When he first appeared on the London scene, Jonathan Saunders blew audiences away with the way he manipulated zinging color and vivid print onto lovely, flowy dresses. It was those fresh, kaleidoscopic chiffons that generated the buzz around him, but Saunders seems to have a baffling lack of understanding of his own attractions. Last winter, he replaced his clear greens, blues, and yellows with mustard, rust, and black, lost the delightful chiffon in favor of robotic body-clinging wool, and was criticized for it. Perversely, he committed the same mistake again this winter, with more covered-up 1980's silhouettes and a palette of black, gray, navy, red, and ochre that failed to pop.
Saunders' technical skill and talent for original surface pattern isn't in dispute. Though he dutifully explained the origins of his winter prints in his program notes (Inuit, Japanese, and African), the painterly brush strokes, zigzag weaves, and "scarification" effects didn't turn out remotely "ethnic," and that's a plus. The problem comes when a designer is so absorbed in producing sophisticated artistic fabrics that he fails to stand back and look at how a collection coheres, or ask how it relates to fashion. Some of his evening pieces, particularly a gray turtleneck dress with a swirling speckled print on its long flowing skirt, and a gown with a cut-out back and a full red skirt, achieved a vaguely Geoffrey Beene-like elegance, but they weren't enough to lift the show. Handling both shape and fabric is a tall order for a young independent like Saunders. One solution might be to hook up with another designer who can help with silhouettes, but another is right under his nose: Remember what you did in the beginning, Jonathan, and work on that.