Two very different collections were presented by Central Saint Martins graduates Michael van der Ham and Christian Blanken at London Fashion Week.
Both only a few years into their own label and both graduates of London’s Central Saint Martins MA Fashion course, the two designers each showed a distinct approach to fashion.
Christian Blanken has worked in New York and Europe for major international brands and this experience has led to the setting up of his own label in autumn/winter 2008. This recent autumn/winter 2011 showing marks his fourth year. Blanken describes his style as “Clean, tailored, sharp, luxe and modern, not sweet!” and last week’s collection - shown at The Portico Rooms, Somerset House - echoes this sentiment. Blanken’s inspiration this season comes partly from the 1968 Claude Chabrol film Les Biches; influences that can be seen in the pared-back streamlined silhouettes that reflect the highly groomed style of the 1960s French bourgeoisie. However, Blanken says that he was also taken by the reworked Diaghilev ballet The House Party from 1964; recently shown as part of the Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballet Russes, 1909-1929 at London’s V&A museum.
The collection is effortlessly wearable, with Blanken’s years working in the U.S. high-end market clearly visible in the subtle sportswear aesthetic that takes a woman from day to evening with ease. Underpinned by tuxedo-inspired tailoring, deluxe evening pieces are overlaid in opulent duchesse satin and silk organza. Detailing comes from embroidered, paneled and printed jersey pieces, with texture characterised by razor cut metallic leather and neat shearling jackets. The colour palette is based around black and midnight blue, with rich jeweled red as a highlight and graphic woodcut prints on silk and jersey.
And for the designer, how would he describe the Christian Blanken woman? “Charismatic, with an artistic side. She is sensory; she enjoys and understands good fabric, tailoring and attention to detail. Her lifestyle requires easy, modern and interesting pieces.”
By contrast, Michael van der Ham describes his woman as “Someone who's not afraid to wear something a little more bold”. Indeed, his signature style is one of a “juxtaposition of elements from different decades in fashion…like a 3D collage of clashing colours, textures, weights of fabric and cut”. These previous seasons of clashing prints and pattern have established van der Ham as a new talent and this season the designer has evolved his style to become assessable to a wider client base.
Instead of the collage of differing prints and textures, the collage remains, but using just one fabric - a glossy velvet in cherry red, damson, plum, slate and turquoise and chartreuse. Designed into a series of dresses and tops, from daytime on-the-knee numbers to wrap around one-shoulder evening tops worn with hipster wide-leg trousers.
For the first time, van der Ham has introduced knitwear, taking inspiration from archives of vintage floral prints. The designs have been cleverly reworked into fine Italian jacquard knitted dresses, cardigans and tops with highlights of gold and silver Lurex. Refining his patchwork theme, the pieces feature curved seaming that subtly contrasts the deep blue and purple tones. In addition, Van der Ham has introduced outerwear; coats and jackets in palest pink or black mohair, with no two sleeves the same on each piece.
In conclusion, we can say that starting from different aesthetics, the two designers are both working towards a more easy-to-wear style, no doubt in response to a extremely difficult retail market, whilst retaining their highly-tuned sense of style.
For a video of Michael van der Ham's show click here
For Christian Blanken's page click here
Main image: left Michael van der Ham, right Christian Blanken
Other images top to bottom: 1.-3. Christian Blanken photos: Richard Stow 4.-6. Michael van der Ham photos: Roger Dean
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