The Burberry February 2017 collection, an exploration of sculpture and silhouette, material and process, inspired by the life and creations of artist Henry Moore.
To the left of Henry Moore’s monumental bronze sculpture Mother and Child was Penelope Cruz; to the right was Tinie Tempah. Anna Wintour was seated across the runway from Draped Reclining Mother and Baby. Welcome to the new age of highbrow ambition at London fashion week.
“In the human figure one can express more completely one’s feelings about the world than in any other way.” Moore was talking about sculpture, but Christopher Bailey of Burberry talks in similar terms about fashion.
The two came together at a Burberry show staged in collaboration with the Henry Moore Foundation, which doubled as the opening for Henry Moore: Inspiration and Process, a free week-long exhibition in Soho, central London, of 40 Moore sculptures, monumental bronzes, drawings and maquettes.
On the catwalk, the conversation between Moore and Burberry came to life with clothes that “changed the shape of the body into something more unconventional”, said Bailey after the show. “We used fabrics to sculpt the body, and to change proportions.”
Trenchcoats lost their casual floppiness in stiff double-faced wool, with their wide belts stitched into position. Moore’s passion for found objects, represented in the exhibition with an atmospheric reconstruction of his studio, was echoed in a fantastical shoulder-cape made from an antique chandelier. Lace blouses were inspired by the delicacy of the maquettes Moore made out of sticks and straw.
The unprettiness of Moore’s view of the female body, very much at odds with mainstream fashion philosophy, did not faze Bailey. “I loved using clothes to change the shape of the body into something unconventional,” he said after the show.
“I made this collection with passion and with integrity. I grew up in Yorkshire with the sculpture park, and Moore is someone I have loved all my conscious life. The way the world is at the moment, it feels like a good time to do something you truly believe in.”
Burberry’s collaboration with the Henry Moore Foundation can be seen from various perspectives. Its status as the hot-ticket centrepiece of London fashion week is a snapshot of Bailey’s formidable reimagining of the label, which had tumbled alarmingly downmarket, into a prestige brand that stands for Britain as a creative force – and therefore gets to stand alongside that of a pre-eminent artist.
The collaboration also represents a new way of thinking about the concept of fashion week, which is currently desperately seeking a new raison d’être. Catwalk shows needs to work harder to justify a non-virtual existence, and a sculpture exhibit gives an experience that can’t be replicated online.
Lastly, it proposes an interesting new business model for brand Britain, in which – to put it bluntly – fashion bankrolls culture in exchange for gravitas.
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