A Mary Katrantzou show without one single piece of eye-popping digital print? Has the world gone mad? No, not at all. If anything, Katrantzou's show tonight was an utterly rational assertion of her need to change and grow. She claimed she wanted more time to flex her creativity, to work with laces, jacquards, and brocades, rather than constantly being subject to the time-consuming tyranny of the prints that made her a star. A calculated risk, perhaps, except that Katrantzou latched onto a visual language that was just as powerful as the serial symmetry of her prints: the power of signs and symbols.
Her interpretation of symbols embraced the idea of the "professional" signifier—school and sports uniforms, scouts and their badges, businessmen's pinstripes… and the purest flight of fancy, a butcher's metal apron turned into a mesmerizing bias-cut serpent's skin, trapping a torrent of pleats. But it was when she applied herself to the most primal power of symbols that Katrantzou's collection showed its truest colors. She collaged the high (heraldic emblems) and low (men's-room signs) into dense, eye-teasing swaths of fabric, and she allowed them to breathe by cutting them into the most straightforward, sporty silhouettes: a tank dress, a gym slip, a sweatshirt. If the chaos of her raw material was still ordered by the discipline of symmetry, Katrantzou managed to create embroidery-encrusted mirror images that had the barbaric opulence of totems from some recently discovered fashion cargo cult. And there was actually something distinctly high priestess-y about her floor-sweeping pieces.
But perhaps that was due to the presence fore and aft in the show of Kirsten Owen. Owen is the only possible rival to Kate Moss in terms of relevant longevity in her profession, and any designer who employs her clearly has something other than the moment of this particular season in mind. Katrantzou's collections have often taken the long view, functioning as distillations of memories, souvenirs of life to be savored and treasured. That notion was stronger than ever today. It was a beautiful new chapter for a designer who is fearless in her fusion of fashion and philosophy.