London designer Claire Barrow has been a mainstay of London Fashion Week for now eight seasons, with her bold DIY marriage of punkish vibes and hand drawn illustrations proving to be a success both critically and commercially. But while eight seasons can seem like a fleeting moment in the fashion calendar, she decided to show her autumn winter 2016 presentation, “The Retro-Spective”, as a look back on her own work, a museum retrospective complete with gift shop, merchandise, video art and gallery-like plinths.
Personal touches were present — a dress referenced Claire Barrow’s grandmother and her curtains — but it seemed to be more of an exploration of broader ideas of past and present, reinterpretation and history, than a solipsistic look in the mirror. This translated into archetypal call-backs to historical trends: victorian dresses, 90’s punk, brit-pop, resulting in a melting pot of fused cultural memories, a mishmash that seemed everywhere this fashion week. With 90’s references to Margiela and Lang defining the season, looking back might be the way forward.
Photography by Jonas McIlwain
The past can indeed be a seductive place, but twee nostalgia does not seem to be an option for Claire Barrow: “I really try to see the future, but without using any digital technologies, then it becomes very much about putting forward a vision.” In this case, her vision seemed to be her now easily-recognisable: illustrations on everything. While the illustrations themselves were topical and specific — statues, fair maidens, medieval knights and bra-burning silhouettes among other things, her distinct style can cannibalise both the content of the prints and the fashion below: it is easy to read her work as an ‘other Claire Barrow printed piece’ and to ignore the nuances of what she offers.
This is, however, far from a weakness. Even if Claire Barrow’s illustrations can look similar, they are inherently seductive, and manage a handmade feel even when applied to printed sweaters. She explains, “it is very much about cleaning the prints perfectly.” She is also as honest about her goals: “I wanna make money, because right now I work constantly, I live where I work.” She sighs, and adds “but I also want to stay independent and do my own thing.”
Words by Alexandre Saden
Portrait by Eugene Shikshin