The crowd was primed with show-note references to Cecil Beaton society portraits and the Bowes Museum’s Silver Swan musical automaton sculpture, but few could have expected the career-defining show that Giles produced for S/S ’12.
Characterised by a new level of intricacy and precision, the collection was rigorous in its discipline and balanced on a razor’s edge of seduction and danger.
The collection glided to a start with a fluid white suit topped by a Stephen Jones swan headdress. The looks grew gradually darker, transitioning through a peach marabou jacket with a sheer back that read like a pair of wings and a liquid-silver grouping of dresses and suits. Giles hewed to a restricted palette of white, silver, peach, pale violet, red and black, and apparently the front row got the message. The designer’s find of the hour, Jessie J, sat agog and purple wigged at her first fashion show.
But swans aren’t just Golden Age socialites or creatures that move smoothly over the Serpentine. They’re also fierce fighters, and the shredded silver leather dresses had a gladiatorial yet polished air. That potential for menace came through still more clearly in the flashes of red on the graphic swan tees and the aggressively corseted dresses (fact: the new gorilla t-shirt is Giles’s swan-printed version). Filmy, low-backed Lady Godiva gowns were the kind of garments a Giles girl might wear to answer the door during a California orgy. A black swan in a chiffon blouse and narrow trousers could have walked out of Eyes Wide Shut.
Every detail was considered, with one red gown featuring miniature satin swans facing each other over the corset laces. The collection built to its crescendo, a red-feathered Daphne Groeneveld who made a terrifying yet breath-catching angel of death.
The show and its theme contended with cultural events that cast long shadows: besides Black Swan the film, there was the Mariinsky Ballet’s genre-defining production of Swan Lake from this summer to consider, and Miuccia Prada’s red-carpet-ruling swan dress from S/S ’11. But this couture-like collection could answer to any comparisons. Thanks to Giles, this world of references has found a new Swan Queen.