There was an elegant androgyny to Kate Sylvester's presentation this morning. Models' hair was worn partially slicked back, while the tailoring and silhouettes danced between ultra feminine and decidedly tomboyish. As always, the native New Zealander's literary inspirations never fail to bring something different to the table and this season was no exception. Reimagining Shakespeare's classic tragedy Romeo and Juliet for Spring Summer 2015-16, the collection was laced with plenty of tongue-in-cheek references throughout. The cross motif in particular was a nice touch, making coy reference to Shakespeare's famously star crossed lovers. It's details like these that we've come to so appreciate about Kate Sylvester's collections. This season, models had small crosses pasted to their faces just below the eye, while button-up shirts featured little lace-up crosses close to the neckline. The cross necklaces, too, were reminiscent of those seen in both the Zeffirelli film adaptation, as well as Baz Luhrmann's cult classic. Overall, the Luhrmann references felt a little more on point, though, with plenty of button-up floral shirts on offer that could have come straight off the back of Leonardo DiCaprio's 90s-style Romeo. The references extended beyond the clothing, too, with each guest's gift box containing a floral tie not dissimilar to that worn by Leo in the film.
Again at this collection, there were armour-like creations, like those that have continued to crop up at many of this year's shows. Not just in Australia either, but also at the overseas collections like House of Holland and Christopher Raeburn's in London. In Kate Sylvester's case, it is most obvious to view this design choice as a rather literal interpretation of the costume worn by Romeo in Luhrmann's version of the Capulet party that unites the two lovers. Certainly, it is easy to see how Romeo's armour has been reinterpreted in matt leather shoulder pieces and dagger belts for this collection, but I think that it also goes beyond this. As classic chain mail was reinvented in soft, slinky knitwear and cotton mesh, one couldn't help but feel that Sylvester — and indeed a number of her other contemporaries — are now designing for a new kind of femininity. This modern woman is bold and self-empowered, but at the same time appreciative of both beauty and quality. The Kate Sylvester woman of the now is not one to be straight-laced in ill-fitting suits, but someone who will embrace her fine lace appliqué just as eagerly as her power lunches.
With that in mind, some of Sylvester's clothing was certainly ultra-pretty — think full-figured lace dresses crafted in pastel tones and a smattering of that floral motif — but to counterbalance all of this, there was also beautiful pinstripe suiting alongside tough leather separates. There were subtle references to yesterday's women, too, with Edwardian-style lace collars and a recontextualisation of the classic apron. One couldn't help but notice that the aforementioned dagger belts were also somewhat reminiscent of aprons, only that here they were being worn as a kind of sartorial armour — redefining all that this garment symbolises. Alongside the Edwardian references, this all took us right back to women of the past and, in doing so, forced us to consider the ways in which our values and privileges have since changed. Here, too, I think that designers have been weaving a bit of a common thread lately, with Gary Bigeni also delivering his own version of Elizabeth Bennett for the 21st Century earlier in the week. Slowly by steadily, it seems we are seeing fashion creep back to the fore that is reflective of the now and, better still, makes us really think. If anyone was going to be capable of that this week, it was the ever-cool Kate Sylvester, with her enduringly intellectual chic aesthetic.
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