The venue was blacked out, so you could only just make out the huddle of women travelling together on a boxcar through the middle of the set. A screen lifted to reveal a railtrack (we were in a freight yard in King’s Cross) and strange pink earth either side of it. The first model stepped on to it wearing a pretty Victorian dress, revealing bare shoulders, black ribbon around her neck. Perfectly Erdemesque, you would think – the designer is known for his delicate, finely embroidered dresses.
Cut to backstage after the show: ‘It was about prairie madness,’ he told us. ‘In 1862, Abraham Lincoln passed the Homestead Act, it gave single women and widows the right to own up to 160 acres of land in the American West. So women came from Europe bringing their clothes and mementos with them – but with so much space, they became agoraphobic and suffered from all kinds of psychological illnesses. And so I imagined them, going out into the night.’
It was impossible not to re-evaluate Erdem’s seemingly innocent collection of Victorian-inspired dresses after hearing that. Those oddly bare shoulders – had those pretty full sleeves dappled in pink buds and vines been yanked down? The black ribbon around their necks – did they symbolise a potential noose? The final three romantic dresses in waves of fragile, frayed organza – had he imagined them ripped?
Erdem’s business has exploded (he just opened a flagship on London’s South Audley Street, buyers from Matches to Mytheresa.com confirm that his collections perform brilliantly in stores and online, and he’s championed on the red carpet), and so too has the theatre of his shows. Last season, he imagined heiresses who’d fallen on hard times and pictured them in an interior where they’d pinched the furnishings to wear and make do.
This time his women wore long, flounced Victoriana with high necks, in couture-worthy panelled lace, devoré satin, shredded jacquards, embroidered with fragile flowers or the occasional strawberry, and often spilling waterfall ruffles. The question is, how does he manage to make it all look modern and relevant for real women, who may or may not read Emily Dickinson’s poetry (spoken over an orchestrated version of Kraftwerk)?
Erdem knows his customer as well as his well-researched heroines. And next season, she will want to be a prairie girl.