John Alexander Skelton: Collection VI
By BEL JACOBS
The celebration of historical research and traditional hardworking that have made Sarabande alumni John Alexander Skelton one of the most exciting names at London Fashion Week Men’s were once again in full flow at the designer’s latest Collection VI. Hosted at the historic Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Pub in Fleet Street, Skelton paid homage to the area by taking his audience through the fetid alleyways of London’s Alsatia, the name given to the area that, nestled between Whitefriars and Fleet Street between the 15th and 17th centuries.
Thought to be named after the Alsace region of France, the area was reportedly refuge, not only to criminals, but also to a thriving clothing industry of tailors, weavers, embroiderers and printers, drawn there mainly due to the cheapness of accommodation. Little record remains of this area apart from The Cryes of London, a series of illustrations by 16th century Dutch-born painter Marcellus Laroon’s, The Cryes of London. Amongst these single portraits of which includes an image of The Squire of Alsatia - essentially a conman - who imitates aristocratic dress in a get-up of patched second-hand clothing, in order to dupe the ladies of London society out of riches.
The idea that humble and upcycled fabrics cut in ostensibly flamboyant or refined fashions could alter how its wearer is perceived is a motif that permeates Skelton’s collection. The Sumptuary Laws, which forbid the working classes from wearing fine clothing, provide inspiration - as do the ingenious ways many would then defy those laws, building wardrobes up from adroitly customised hand-me-downs of their masters.
In every aspect, Skelton is a true iconoclast in London’s thriving men’s fashion scene: from his adherence to his flamboyantly homespun aesthetic to his ways of showing (on the night of Wassail, an ancient custom); from his street cast models (now friends) to the depth of his study; from his dedication to handwork to his steadfast loyalty to traditional British practices. His clothes speak as much to the future as they do from the past, encompassing the ideas of slow fashion, care and craftsmanship that are coming up to answer the destructive forces of industrialised fashion.
Skelton up-cycles and transforms clothing through combinations of extravagant and practical silhouettes. Wools in rich colours, hewn and handwoven from the Scottish isles to the foothills of the Indian Himalayas, are washed and distorted, simulating a crossbreed of luxury by convoluting what is humble and lavish while remaining enshrouded in an undertone of criminality.
Worn and patinated waxed jackets are repurposed from their original shapeless forms into slender tailored items; antique french grain sacks become voluminous coats and sailor like trousers to echo the military attire that would have influenced.
Shirting in a variety of Skelton's block prints echoes the popularity of such cloths during this period, handmade by centuries-old techniques perfected by artisans using natural mud resist techniques. Knitwear and crochet in Welsh and Scottish wools are patchworked in rich reds and naturally occurring fleece tones. In continued collaboration with milliner Stephen Jones, wide-brimmed hats are entirely hand felted, using natural black British wools soft yet weathered and impeccably finished on the interior. Shoes, new for Skelton, are handcrafted in Northampton from softer skins to avoid the traditional stiffness of a British made shoe before being painstakingly hand-patinated in Skelton's studio.