‘Why You’d Want to Do That Is Beyond Me’: London Fashion Week Faces Down Its Critics

“We live in such funny times,” Mr. Moralioglu said, “this wonderful exchange between two very different worlds was beautiful.”

He had been allowed to visit the queen’s wardrobe at Windsor Castle, rooting through her finery and mixing elements found there with the gowns Billie, Ella et al. wore to perform. The result was lavish: elaborately embroidered, bedecked with stones, pearls, ribbons and bows, mumsy and magnificent all at once. Fantasy is an Erdem specialty. It veers into costume more often than you might wish; there are only so many balls at this stage in Elizabeth’s reign. And yet there’s something special about its opulence. How that will be replicated by the fast-fashion giant H & M, with whom Mr. Moralioglu is designing a capsule collection to arrive in November, is anyone’s guess.

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ERDEM: Spring 2018

CreditGio Staiano/Nowfashion

Mr. Moralioglu’s fellow fantasist, Christopher Kane, has a dirtier mind. “I’ve always been a bit of a pervert,” he said with a chuckle backstage after his show on Monday. Mr. Moralioglu dreams of the queen; Mr. Kane, of Cynthia Payne, “Madame Cyn,” the suburban brothel-keeper whose prosecution in the early 1980s transfixed the British tabloids. Her home in Streatham, South London, the picture of propriety, was actually a hotbed of vice, visited (so they say) by members of Parliament, peers and policemen. That dichotomy appeals to Mr. Kane, who has always had a taste for making the safe seem seamy, and the seamy seem safe. “She’s a you-know-what, but she’s lovely and clean-looking,” he recalled his mother saying of Madame Cyn. The clean and the dirty: he’d found fertile territory.

Mr. Kane took the cleaning metaphor literally, magicking garbage bags into dresses (their ties turned to bows), washing-up rags into scratchy-looking knits, laundry bags into lace, and mops into silk-fringed shoes. He took the sex literally, too, with peekaboo dresses and tops revealing all underneath, and prints by the photorealist painter John Kacere — featuring a very single-minded slice of ladies’ anatomy, as if on advertisement — to underscore the point. The two combined with a furious gusto probably not unfamiliar to the Payne parlor way back when.

Mr. Kane leans so hard and so fearlessly — if the protesters who picketed London want shame, Mr. Kane is resplendently shameless — on his particular enthusiasms, and the mad, alchemical way he combines them, that his shows are a wonder to behold.

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Christopher Kane: Spring 2018

CreditRegis Colin Berthelier/Nowfashion

“I can see so many labels starting up and it all looks the same,” he said. “I don’t want that for me. I think that’s why you have to push yourself, really kill yourself. If no one likes it, O.K., as long as I feel I’ve really achieved something and it’s fashion, not run-of-the-mill clothes.”

It’s fashion, no question. But is it clothes? That question needled away at the pleasure of Mr. Kane’s show. No doubt there are simpler, more sales-friendly versions of his pieces awaiting buyers in his showroom.

But Mr. Kane’s fantasies, feverish as they are, don’t always suggest the way that clothes need to work for women back out in the world. That world is growing ever more complicated, and it waits just outside the door with demands. Chief among them: Why?

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