What to do in turbulent times? New York Fashion Week made a case for riotous color and carbon neutrality in the face of political and ecological dystopia. Meanwhile, Charlotte Knowles is preparing to bite back this London Fashion Week—with a collection called Venom.
“It’s just us fighting for our place in the industry, I guess,” says 26-year old Charlotte Knowles, of her and partner Alexandre Arsenault’s sudden attack mode. On the eve of their first stand-alone show, the duo have successfully graduated from the experimental Fashion East group show with their slinky utilitarianism and Central Saint Martins–honed repurposed corsetry. Bella Hadid chose a floral suspender top and skirt from the label’s Fall collection for the VMA red carpet, and the determined pair have also released a sportswear capsule with Canadian juggernaut Ssense, a coup for the Montreal-born Arsenault. “Sports bras and shorts work really well within our universe because we can do it with our edge,” he says.
Now, with their runway show tomorrow, in the bigger picture, this could also be the last London Fashion Week within the EU. As tough as it is for any young label to survive, with such uncertainty, freedoms previously enjoyed will be threatened within the industry, and this will affect labels like Charlotte Knowles. On cue, the duo are taking the current atmosphere as a call to arms. “A lot of the cuts are quite protective,” says Arsenault, his tattooed hands reaching for a tactical combat vest with cross-over military Velcro straps on the rail in their south London studio. The duo will continue to explore their signature harnessing and stretch crepe designs that have garnered a strong, hard-bodied following. “It’s taking these underwear references and applying something really tough to it,” says Knowles. “These fasten across the breast, so you can completely cover yourself. Or you can wear it over a T-shirt and leave it open.” They are calling this top the Viper Bra.
And the hypnotic, shadowy cobra prints crawling through hand-printed silk dresses and tailoring? “Venom was something we felt—not only in the industry but in the world in general—there is something barbed happening. Especially towards women,” says Knowles. “Things like the antiabortion lobbying—everything felt so heavy and poisonous. We need to take a stand and fight.” She touches the sinuous tailoring, an area she and Arsenault are both keen to explore (civil serpents, indeed). Also, this season they are elevating the collection with shearling outerwear, made from extra-light glove shearling. It’s designed to be worn oversize, with accentuated shoulders and nipped waists.
“I love the edge of romanticism in the ’90s. Kind of badass, it never looked like Lolita,” says Knowles of the cowl-neck slip dresses in bleached-out checks and camouflage-ish murky florals. The mood board includes an image of a young Paris Hilton in a hot pink cutaway one-piece, nestled among fabric swatches and some edgier imagery. “We just loved the shape,” says Arsenault. With their enthusiasm for Guinevere van Seenus and Courtney Love, Hilton may seem à rebours; but with her reemergence at New York Fashion Week, she seems somewhat timely. This image was also the model for the regenerated nylon swimwear that will work as layering pieces in the Charlotte Knowles show.
With their strong emphasis on shapewear and lingerie—Gaultier conicals are also displayed on their mood board—we touch on the idea of diversity on the runway. “There’s no one that’s noticeably bigger just for the sake of having a bigger girl,” says Knowles. “There’s something much more authentic in communicating it through social media rather than runway—real girls wearing your stuff.” Their lineup for Tuesday includes their fit model, a New Zealander called October who moved to London only a couple of months ago but is already part of the Charlotte Knowles family. “She’s mega, and in a band,” swoons Knowles. She and Arsenault are “music geeks,” who reference Hole and Nine Inch Nails while going through the collection. The rest of the casting will come courtesy of Anita Bitton, the force behind casting for Marc Jacobs, Celine, and Dior. “It’s going to be a really fast show, moving hard and strong, the music pumping; we’re going to have a red, kind of hazy setting when people walk in,” says Arsenault. This unnerving haze will come via the tinny effect of a Courtney Love album played through a phone speaker.
The designers are still conjuring their woman. “We’re building her slowly, more and more physically, but I think it’s about this girl that’s really confident; she lived through the digital age and survived it,” says Arsenault. “The zeitgeist of how intimacy is on Instagram changes her, toughens her,” adds Knowles. Hair, by Shiori Takahashi, and makeup, by Isamaya Ffrench, “will feel chipped, like the leftover of something,” says Arsenault. The remnants of a big night out? “Yes, and bleached out and layered like our clothes,” he says.
The runway show will also feature the first Charlotte Knowles accessories. Jewelry, made with friend Alexandre Calliot, will feel weaponized, with anodized aluminum punctured nails, semiprecious stones, and bullet holes (shot by Calliot personally at a Paris shooting range). “We quite liked the idea of something delicate becoming a dangerous thing,” says Knowles. The shoes are a defiantly alien take on the Cuban heel, masterminded by Marko Bakovic (who has also created impressive shoes for the rising menswear duo at Stefan Cooke, who are friends of Knowles and Arsenault). “They’re angular and animalistic. The front looks like a snake’s head,” says Arsenault proudly.
Onward to Tuesday’s show. What will be the directions for the models? “This is our starting crew. Creating a new movement, a new wardrobe. Send them out strong and powerful, so people are scared,” says Arsenault with a smile.
Originally Appeared on Vogue