probable that our chat would be thin and eager, as if delivered from a camp-stool in a parrot-house. I at least have so much to do in unravelling certain human lots, and seeing how they were woven and interwoven, that all the light I can command must be concentrated on this particular web, and not dispersed over that tempting range of relevancies called the universe.

Eliot’s process of “unravelling” her characters invites the reader to examine and compare, as if through a microscope, their resemblances and divergences. Her characters may not know one another, but the threads of their lives are woven together by her deft use of analogy and metaphor. Transitions from one part of the web to another are often framed as seemingly casual reminders that the lives of other characters have been going on while our focus has been elsewhere.

Juliet Aubrey as Dorothea Brooke in the 1994 BBC adaptation of Middlemarch. Image: IMDB

Inconvenient indefiniteness

Henry James complained that “Middlemarch is too often an echo of Messrs. Darwin and Huxley”.

It may be hard for us to hear these echoes, but it would have been impossible for 19th century readers not to do so. Eliot had read Darwin’s The Origin of the Species when it first appeared in late 1859. By the 1870s, as Gillian Beer has influentially argued, Darwin’s theories informed both the structure and the themes of her novels, but Eliot disagreed with Darwin’s “idea of the single progenitor”.

To quote Beer: “This emphasis on plurality, rather than upon singleness, is crucial to the developing argument of Middlemarch.”

Eliot’s language is thus intentionally resonant and allusive, but rather than echoing the “maxims” of others, Middlemarch models ways of reading between different knowledge and belief systems. The fictional design of Middlemarch reveals the absence of one absolute authority or single interpretation of the origin or meaning of life. Characters who misguidedly pursue such an aim – such as the scholar Casaubon, with his “Key to All Mythologies” – inevitably find themselves diverted and confronted by the limits of their individual capacities and vision.

Charles Darwin (1869) – Julia Margaret Cameron. Public domain

The emphasis on variety, relation and entanglement begins with the novel’s prelude, in which Eliot’s narrator reflects on the “inconvenient indefiniteness” of a woman’s lot as something that frustrates “scientific certitude”.

Dorothea Brooke, the novel’s heroine, exemplifies this indeterminacy and variety. She is ardent, ambitious and intelligent. She is also a terrible judge of potential husbands, a failing that is sympathetically detailed by Eliot’s omniscient narrator. Dorothea yearns for social purpose and a genius to serve. This leads her to become ensnared in a marriage to Casaubon, who reveals himself to be a controlling jealous pedant.

It is a cruel outcome, vividly animated by Eliot’s extraordinary prose. In chapter 20, to take one of many possible examples, we find Dorothea in Rome on her honeymoon. Agonised by the early signs that married life is not what she imagined, she finds the vast wreckage and epic ambition of Rome overwhelming. At this critical moment, Eliot undercuts the potential melodrama of her heroine’s “stifling depression”, insisting on the unexceptional nature of her plight in a startling aside. She begins by reflecting on the conventional nature of her heroine’s marital disappointments:

Some discouragement, some faintness of heart at the new real future which replaces the imaginary, is not unusual, and we do not expect people to be deeply moved by what is not unusual.

The subsequent sentences push further into this unbearable truth:

That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency, has not yet wrought itself into the coarse emotion of mankind; and perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it. If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.

Dorothea Brooke and Will Ladislaw. Illustration from The Works of George Eliot (Jensen Society, 1910). Public domain

To be stupid, Eliot insists, is a common experience. Even the “quickest of us” are necessarily guilty of stupidity in our efforts to filter the confusing cacophony of “ordinary human life”.

In this sense, stupidity is not a permanent character trait, but a contingent avoidance of the incomprehensible scale of human existence. Shocked out of the youthful self-absorption that had allowed her to imagine her new husband as a wise and original intellect, Dorothea emerges from her “stupidity” to confront the disappointing reality that her husband possesses an “equivalent centre of self” and an equal proportion of “moral stupidity”.

Unlit transparency

When Dorothea returns from Rome to Middlemarch, nothing looks or sounds the same:

The ideas and hopes which were living in her mind when she first saw this room nearly three months before were present now only as memories: she judged them as we judge transient and departed things. All existence seemed to beat with a lower pulse than her own, and her religious faith was a solitary cry, the struggle out of a nightmare in which every object was withering and shrinking away from her. Each remembered thing in the room was disenchanted, was deadened as an unlit transparency …

Recalling both the pier glass and “the roar on the other side of silence”, the arresting metaphor of a microscope’s “unlit transparency” registers a profound shift in Dorothea’s point of view. It also serves a structural purpose, prompting the reader to recall another character synonymous with microscopes and disastrous marital choices, Dr Tertius Lydgate.

Dorothea and Lydgate are unknown to one another at this stage of the plot, but Eliot has already begun to weave the threads of their lives together through the connective force of metaphor and analogy.

Mary Garth and Fred Vincy. Illustration from The Works of George Eliot (Jensen Society, 1910). Public Domain

When Eliot began writing Middlemarch, she was planning to write two novels about two distinct webs of characters. One centred on Dorothea Brooke and the other on Tertius Lydgate.

Lydgate is a young ambitious doctor recently arrived in Middlemarch, having completed his medical studies in London, Edinburgh and Paris. Keen to reform the backward practices of Middlemarch’s medical profession by introducing the latest discoveries in the treatment of fever and other ailments, Lydgate’s arrogance and lack of sympathy lead to debt, accusations of criminality and thwarted ambition. He offends his peers, attracts the patronage of the hypocritical banker Nicholas Bulstrode, and marries the beautiful but superficial Rosamond Vincy, to name just a few of his many blunders.

Eliot’s sympathetic characterisation of Lydgate’s uneven mix of stupidity and brilliance mirrors the complex web of affinities and connections with which she surrounds Dorothea. In multiple remarkable passages, Eliot draws on recent discoveries in human pathology to illuminate Lydgate’s character “as a process and an unfolding”:

he longed to demonstrate the more intimate relations of living structure and help to define men’s thoughts more accurately after the true order. The work had not yet been done, but only prepared for those who knew how to use the preparation. What was the primitive tissue? In that way Lydgate put the question – not quite the way required by the waiting answer; but such missing of the right word befalls many seekers. And he counted on quiet intervals to be watchfully seized, for taking up the threads of investigation – on many hints to be won from diligent application, not only of the scalpel, but of the microscope, which research had begun to use again with new enthusiasm of reliance. Such was Lydgate’s plan for the future: to do good small work for Middlemarch, and great work for the world.

In a novel designed around multiple related yet distinct systems, rather than singular origins, Lydgate asks the wrong kind of question. The diligent study of “the primary webs or tissues” of the human body, like Darwin’s elaboration of the complex system of “all living and extinct forms”, moves at a very different pace to the brisk commerce and materialism that drives the ordinary folk of Middlemarch, whom he hopes to enlighten and save.

Here, the metaphor of the web takes on grimmer connotations, stifling ambition and coercing conformity. Lydgate is undone by his own failure to apply his “seeking” intellect to his interactions with his colleagues or his choice of a wife. Eliot’s darkly humorous description of his bitter struggles with Rosamond over money, social mobility and furniture invites readers to reflect on the characters’ mutual stupidity, while urging compassion and sympathy.

Microscopic portrayal

Eliot’s microscopic portrayal of the various ecosystems that surround Lydgate and Dorothea exemplifies another striking feature of the 19th-century realist novel: the tension between an intensive focus on the inner-life of a few privileged individuals and a democratising emphasis on the equal value of all characters. As Alex Woloch puts it:

The realist novel is infused with the sense that any character is a potential hero, but simultaneously enchanted with the individual, defined through his or her interior consciousness.

The cast of potential main characters in Middlemarch is extensive and richly drawn. It includes Lydgate’s aimless brother-in-law Fred Vincy, who loves the earnest truth-telling Mary Garth, and Caleb Garth, Mary’s hard-working father, who expertly guides the land management of the wealthy families of Middlemarch, including Dorothea’s uncle, Mr Brooke.

Eliot’s criticisms of the inadequacies of political and social reform in England are encapsulated in her heavily ironic characterisation of Mr Brooke’s political dilettantism and the frustrations of Will Ladislaw, whom Mr Brooke employs to give some substance to his campaign to win a seat in parliament.

Will’s annoyance with Mr Brooke’s short attention span is a great source of comedic material, but he serves a more romantic purpose in the novel’s main marriage plot. He becomes the ultimate love interest of Dorothea and the nemesis of Casaubon, who writes a malicious amendment to his will that disinherits Dorothea if she marries Will.

Critics have long remarked that Eliot failed to draw a convincing portrait of Will Ladislaw as a deserving lover of Dorothea. Henry James described him as “vague and impalpable to the end”. But Middlemarch is not a novel that celebrates unrealistic romantic ideals or exceptional cases. Eliot implicitly fends off criticisms of her ordinary heroine’s choice of partner in the last paragraphs of the novel:

she was spoken of to a younger generation as a fine girl who married a sickly clergyman, old enough to be her father, and in little more than a year after his death gave up her estate to marry his cousin – young enough to have been his son, with no property and not well-born. Those who had not seen anything of Dorothea usually observed that she could not have been “a nice woman”, else she would not have married either the one or the other.

By this stage of the novel, Eliot is banking on her readers’ investment in a model of love and life that conceives of a woman’s lot as complex and multi-faceted in ways that may not be immediately legible or transparent to those outside her “particular web”.

Despite her exceptional intellect and extensive capacity for sympathy, Dorothea must ultimately contend with the reality that there “is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it”.

This reality, the novel’s coda makes clear, is one that Middlemarch’s readers must accept too.The Conversation

Helen Groth, Professor of Literary Studies, UNSW Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

Subscribe to support our independent and original journalism, photography, artwork and film.