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.

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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

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