It was a little saddening to read the reviews to Mary Katrantzou's S/S 14 shoe shoes shoes collection. It didn't seem so long ago that I had asked the young graduate from Central Saint Martins to borrow one of her dresses from her MA collection to wear around Paris because I was so fixated by her way with digital printed trompe l'oeil. From then on it was a fast and upwards ascent that saw her business grow dramatically and her collections grow in acclaim. She was the digital print golden girl who could do no wrong. This season there were pleas to "Turn off that computer" from both Suzy Menkes and Sarah Mower. Tim Blanks noted the "shrug of familiarity" from the show going audience. The general consensus seemed to be that because Katrantzou has spawned countless copyists, her digital print work needed to be taken to another level or that she needed to innovate. No critic could put their finger on what this "game-changing innovation" should be but that they all found something lacking was abundantly clear.
I technically didn't see the show as I shot backstage instead. Good thing then that the theme was so transparent that I didn't need to go grab a press release. Shoes, shoes, shoes. Or better yet, "Shoes. Oh my god. Shoes." as sung by Liam Kyle Sullivan's character Kelly. Mannish brogues, sporty trainers and evening slippers – printed, warped, wrapped, moulded, embroidered around the body. In the context of a S/S 14season that was so surface-driven, it seemed appropriate to singularly hone in on an object that taps into a fetishistic desire on the part of women. Surface for surface's sake, when supremely well executed as it was at Katrantzou's show surely can't be faulted. For a designer who has enlarged objects like perfume bottles and necklaces and magnified ornate views of rooms and typewriters, zooming in on the shoe and tricking out the unexpected from what could so easily have been a banal theme was completely in step *ahem* with what Katrantzou does so well.
And so we come back to this search for newness. This is where I feel reviewer and general consumer opinion diverges. "I actually blame the young stars," says Cathy Horyn in her roundup of LFW. "They are not being as innovative as they need to be. It‚Äôs that simple. You can fool the fashion press with a gimmick or a cool bit of styling, but you can‚Äôt fool ordinary people." My question is, do the public constantly seek cutting-edge innovation? Are they looking from season to season as consumers at whether what they wear is pushing new frontiers? As I observe, generally speaking, digital prints on the level that Katrantzou produces does still have wow factor where the public are concerned. Digital print is in essence an infinitive technique that keeps giving precisely because the subject matter of the print can be limitless. Sure, we might be feeling the ennui of the churned-out floral/geometric dig prints when thrown in by lesser designers or chucked out on the high street but I do think Katrantzou is a soaring exception where even something as plainly obvious as a shoe gets given a treatment that does feel special and fresh to "ordinary people". Her copyists do exactly what the name says – copy, and badly I might add. I know gauging Insta/Twitter responses isn't exactly a rock solid benchmark but one of my most-liked photos of LFW just happened to depict one of Katrantzou's Lesage-collaborated evening creations. Could this be a case of expecting too much from a designer who has by any standards, overachieved in a short period of time? Is it not simply enough to continue to bed down what she does and build her brand with what is still a very strong aesthetic USP?