When the participating designers for the inaugural London Collections: Men were announced, the news that the label Meadham Kirchhoff was to unveil its first menswear label took the world of British fashion by storm. A young label that garnered a swift and enviable cult status, Meadham Kirchhoff had been seducing buyers and impressing fashion editors with their intriguing womenswear collections since it was founded in 2006 as a joint sartorial venture by Edward Meadham and Benjamin Kirchhoff. With such a reputation, the announcement that the two designers (who graduated from womenswear and menswear from London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design) were to show their first foray into menswear as part of the London Men’s Fashion Week in June 2012 made their tickets as covetable as gold dust.
Instead of following the traditional runway show format, the collection was displayed as a theatrical installation in the environs of Carlton Gardens, a neo-classical collection of buildings designed by John Nash that until World War II was one of the most exclusive residential addresses in London. Faced with this societal and historical context, and as expected of their creative outputs, Meadham and Kirchoff chose to deconstruct the elevated status that is often imposed on fashion. Instead of drawing the audience’s attention to the presentation of garments in a traditional manner that would have appealed to the ladies who once lived in Carlton Gardens, the dramatic presentation focussed on building a disjointed narrative where garments were worn by 13 models in a seemingly slovenly manner.
Meadham Kirchhoff has never been regarded as a label whose designs are expected to be embraced by collective fashion taste easily. Part of the challenge in understanding the designers’ ingenuity lies in accepting their determination to avoid clichéd formats when it comes to presenting their fashion collections. As such, the label’s first menswear range revealed richly embroidered duvet covers and purposefully roughly knitted throws that, hidden in a busy context of dereliction, turned into rare glimpses of beauty that had to be discovered by viewers, in an almost melancholic evocative process that brought back memories of treasure hunts. In other words, if the initial shock value was caused by perceiving the superficial ugliness of dejected models surrounded by broken furniture, dead plants, dirty ashtrays, and strewn litter across the two rooms of the installation, it was by examining what lied beneath the cracked veneer that revealed extraordinary shimmers of beauty and made this an extraordinary collection.
Flowing tops embellished with detailed embroidery or sequins and tunics in delicate floral fabrics were presented nonchalantly or hidden underneath layers of garments such as rough wool jumpers as if timidly hiding from the gazes of those who sought immediate sartorial ingenuity or profitable creativity. Instead, Meadham Kirchhoff’s talent had to be unravelled in the analysis that wondrous details offered when one allowed expectations to be lowered or even completely destroyed. When one accepted and welcomed this process, impressive technical layering and adorning techniques could be identified in richly printed and colourful garments. Elegant items such as a textured quilted biker jacket in faded shades of blue wool or a jacket with embroidery over a paisley print in shades of red contrasted with plain striped cotton trousers and sportswear to reinforce the inspiration from eclectic sources in a post-modern process of designing and producing fashion that Meadham and Kirchhoff have been mastering for years.
After leaving the presentation, and as the scent of Penhalligon’s Hammam Bouquet perfume that infused the rooms faded slowly, one could not help but ponder on how the washed-out historical elegance of Carlton Gardens was in fact perfectly suited for the display of Meadham Kirchhoff’s first menswear show. The grandeur of this corner of London, that once housed royalty, politicians and ambassadors, can still be glimpsed in the attempt to keep the walls of the buildings perfectly painted or the lawns and rose bushes flawlessly manicured. However, for its deeper meaning, one had to examine the historical reality of the area’s broken expectations. As a beacon of hope for defeated political ambitions such as the Prussian empire of the Republic of Texas (that had short-lived embassies in the area), and as a memory of an increasingly impoverished bourgeoisie and aristocracy, what lies beneath Nash’s architectural perfect lines is, in the end, not dissimilar from the derelict (and yet intensely beautiful) realities that Meadham Kirchhoff created for our times.