Jonathan Saunders spent part of the summer in Barcelona art directing The Visitor, a short film by Justin Anderson, which details the sexual impact the arrival of a young stranger has on a dysfunctional family. It's a take, in other words, on Pasolini's Theorem, which made Saunders very happy because he loves the director. But he was also very grateful, he said during a preview the other day, to be doing "something about something," the implication being that fashion is a little on the content-free side for him. But not his fashion, surely. Saunders' new men's collection arrived, as his others have, absolutely laden with cross-references and subtexts and shards of personal history intertwined with bigger pictures, and the fact that it was all so seductively seamless made it appear that the designer has found his sweet spot. It's embedded in his fascination with the crossover between his menswear and womenswear, convincing proof of which will soon be provided by his Pre-Fall collection for women. But what his presentation today clarified was how Saunders is evolving his own cast of characters: dreamy, poetic, urban, ambiguous. His boys, all cheekbone and Weimar-slick hair, had an air of effete decadence, but they were posed on giant dirty speakers pumping The Fall and Throbbing Gristle. Nothing like Mark E. Smith or Genesis P-Orridge to add an edge of dangerous unpredictability.
Saunders excels at evoking a scene with his presentations. He does it so well because he's in thrall to other scenes. This season, Ryan McGinley's and David Armstrong's raw, celebratory photos of their friends were on his mood board. And there were, as usual, images of the choreographer Michael Clark, collaborator and close friend of the late and increasingly legendary Leigh Bowery. Something in the clothes picked up on the tacky, fearless headiness of their worlds: a sweater banded in blue Lurex paired with red track pants, a silver leather blouson, the lurid boldness of stripes and checkerboards. The Crombie bisected by horizontal stripes has become something of a signature piece for Saunders, even more so for this particular collection when the stripes were Lurex. "Freedom, grittiness, people without money being creative," Saunders said of his influences.
But athletic grace is also a foundation of McGinley's photography and Clark's choreography, and that same quality has increasingly infiltrated Saunders' clothes. It's something to do with the way his casually luxurious fabrics have of moving around the body. The most striking effect, however, was achieved when Saunders laboriously hand-colored a precious Arts and Craft-style print in felt-tip pen, then wrapped it in bands of bleach. He had no clue at all how it would turn out. "Vandalizing," he called it. So it is already one of Fall 2014's happiest accidents that, cut into a blouson and pants, the result was so damn desirable.