February 21, 2011 London
Perhaps Schwab was imagining the tap-tap-tap of an artisan punching out the brogue pattern on the bodice of one of the leather dresses that opened the show. That was one of his concessions to what the show notes referred to as the necessity of ornamentation within minimalism. Another was the use of harness straps and buckles to give the leathers added edge. The strands of pearls that defined contours of shoulder, bust, and hip were intended to convey something of the way this collection would seek to traffic in contradiction: viz lady versus rebel, East versus West. A pearl is beautiful and pristine, but it comes from its "alcove" in the slime and ugliness of an oyster. Schwab, an inveterate lover of secrets, liked the idea of an alcove in a garment, where precious pearls could be half-hidden.
With that kind of abstraction at its heart, the collection often seemed cold and distant, even when there was beading that hinted at pagan scarification. That harked back to Schwab's lifelong fascination with the human body. For that matter, the traceries of pearls did as well. On one black shift, it was almost as if they were duplicating the marks a cosmetic surgeon would make before he performed a nip and tuck.
When the show finished, someone posited Claude Montana, an earlier student of fashion anatomy, as a reference point. The predominance of leather, the color scheme, the classical sensibility: You could see the thinking. But the mention of scaled-up, over-the-top Montana underscored by way of contrast a kind of tentativeness in Schwab's work. When he talked about the collection as "a praise in shadow," he presumably meant something subtle and secretive to exalt his women, but he originally made his mark with clothes that were much bolder than these, and that was one positive asset that was missing today.