Erdem Moralioglu was inspired to create his AW18 collection by the tale of an American actress marrying into aristocracy. No, not that one. Even though the Canadian-Turkish designer (and now British citizen), is one of the odds-on favourites thought to be dressing Miss Markle on May 19, this wasn’t a showcase of wedding gowns. Shame.
Instead, the designer had found his muse in the figure of Adele Astaire, the American actress, dancer and elder sibling of Fred Astaire, who, in 1932, married Lord Charles Cavendish, the second son of the Duke of Devonshire. As a wedding present, Lord and Lady Cavendish were given Lismore Castle in Ireland, the marvellously spooky Gothic estate. They lived among its misty turrets until his death in 1944 from alcoholism, when the estate reverted back to the Cavendish family.
Not exactly the happiest of narratives on which to examine the future success of an Anglo-American romance. But a very prettily dressed one at any rate. The show’s designs ping-ponged between the decades of Adele’s life, taking in her stage career era — with jazz-age sequins, pearl embellishments, floral brocades and polka-dot flapper tulles — and then marrying them with the sturdier tweeds, jumbo cords, capes and cropped trousers more in keeping with her colder, draughtier existence as a chatelaine.
Staged in the National Portrait Gallery’s historic wing (the first time the gallery has opened its doors to a fashion show) and before a front row of floral-clad supporters — including the actors Felicity Jones, Ruth Wilson and Helen McCrory and the sister band Haim — the show made a convincing argument for Moralioglu’s current status as one of Britain’s most esteemed dressmakers. After nearly 13 years in business, the designer has become famous for a brand of sumptuous occasion-wear that draws on richly textured details and tight narratives and yet delivers it all in pretty, flattering forms that appeal to young and old. His name is now global, thanks to the patronage of women like the Duchess of Cambridge, Alexa Chung, and the aforementioned Meghan Markle. But his design is not elitist: his recent collaboration with the high-street retailer H&M, a collection of pieces “designed to last”, was one of the brand’s most successful.
Had the H&M collaboration had any influence on his thinking here? Was the sheer opulence of the materials and embroidery a response to having to work with a budget? Quite the opposite. Moralioglu had found that working on a menswear collection, as he did for H&M, had spurred him to explore the collection’s more masculine lines.
This AW18 collection was also marked by a new collaboration with Nars, the cosmetic brand owned by the Shiseido group. The association had no doubt helped secure the rental one of Britain’s most visited galleries. But it also reinforced his reputation as the house of the establishment. His is a fascinating journey. As so many other brands look to the street, offering endless interpretations of the hoodie, trainer and cap, it’s curious to see Moralioglu headed in the opposite direction. His is an enviable position to occupy.
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