It is undeniable that, under Sheila McKain-Waid’s design leadership, over a period of three years British luxury label DAKS produced some of its most sophisticated womenswear collections. Anchored by refined investigations of the brand’s heritage and traditional identity, McKain-Waid’s creations became renowned for delicately pushing the boundaries of tailoring and experimentation while carefully balancing textures and silhouettes. However, after her departure in late 2013, and as it approached the celebration of its 120th anniversary in 2014, DAKS took a serious gamble in making its overall creative director Filippo Scuffi responsible for the Autumn/Winter 2014 collections.
As the last look that revealed Scuffi’s designs abandoned the runway during the last edition of London Fashion Week on 14 February 2014, many buyers and journalists shared a sense of bewilderment and acquiesced in a collective silence in order to avoid voicing their surprise and, in some cases, their disappointment. In strong contrast to what the label had developed with McKain-Waid, the collection could have easily been interpreted as a treatment of DAKS’s own influential heritage in a parodic pastiche of Britishness that, rather than investigating ingenious ways to represent the future of the brand, opted for highlighting its past it in all its literal dimensions.
The colour palette rehashed the House Checks with camel, vicuna, black, burgundy and military green juxtaposed with accents of gold that in many looks bordered on the excessive. The choice of fabrics may have revealed DAKS’s ongoing focus on quality (with double-faced cashmeres and soft nappa leathers) but their treatment in grid-like juxtapositions, panelling effects, and in the derivative shapes of military garb (with particularly rigid results in menswear) failed to bring out their best qualities. In addition, a range of fur hats inspired by the ones used by British Guardsmen pushed the collection towards an inscrutable ironic dimension that (even if used for styling purposes of the runway show) had many followers of the brand striving to understand their purpose.
If the collection was described as being “inspired by the contemporary woman who dresses with intelligence together with a tinge of irony and wit that accompanies elegance”, the final output failed to be entirely fulfilled. For a brand that prides itself of a solid 120-year heritage that witnessed several royal warrants, irony may not be the best quality on which to cement its future creative possibilities. It might well be that Scuffi has only just taken the first steps on this radically new path for DAKS; however, until he succeeds in revealing the full potential of his ideas, a pervading feeling of incomprehension will continue to cloud the judgement of many a journalist and buyer.