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Thoughts on Meadham Kirchhoff, couture, and codes.

Alex Fury
LOOK 33 199x300 Thoughts on Meadham Kirchhoff, couture, and codes.

A look from the autumn/winter 2014 Meadham Kirchhoff show

Edward Meadham once told me he was interested in codes. “The codes of dressing, these languages,” were the words he used. Then we went off on a tangent about Chanel. But that idea of “coding through clothes has stuck with me ever since, whenever looking at a Meadham Kirchhoff collection.

It sticks because, out of all the designers in London, their aesthetic is the once that strikes you as most encoded. It’s complicated to decipher, and ever-changing. Nevertheless, there’s something instantly recognisable about what they do. They love a miss en scene – their latest had streamers and hearts and ribbons spelling out “Tralala,” which is a nonsensical phrase that is also the name of their first fragrance, created with the English perfume house Penhaligon’s.

But even if it had been shown in the most antiseptic of spaces, their aesthetic lust would have shone through. It put me in mind of that wonderful John Galliano collection, presented in the whitewashed halls of the Louvre, where models flunk themselves down catwalks in telephone-wire crinolines to the sound of wolves howling, conjuring up another world. That was transportive. Meadham Kirchhoff shows are too.

With the perfume and the ethereal catwalk presentation, you’re struck by Meadham Kirchhoff’s resemblance to an old-school couture house. Couture carries through into the actual manufacture of these extraordinarily-wrought garments. And the very idea of codes of design is a terribly couture sensibility. Raf Simons’ work at Dior is obsessed with them, and Karl Lagerfeld’s at Chanel too. It’s something that also carries through to the accessories and cosmetics these behemoths create, the Lady Dior quilted designs etched into surface of a Dior compact, the camellia patterns stamped through a Chanel eye-shadow. The heady scent of Meadham Kirchhoff’s Tralala, a sweet, slightly sickly miasma that called forth remembrances of thirties perfumes and stale face-powder as it wafted through the Turbine Halls of the Tate Modern, is equally encoded.

LOOK 1 200x300 Thoughts on Meadham Kirchhoff, couture, and codes.

A tweed suit designed by Edward Meadham and Benjamin Kirchhoff

Anyway. What this Meadham Kirchhoff show really demonstrated were the codes that Edward Meadham and Benjamin Kirchhoff have established for themselves. There were boucle suits, some over-embroidered with silk thread and tiny pearls to create simulacrum of tweeds, in black, white and neopolitan ice-cream pastes. That same colour palette carried over into the frothed, lingerie-lace trimmed dresses, all billowing layers of georgette and chiffon, fragile things that whispered over the body like turn-of-the-century underwear.

Those two polar opposites have, bizarrely, become the fulcrums of this label. At first glance, they could have come from other hands, as Meadham Kirchhoff have their young imitators and influencees (former Fashion East-er Ryan Lo’s sugary-sweet, synthetic shenanigans are their closest offspring, whether he admits it or not). However, no one can create clothes quite like these.

I loved the last autumn/winter 2013 Meadham Kirchhoff collection, much to the chagrin of its creators. The show I saw – the  one was titled “Helter Skelter” – wasn’t the show they wanted me to see, for various complicated and convoluted reasons. “I don’t speak to people, I don’t have any friends and I don’t go out,” commented Edward Meadham after that show. The implication is that the medium is their message, that their fashion shows are their way of communicating. If the medium becomes garbled, so do does the message. Meadham Kirchhoff hated that show that everyone else loved because it wasn’t expressing what they really wanted to say. it was a compromise. Which is something they always try to refuse to do.

That refusal to compromise, to quit, to bend to the rules of others, is what has allowed Meadham Kirchhoff to establish their inviolable aesthetic codes. It’s what makes them interesting, and what makes their clothing mesmerising.

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