Michael van der Ham's inspiration this year was "tough girl—moody and dark." Or, put another way, "Lulu having a rough day," he said with a laugh, referring to Fashion East's Lulu Kennedy, the first person to spot his talents. Van der Ham was one of the 2013 Fashion Forward winners, and he has received plentiful industry support from his beginnings: Today there was a sense of his acknowledging that by evolving his collection much more than in seasons past. Perhaps he realized that the patchwork/collage look that garnered him attention in the first place was reaching its sell-by date.
That result was a much more polished outing than Spring, with some serious stabs at refinement—especially in the shape of one Oscar-worthy black and white gown that was adorned with a hammered-metal appliqué van der Ham called "bullion." If it sounds rough-and-tumble, it was not: The appliqué came through on the chiffon as perfectly refined and smooth, helped along by a precision cut that was relatively new to the van der Ham repertoire.
The Dutchman used other cool sewing tricks and techniques to somehow suggest that was all one-dimensional, though it was not: The van der Ham signature of texture and depth was still very much there. Case in point was a cashmere top using a moss stitch to maintain a fuzzy look. Van der Ham's use of chenille on a few boxy coats seemed to suddenly upgrade the fabric from its usual identity as a bad sofa covering to demi couture, and his ingenious "inside-out jacquard" (he literally turned the jacquard inside out) was pleasantly substantial to the touch.
The printed blouses—which added a surprise element to the show—were unexpectedly good, especially beneath the coats that had sculpted cutouts, providing a peep into the wonderful cloud formation prints a layer under. And Christian Louboutin's tough-girl patent-leather shoes with the scary-looking ball bearings in the heels provided the first real TDF shoe moment of this season. Ikram Goldman was one of van der Ham's first fans Stateside, and after this collection, it's a safe bet he'll pick up several more high-profile admirers. It would be great if they discovered him in time for the Oscars.