There has been a trend for historical pastiches during London Fashion Week, where collections weren't inspired just by paintings or archeology. Erdem Moralioglu moved indeed from a news piece from a couple of years ago when divers in the North Sea found off the coast of The Netherlands a 17th-century drowned wardrobe that, historians established only a few months ago, belonged to Jean Ker, Countess of Roxburghe.
Ker was a Scottish courtier and lady in waiting to Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I of England. In 1642, the countess accompanied Princess Mary to The Hague after the latter's marriage to Prince William of Orange. The real reason of the journey was actually to sell the crown jewels through Elizabeth Stuart's contacts and raise money for the Royalist army.
While crossing from Dover to Hellevoetsluis in the Netherlands in February 1642 one of the 12 ships of the royal fleet sank in bad weather and what remained of its cargo was discovered in 2014 by divers off the Dutch island of Texel.
The dress was found together with a number of other items, including a comb, a Bible with the stamp of the Stuart crest, an intricately embroidered purse and pomanders (or "perfume balls", spherical objects used to hold sweet-smelling flowers and herbs). As they were buried in sand on the seabed, the pieces were protected by erosion.
At the time the dress was described as one of the most important maritime discoveries ever made in the Netherlands. Thanks to a letter, this year historians managed to attribute the dress to Ker, a historically intriguing character since she had been a spy in the court of James I, Charles' father, passing on information to the King of Spain.
Remarkably well preserved, the silk gown, in the style depicted in paintings of the late Elizabethan era, features loose-fitting sleeves, a bodice, an upright collar, sleeve caps, and a pleated skirt that has a front opening.
The gown - that was then displayed at the Kaap Skil Museum - turned orange, green, yellow, black and brown with the centuries, but was originally characterized by a floral motif in gold and silver thread and an intricate design.
This background story perfectly explained the mood of the set, with models walking on a wood boardwalk and among sails, digital projections of sea rolling on the runway, sea paintings, and book pages and accessories frozen in pools of water.
The clothes featured details that the designer borrowed from the 1600s, but Erdem also decided to combine ths story of the shipwrecked dress with a fictitious time relocation, imagining Ker the conspiring spy transported to another time and another place, landing on Deauville's beach in 1930 together with an army of ladies. The main idea for the designer was indeed that the 1640s and the 1930s were times on a brink of a war.
The collection opened with a selection of garments - a jacket nipped at the waist matched with cropped trousers, and long-sleeved high-waisted ankle-length dresses, fastened or held by black grosgrain ribbons, all accessorised with raffia sun hats (that actually looked quite distracting) and thick and clunky platform sandals that at times evoked perilous calcagnini.
The fabrics in the first part of the show - floral brocades and jacquards in particular - seemed more interesting than the actual designs, while the selection of frothy sheer tiered dresses in coloured lace came instead via the photographs of Jacques-Henri Lartigue portraying his wife and friends at Deauville in a palette reminiscent of Gustave Gain's pictures of his wife and friends at Flamanville. Some silhouettes dropped off the shoulders providing variations to a collection that at times proved to be a tad repetitive.
It was actually a shame Erdem emphasised the elaborate background story too much as the attention should have been maybe refocused on the fabrics and on other details and inspirations.
Silks for the designs were woven at Vanners, one of the companies still designing and weaving silk fabrics in England (originally established in the early 1700s); other textiles integrated distressed sections into the fabric; the opening blue jacket was inspired by a 17th-century garment from the Bath Fashion Museum; sparkling jewels decorated some of the garments here and there, hinting at lost and found treasures, and at the crown jewels hidden in seams of her dress by Jean Ker, while the Roman numeral XII was also a feature of the prints as the ship that sank was the twelfth in the fleet.
The designer evoked in some of the lighter dresses in muddy colours and in the slashed and re-collaged textiles the effects the sea and sand played on the lost gown, while raw fabrics called to mind sails. The final white dresses, in particular one made of bias-cut strips, were worthy of a ghost bride haunting the wild seas (shame there were no experiments here à la Sigalit Landau's salt bride in this collection…).
Though as a whole this wasn't a bad collection, it was unfortunately marred by some unnecessary Dolce & Gabbana/Chanel-isms, not to mention a certain Antonio Marras edge and by the collective hysteria some fashion magazines have developed for visually rich costume dramas à la Outlander, Poldark or Queen Victoria. Besides, the story of the spy who lost her clothes in the sea was already intriguing and didn't need to be complicated by fictitious armies of amazons landing on a beach.