One look at the invitation (no stickers, no cutesy animals, no Lisa Frank vibes) and its C-U-Next-Tuesday depiction as well as the title of the collection “Reject Everything” and you knew you were in for a rough ride at Meadham Kirchhoff.  Rough, as in it would shake up the system (or at the very least the MK system), get very angry and annihilate any thought that Ed Meadham and Ben Kirchhoff were just about fluff, glitter and pretty pretty things.

Then there was the venue – the back of Phonica Records, which I didn’t dare to enter when I was a teen (only amateur DJ boys went in there…) – a much more intimate space than where the duo normally shows.  They had festooned it with trees, ribbons and… paint dipped tampons.  The focal point of the set was a piece of trash art with bicycle spokes colliding with car doors and radiators.

On our insulation foam seats was a zine first confronting you with all the slurs that both women and men might encounter (slag, slut, fag, batty boy etc) based on what you look like or how you dress – i.e. the way Meadham Kirchhoff have been dressing their women (and men for a while) and themselves for the duration of their careers.  It then opened up to a list of MK Like and Hates…

Likes: Viv Albertine, Quentin Crisp, RuPaul, Girly Clothes, Arvida Bystrom (who incidentally closed the show)

Hate: Conformity, Putin, Paul Hollywood, High Street Shit, Tony Abbott

Even more telling was the thanks/shout-out notes page.  “This is dedicated (if it works), to two women who have revolutionised my pitiful existence – Ms Viv Albertine – I am in LOVE – and Little Ms Trojan. (E’s pet dog)  I am revived.”

“It would be retarded of me to not acknowledge the obvious and undeniable influence that Dame Westwood has had on this collection.  Forever indebted to your genius.”

“Fuk LVMH corporate fashion.”

These are just some of the choice lines that tell you of the inspiration roots of this joyfully disruptive collection and the subject of anger that both Ben and Ed are channelling their hate towards.  Maybe they are biting the hand that feeds them but the hand that fed them hasn’t treated them with the just respect they deserve either.  Their work is merely a commodity or a novelty for the fashion industry to mine, take and exploit as “product” when they’re not necessarily product-focused designers (they create beautiful things that anybody with a sense of aesthetic appreciation would want to wear – that’s different from “product” for the sheeple).  It’s like jamming a square peg into a round hole.  They have every right to be angry.

It’s hard not to think about what in my opinion was a gross injustice, that they did not progress into the finalists stage of the inaugural LVMH prize, when they reference the conglomerate in their zine.  They’re probably not angry about the fact that they didn’t progress but that they were entered into that competitive environment in the first place.  Fighting the system is a naive mission in fashion.  It usually just elicits sneers of “Well, if you don’t play the game, you’re never going to be a game-changer.”  Ben and Ed have on their part played the game.  They’ve been propelled to great heights.  And now they want to tear all of that asunder and write their own system.

They’ve got nothing to prove by pandering to conventional notions of beauty.  They’ve done all of that before.  So now they can venture forth and wade into new territory for them, paying homage to the Westwoods, the Bodymaps, the Leigh Bowerys of the past but also carving out a statement for the future in amidst fashion’s current state of middling mediocrity and “We must sell things!” remit.  The results?  Panelled knitwear – deliberately lumpy and bumpy.  Smocked white dresses with red toggles resembling bloody tampon strings.  Cut-up pink latex as if it were cut chiffon.  Swiss dot lace dresses, ripped and worn over “man-repelling” yellow wooly long johns and slogan knickers.  Blue asymmetric shirting, cut-up, voluminous, an echo of Westwood’s pirate shirts.  Jackets frayed at the edges made out of laundry bag material.  Bulky bomber jackets made out of automotive foam.  The MK-isms were still there in the shirred chiffon dresses, stitched with extra TLC, in the flutters of black feathers hanging off of gowns and just in the general method of “Don’t-give-a-fuck” layering that has always captured this layerist’s heart.

In a week of politeness, niceties and all things Net-a-Porter ready, Meadham Kirchhoff unofficially closed LFW by reminding us all what British fashion has been in the past and should always try to be in the future – disruptive, probing and uncompromising.  Lose those qualities and you’re just like everyone else.

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Scans from Meadham Kirchhoff fanzine SS15 from Dazed Digital

Yesterday at Christopher Kane’s show, for the first time ever (I think) he had written a lengthy press release.  The reason being is that it was dedicated to his former mentor at Central Saint Martins Louise Wilson.  He talked about looking back to the past to get to the future.  Many designers have paid homage to Wilson in the wake of her death in May.  Kane’s was the most prominent as one of Wilson’s starriest proteges.  Spare a thought though for the current crop of MA students at CSM, who lost a key tutor and a crucial time in their design education.  It’s not just the loss of the tour de force that was Louise but it’s the loss of a guiding educator which will have possible ramifcations on their final year collections, to be presented in February next year.

Molly Goddard won’t be a stranger to some of you.  She was a star graduate of the Central Saint Martins BA course in 2012 and that led to a collaboration with ASOS where her shamelessly whimsical tulle shell dresses were paired with embroidered slip dresses.  After deferring for one year, Goddard embarked on the CSM MA course and was on course to show her final MA collection next February.   After Wilson’s death in May, everything changed.  Goddard decided that she wouldn’t stay on to complete her MA.  And in a matter of months, she left CSM and decided to pull together a collection to show quite casually this season at London Fashion Week.

I say casual.  The clothes were anything but.  Eschewing formal presentation style, Goddard got together a group of her personal friends to wear her collection of beautifully smocked frocks and basically have a fun fun fun party.  No silly posing.  No models looking awkward as they meander around a set.  Just a gang of girls necking beers (for real), chatting,  having a laugh and dancing. Some wore the dresses in shades of coral, duck egg blue and deep yellow on their own.  Some had band t-shirts and jeans underneath.  Like Goddard’s pieces for ASOS, these dresses showed versatility, despite the fact that they are dramatically constructed out of multiple layers of tulle.  Tegan Wlliams, one of Molly’s friends, who I had met on an Elle Collections, is a tomboy in real life but she looked totally at ease all trussed up in voluminous pink.  If you’re not into frou frou, tulle or pink then Goddard has also introduced some really beautiful dark indigo taffeta smocked dresses which were a bit shorter too.

Goddard isn’t quite sure where Molly Goddard – “the brand” – will go next.  She’s sure to have interest from buyers but it’s whether she’s ready to give right into the challenge of setting up her own label, so soon after she’s left education.  In any case I’m grateful for Goddard’s off-off-schedule presence at London.  I loved that it wasn’t entirely serious and that Goddard was kind of winging it.  That’s often when creative expression is at its freeest.  Planning every step meticulously has become the modus operandi for designers everywhere as they’re coached to become brands very quickly.  Less planning and more doing would suffice for me.  In a flurry of two months, Goddard just wanted to create.  And create she did.

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In New York you often have to skip through presentations in two minute slots, especially in the Milk Studios set up where you have multiple rooms to get through in oh, 10 minutes.  It feels rude to flit through designers work in this quickfire manner but that’s also a result of the convenience of a presentation.  Back in London, I’ve been lingering longer.  Thus far, the presentations are where the most interesting (although not necessarily the best – there’s a difference) work has been coming through.  In the newly configured BFC presentation space in the South Wing of Somerset House and also off-site,London’s new-NEW gen has been blossoming.  The BFC have really made an effort to try and accomnodate everyone that has something to say on-schedule with more presentations than ever – sometimes just with static models, sometimes with rotating mini-shows, sometimes with fashion film and elaborate sets.

One New York editor declared after the J.W. Anderson show yesterday that in one day of LFW, he had seen more inspiring things than he had seen in the whole week of Ne York.  High praise indeed.  I can’t help but think that has something to do with the fact that everything from the exhibition space to the presentations to the shows themselves, there’s a broad range of things to see – a diverse landscape, dictated not by trends but by designers’ own personalities and desires.  Presentations doesn’t automatically mean inconsequential small fry and likewise shows don’t necessarily guarantee power player winning collections.

I may have been bleary eyed from getting back from New York but Faustine Steinmetz woke me up with her debut presentation at LFW.  Here’s a designer who really used a presentation opportunity well to capture people’s imagination.  In the ICA, in addition to models standing static in clothes, Steinmetz had set up pillars dedicated to various branding objects that a big Parisian house might have.  Steinmetz is cheekily poking fun at the system where a clothing brand is big enough to package their own bottles of water, but also seriously questioning what would go into the making of her own brand, should she advance far enough.  So we have Faustine Steinmetz pens and sweets next to a model lounging around in a hand woven Faustine Steinmetz swimsuit.  Shop signage and logos read “Faustine Steinmetz – Paris, London, New York… Birmingham, Roubaix, Detroit.”  Of course…

 

But in between these hilarious stabs at branding were some very serious clothes.  Steinmetz’ enthusiasm for handcrafted garments that embody a true spirit of luxury hasn’t waned.  Riffs off of denim is still Steinmetz’s thing and she explores techniques like laminated thread, hand pleated Japanese shibori as well as repurposing second hand denim and reweaving into a new dishevelled state.  From yarn to weave to cut – Steinmetz emphasises the UK-grown small scale production of her garments.  Those are important take away points but she need not ram it down your throat.  The clothes sell themselves because they look…. so cool!  Sometimes, clothes don’t need eloquent descriptions.

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I did not get any Russian vibes from Trager Delaney’s debut presentation (more like a showtation) but Lowell Delaney and Kim Trager were looking at the modern constructivist Russia – stripped down, bare and almost uncompromising in its nature.  There were moments of whimsy that crept in like the fruit print and the running men (spot the sports giant logos) but the duo were keen to pare it back, just like the space where the show was.  I love that in one black taped-up sign reading “No Way”, that summed up Trager Delaney’s cool irreverence.

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I was so excited about Shrimps’ first presentation that I kept on squealing “Shriiiiiiiiiiiiiiimpssssss!” to anybody that would listen to why I think Shrimps is so great.  Designer Hannah Weiland has cornered all things fun faux fur in just a couple of short seasons but she’s ready to venture beyond her furry cage.  She’s also keen not to be known as a theme-driven princess of kawaii – she deliberately created a modernist set inspired by the architect Gio Ponti, which then contrast with the whimsically illustrated silk pyjamas made with Poplin, which in turn also contrasted with the jackets – sleek and chic in leopard print, animal hair and of course, pops of candy coloured faux fur.  Weiland also went a bit “lady” by designing her own line of stingray finished handbags to go with the pearl-encrusted manicure and pearl-edged clutches.  It was good to see Weiland not fall into the trap of being known purely as a kitsch kookster (she said she could have had models dressed up as bunny rabbits and had crustaceans scampering around) and instead she went for a well rounded and mature take on the Shrimps girl and that paid off.

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Orla Kiely has its audience and aesthetic down.  Her world is already well-defined but getting LA artist Alia Penner to live paint flowers onto perspex at the presentation added a real stroke of difference.  The clothes were still sweet as pie but Penner’s participation certainly spiced things up.

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More yelping the when I learned that Louise Gray had done all the prints for the new Lulu & Co collection.  Yay, any Louise Gray in a season is better than none at all.  Space rave meets Sun Ra in what was a rambunctious outing for Lulu Kennedy’s brand.  You can tell Louise was involved just with one look at the prints.  It also had other Louise-isms like tinsel-covered hoops.  It’s also great that Lulu & Co. gives Gray a more commercially-minded vehicle to channel her distinctive prints.  One of everything please.  Including the hoops, despite not having pierced ears.

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I didn’t quite understand what happened with Antipodium and the departure of creative director Geoffrey Finch (he went to Topshop) but the changes don’t seem to have dented the brand.  With Daniel Mcilwraith as head of design, who had worked with Finch for a long time, Antipodium’s quirks are very much still present.  You can’t get more odd than having televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker as a central muse.  That doesn’t translate into errr… loud 80s suits and you’ve been Tango-ed make-up.  Instead, Mcilwraith looks at the world of cult to extract what are wearable but not boring clothes.  Neon jacquard denim, embellished biker jackets and zip-up gingham tops anchor the prim meets sex vibes.  Best print I’ve seen so far at LFW goes to artist Victoria Sin’s “Healing Hand” rendition of mascara, jewels and lips with braces, seen on dresses and bomber jackets.

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I’ll be revisiting Danielle Romeril again when I get a chance to sit down with her properly but she came up with an all mightily impressive first presentation that took us until her world.  Inspired by Romeril’s own camping experiences, these girl scouts were set up to be self sufficient – foraging for their own food and looking awesome in different riffs off of khaki, incidentally chiming in with Marc Jacobs’ take on military garb.  Romeril’s penchant for beautifully developed fabrics shine through though in the French lace overlaid with camouflage applique and the mix of crochet over leather.  You could see these clothes in either a country or an urban setting.

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Phoebe English has just taken over the window at Dover Street Market London with her S/S 15 collection.  She follows Nicolas Ghesquière’s AW14 collection for Louis Vuitton.  That’s a huge leap of faith on the part of Dover Street Market and English showed exactly why with what I think is one of her best collections yet.  White muslin dabbed with paint like an artist’ test, black and white acrylic paint swirled on geneously on to mesh, what looked like basketball court netting trapped in between organza and cotton strips  knotted and configured into a grid-like structure – these are the sort of ingenious use of unexpected materials that first brought English to prominence.  What I love most is that through the seasons, English has never really compromised or gone “commercial” and that people like DSM love her for that.  

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And finally Claire Barrow also got a say on the preso schedule, late one evening.  Down a dark alleyway off Marylebone High Street in a dark basement, she presented her take on her imaginary super nurse characters, out to save the world from a lethal virus.  Actually does the tale really matter when all we’re loving is Barrow’s beautiful handwork as seen in the pussy cats leaping across patchwork skirts and painted leather pieces.  Barrow finds it difficult to fully explain the narrative that is going on in her drawings but actually, the fact that they’re ambiguous leaves a lot to the imagination.

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Nearly five days and three separate half hour conversations with different editors later and I’m still sort of pondering the Opening Ceremony one act play, 100% Lost Cott, which took place last Sunday evening in a brilliantly conceived reverse set in the Metropolitan Opera House.  The play, directed by Spike Jonze and co-written with Jonah Hill, runs in tandem with the other “happenings” that occurred in NYFW.  Gareth Pugh’s immersive experience courtesy of Lexus.  Ralph Lauren Polo’s holographic projection on the lake in Central Park.  Then the usual slew of performances, parties and goings-ons that are the bloodline of NYFW’s existence.

It all begged the question of whether seeing the clothes in a simple setting is enough to satisfy an audience?  Or do we need the extra bells and whistles now to grab attention, secure that news story and of course add to the social media chatter (I totted it up… over 70% of shows I saw in New York came with a handy hashtag).  Let’s talk OC seeing as I’ve already analysed it to death with peers.  If only I had recorded those conversations.  You might have already read the premise of the play.  Elle Fanning plays a doe-eyed wannabe model new to New York City.  She meets Bella, a self-proclaimed IT girl, played by Dree Hemingway at a fitting for Opening Ceremony.  Humberto Leon and Carol Lim’s characters are given ludicrous alter egos played wonderfully by John Cameron Mitchell and Catherine Keener and Bobby Cannavale plays the tortured stylist.  I’ll give you a few choice lines just to illustrate the gist of the satire

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Bella talking about errr… the arbitrary role of a muse…

“I also do musing – you know, it’s when designers look at you to get inspired.”

Humbeto screaming at Brian, the stylist as they work out final looks…

“Look at this hem – it looks very normal, it looks very safe, it reeks of fear!”

Bella talking about Karlie Kloss’ age…

“She’s in her late early twenties – she’s an old pro!”

… Humberto greets Karlie with…

“Karlie fucking Kloss – tower over me bitch!”

Humberto describing the latest Opening Ceremony collection to Lisa Love, played by Rashida Jones…

“We’re using new technologies to push the boundary of print… and therefore rem… completely different.  Using new technologies is actually… ironic.  It’s very pre-internet and post-nostalgia… errr… post-punk, pre-grunge and totally … pre-Twit-ter.”

Bella breaking down to Julie about the realities of the industry…

“People say you don’t judge a a book by its cover… but when you first meet someone, you totally judge a book by its cover.”

“I’m going to all the parties that I used to look at on my computer.  I’m on the Tumblrs that I used to look at.  It’s so great…but I still feel like shit – it’s just a whole new set of things that make you feel shitty.”

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Vanessa Friedmann took it down with one properly harsh review.  She resented the cliches and the exaggerated silliness of it all.  Another editor I spoke to didn’t appreciate being told off about the fashion industry.  Whilst Hill and Jonze may have amped up the f-bombs and OTT lines to get the laughs but by and large, what they portrayed on stage isn’t too far from the truth.  That people in the industry can be false and disingenuous?  That models feel rubbish at castings when they’re judged for their looks in 30 seconds?  That designers spew made-up drivel when describing their collections? That when you’re bogged down in the industry, what made you love it in the first place can quickly sour and you can become jaded?  Tick, tick, tick and another tick.  Cliches are cliches for a reason and having witnessed all the aforementioned behaviour, albeit maybe in less dramatic fashion,  there were surely a few people squirming in their seats.

The most telling set of lines in the play belonged to ditz-slash-sage young Julie.  She had this set of options for the suffering Bella…

“One you quit.

Two, you change the way the whole fashion world thinks, behaves and acts.

Three, you stay and just enjoy the moments that you love.  Maybe just ignore all the bad parts.”

One suspects that option three is what we all do as we trundle along.  The system is too big and too set in its ways to change in its entirety and you can only do your part to contribute positively.  It wasn’t a telling off.  It was merely a reminder that we all need to check ourselves from time to time and that yes, laughing at ourselves can only be a good thing.

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But the clothes?  What of the clothes?  Well, does Opening Ceremony, a brand that had only recently began to show really need to spell out the clothes in minute detail?  The gist was clear enough.  Pre-internet graphics and bygone faded pastel colours placed on easy-to-wear silhouettes.  They definitely spell themselves out when they’re on the rails.  What they excel at is the happening, the vibes, the associations, the people, the connections and well… the coolness of it all.  I’d whine if I felt like I was being told “I am way cooler than thou” which is all too easy, when you have that much cool clout in your arsenal, but I just emerged out of the play thinking “I really enjoyed that.”  And days later, it’s still on my mind.  How many shows at NYFW can say they achieved the same thing?

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From a play that deliberately did all it can to showcase a collection to a performance that purposely had no clothes at all and you get another piece of food for thought that is entirely refreshing during fashion week.  Olivier Saillard’s performance pieces are extraordinary.  They celebrate an essence of fashion that perhaps more and more people forget about.  Remember the incredible Impossible Wardrobe performance featuring Tilda Swinton?  Saillard came to New York and categorically floored the editors, who took a break from usual show routine to sit at Milk Studios for this forty minute performance

As with the Opening Ceremony play, I wondered what fashion “happening” can actually sustain a jaded fashion industry’s attention span for more than half an hour.   Saillard certainly had his audience spellbound as he had former French supermodels – Anne Rohart, Charlotte Flossaut, Axelle Doué, Christine Bergstrom, Claudia Huidobro, Amalia Vairelli, and Violeta Sanchez – all inhabit garments that they modelled for the likes of Yves Saint Laurent, Jean Paul Gaultier, Azzedine Alaia and Comme des Garcons.  

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Dressed in black tights and black polo necks, we were invited to imagine as they described and made gestures to suggest every item of clothing.  For instance Vairelli’s hands would hold the collar of her YSL Le Smoking suit down with an assured strut.  Huidobro kicked off her heels in a dramatic motion when reenacting an early Comme des Garcons show – “No heels!” she declared.  Axelle Doué recounts what Madame Grès said about her in 1980: “Too tall, too curvy, too much bottom!” whilst moving her way down the seams of a draped dress which instantly gave her this elegant gait.  

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These women really knew those clothes.  They also recalled the designers well and had real lasting relationships with them.  They weren’t anonymous faces walking in and out of a conveyor belt of casting calls.  Their presence was powerful and the fact that Saillard chose the specific designers and garments that he did only serves to emphasise that model slash muse was an intensive and immersive experience back then.  In every interview I’ve done with Saillard, he always has on-point comments about today’s overstuffed fashion week calendars that lack conviction and he has a similar viewpoint about today’s indistinguishable faces on the runway.   You could tell that these models weren’t faking it.  They really made us feel physically entranced by the clothes they were embodying, present in spirit and in our heads.  There was even one instance when just as Rohart began to move, I had already guessed what designer she was talking about… it had to be Dior by John Galliano.  It was something in the fantastical sensuality conveyed in her hands and the expression on her face.

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To form a conclusion to this performance, this power bevy of former models walked up and down in unison, smirking at each other.  Was it the competition and rat race nature of modelling today that inspired this?  Then each model lay an image of themselves in their younger model glory years on the floor and looked at it longingly.  They remembered those moments with crystal clear vision and together with Saillard, who orchestrated the whole thing, they gave themselves a voice.

It felt like an indulgence to take up two opportunities arising during New York Fashion Week, to think about fashion, not in terms of silhouettes, colour and trends but its ethics, practises and schools of thought.  There are mountains of clothes everywhere but a chance to really think about the industry that we proclaim to love is a luxury indeed.

Jamie xx’s track All Under One Roof Raving has been doing the soundtrack rounds at NYFW.  Steel drums, good beats and a feel-good summer vibe – what’s not to like?  Moreover, its golden age of rave references have been reflected in one notable show - Marc by Marc Jacobs or MBMJ for easier MC rhyming.  Katie Hillier and Luella Bartley’s sophomore show had a lot to live up to.  I still remember the soaring feeling of “YAAAAAAAAYYYY!” when I emerged out of the Marc by Marc show last season.  It was a resounding triumph and the fruits of that labour have already started filtering out on to the streets (love spotting MBMJ par Katie and Luella on the streets at NYFW).

Whereas Jamie “xx” Smith was too young to remember the UK rave scene when it was happening, Hillier and Bartley do and are also canny enough designers to know how to extract the best stylistic references from that hedonistic music genre, and work them into a collection that is meant to resonate with Smith’s generation and younger.  Funnily enough I had been rewatching Mark Leckey’s 1999 video collage Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, the primary sample track for Smith’s track.  The  gritty and ethereal exuberance of it definitely could be felt at the latest MBMJ collection.

In da club is where we were at but the rainbow triangular neon structure throwing mad light shadows around the room was more euphoric than hardcore.  Even as models came stomping out in cloaked in edgy latex leggings, polka dot skirts and twisted bikini tops over t-shirts, courtesy of House of Harlot, there was a joy in all of it that erased any connotations of kink or darkness.  Consciously or not, there were echoes of Marc Jacobs’ own A/W 11 collection, with the strictness and severity taken out.

In its place was another style tribe in the making with knotted hair (note on the hair, the reference could have been either Miley Cyrus or Bjork – we know who did it first but the question is will the new MBMJ customer?), slouchy silhouettes, bolshy pastel-dipped boots and abstract pod-like bags.  Illuminati symbols and New World System slogans winked at you and like the Fergus Purcell graphics of the season before will slay people at first sight on the rails.  Even when Hillier and Bartley worked in more concept with layered pleated skirts, origami folded crossed over with demi-corsets, there was still a feeling of youth-propelled insouciance.

When designers talk about their “girl”, that can sometimes seem like an abstract concept.  Or just pure drivel-esque bullshit.  Hillier and Bartley however have nailed their MBMJ girl.  It’s so clear.  Not even twenty years-plus old UK-centric club scenes or obscure artist references can derail her.  She’s stomping along swiftly to her own beat of her own drum.

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