Shakespeare is having a huge influence on fashion in 2019
Molly Goddard ready-to-wear autumn/winter ’19/’20.
The Bard has become rather popular among designers of late. In fact, autumn/winter ’19/’20 was studded with Shakespearean references. Following Riccardo Tisci’s spring/summer 2019 Burberry debut where clothes and bags were splashed with Shakespeare quotes, his autumn/winter ’19/’20 show was titled , drawing on the playwright’s stormy tale of islands, castaways and magical revenge. Elsewhere, David Koma looked to two plays preoccupied with the acquisition and loss of power: and . Inspired by Elizabethan costuming, with plenty of military detailing along the way, the Georgian designer also wove in butterfly and serpent motifs from the texts.
Gucci ready-to-wear autumn/winter ’19/’20.
Other designers may not have referenced Shakespeare explicitly, but still found themselves looking to 16th-century fashion, when ruffs, bodices and a complicated dress code dictated what different social classes could wear. On the autumn/winter ’19/’20 catwalks many of these details were updated, with variations on Juliet-style puffed sleeves seen at Khaite, Simone Rocha and Molly Goddard. Elsewhere the ruff, which grew markedly more extravagant throughout the Elizabethan era, featured at Roksanda Ilincic in a frilly pink style, while Osman presented several in sprays of black and white. In Milan, Gucci took the ruff in a more Pierrot-inflected direction, complete with unnerving spiked masks fit for a cyberpunk .
Matty Bovan ready-to-wear autumn/winter ’19/’20.
Back in London, Matty Bovan’s ruffled and corseted collection cited the Pendle witch trials as its presiding influence. Taking place in the decade after – a play infused with contemporary fears around witchcraft and dangerous women – the famous 1612 trials led to the hanging of 10 people, most of them female. This preoccupation with maligned Shakespearean-era women also informed Hussein Chalayan’s designs, which, the designer tells , were inspired by “the way women historically, and still to this day, are scapegoated if and when they are overtly sexual”. For his autumn/winter ’19/’20 show, which marked Chalayan’s 25th year of work, he “wanted to look at references [of what] Shakespearean women in brothels wore… conflating that with a modern wardrobe, exploring many of the elements in order to create an empowered image of the body”. The results – full of soft, dark leather, loosened stays and contrasts between tight corsets and languorous drapery – made for a provocative collection that looked simultaneously backwards and forwards.
Roksanda ready-to-wear autumn/winter ’19/’20.
Syrian-born designer Nabil Nayal has also been thinking about the fusion of past and present. “There’s an energy in the friction that exists between a historic technique and highly contemporary methods,” he says. For Nayal, this has led to several collections drawing on Elizabethan dress: most notably his exquisitely crafted spring/summer 2019 show staged in the British Library, which was inspired by Elizabeth I’s Tilbury speech.
“It was an era of spectacle and parade, a time of high drama within fashion, influenced by social, cultural and religious transformations of the period,” Nayal explains when asked about what draws him to the era. “It was a time of contradictions too: the Reformation is an important reference point within my work and the austerity it brought to England informs my love of black and white. Conversely, the Elizabethan period was also an opulent time that celebrated craftsmanship, which we see through painted portraiture of people wearing silks, brocades and embroidered cloths of gold and silver. But it’s the linen smocks and loose shirts that I love most, which also includes the cartwheel ruff – an iconic symbol of the era.”
These aren’t the first round of designers to play with the rich possibilities of Shakespeare’s world and work. Valentino’s autumn/winter ’16/’17 couture show drew on the romanticism and high drama of Shakespeare’s Italian-set plays, with one long, black gown featuring embroidered lines of text. Alexander McQueen’s autumn/winter ’03/’04 show had vague, shipwrecked and -esque elements, with doublets, ruffs and Tudor tailoring to match. While Vivienne Westwood’s autumn/winter ’97/’98 show paid homage to Elizabethan silhouettes, complete with plenty of her characteristic bosom-squashing bodices. And back in 1980, Yves Saint Laurent devised an ornately jewelled wedding dress in tribute to the playwright, citing both and Lady Macbeth as part of his creative process.
Shakespeare (above), the son of a glover, was always interested in what clothes could tell, as well as transform or obscure, of a person – not least because he was working in a business where costumes were a crucial part of each performance. His plays are full of disguises: women dressed as swaggering men; the rich slipping into the garb of the poor; masked balls allowing two young romantics from warring families to meet under exceptional circumstances. Over the course of his works appearances are changed, the trappings of power shed and something as small as a glove imbued with powerful intimacy.
Molly Goddard ready-to-wear autumn/winter ’19/’20.
Chalayan, whose fashion shows are akin to theatrical events, describes the relationship between clothes and performance as a “connectivity of ideas, body and space”. In looking at puffed sleeves and ruffs and some choice lines of poetry, one tumbles into a fascinating set of connections too: between eras, between designers, between words and history and clothing, and a long-ago playwright who continues to offer ways of approaching the world (and, surprisingly, our wardrobes) anew.
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