Cristobal Balenciaga would create one single black dress each season to highlight his latest innovations in cut. He felt monochrome honed the eye to understand and appreciate his technique. A similar thought process motivated Mary Katrantzou with her new collection. Wanting, she said, to take her work forward, she shifted away from the prints and color palette that have fueled her meteoric rise, to a strong focus on shape and silhouette. Which meant that color was almost completely back-seated this season.
As much as the audacity of that move might have been cause for concern, it also generated anticipation, especially when Katrantzou mentioned the early-twentieth-century photogravures of Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz as guiding lights. Their painterly, impressionistic black and white photos reengineered nature as effectively as Katrantzou has done in her own work. Today, an early outfit—printed with tram-lined cobblestones, a single streetlamp, misty moonlight—suggested monochrome could be just as magical as last season's banknote beauties. So did the image of a blossom-laden tree that spread across one sleeve of a top while, on the other sleeve, a full moon hung suspended in the sky. Color or no, Katrantzou's fantastical, shadowy landscapes still seduced, with the added poignant allure of the melancholy that inevitably attaches itself to misty monochrome.
But this time, those remarkable prints weren't the main event—and that's where the trouble started. In her yen for progress, Katrantzou opted for the architecture of asymmetry, with huge obilike folds and (for the first time) drapes of fabric that suggested Japan's—or McQueen's—fashion avant-garderie. Stiff asymmetrical excrescences sprouted like breastplates. (One of them acted as a screen for a cascading waterfall.) Though you could say that contrivance has always been at the heart of Katrantzou's work, that wouldn't have implied criticism until today. The statement she wished to make was obvious, made more dramatic by the hardness of embossed black leather, in an austere shift or a skirt under a big slashed sweater. They were direct—maybe even violent—enough to make you wonder if Katrantzou felt that color has become a prison for her. She did, however, leave the door open a crack, with a handful of prints that looked hand-tinted, like turn-of-the-century postcards.