"Only in the darkness can you see the stars" was the ever-powerful Martin Luther King Jr. quote at the center of Ashish's spring 2018 collection. While last season was an explosively colorful, rainbow-themed show that celebrated the importance of diversity, this offering was a far darker affair.
The show space was transformed by set designer Tony Hornecker into a nightscape with black vinyl flooring and disco balls refracting light, like shooting stars, around the room. As the show began, harpist Tomos Xerri lulled the audience with celestial music: "I wanted a beautiful atmosphere," designer Ashish Gupta told Refinery29. "I imagined a harpist playing if you were in the clouds in heaven."
But it wasn't just the harpist's soft notes and the twinkling set that drifted us into the nebulous land of sleep; from the bold first look Gupta invited us into his dream vision, with a glittering silver skirt worn with a black hoodie bearing the silver words "Good Mourning." "I was actually feeling kind of sad this season," he said. "We live in dark times. It was that Martin Luther King Jr. quote that in darkness, you see stars; it’s about finding hope in dark times. I wanted to channel that energy into something beautiful. I just felt like I don’t want to be celebrating colors because everything that is going on is just so dark. But in that darkness is hope, so there are still a million sparkles and sequins. I wanted it to be a cathartic experience. I feel like I staged my own funeral!"
There were plenty of sequins and sparkle, from the Cosmic sky dress worn by model Sienna King to the moon- and star-adorned dresses and glittering striped pajama-style suit. The words "Rest in Peace" twinkled on the back of a jacket and were emblazoned on the front of a T-shirt, while a dragon motif ran across night robes and jeans. Though there may not have been much color, save for flashes of red, Ashish's signature use of sequins reminded us of the need for optimism in frightening sociopolitical times. “Sequins have always been a protest for me," he added. "It’s always been a revolution for me. A protest against blandness.”
Halo-like headpieces by Rottingdean Bazaar added to this sense of protest against blandness and conformity. "We gave them a brief and they just translated that energy," he said. "There was something quite dystopian about those headpieces, quite oddball. Like the ‘Queer’ top; it’s not queer as in gay, it’s queer as in oddball. And the headpieces really symbolized that notion of individuality and being unique, being strong and powerful. The witchery was about being a strong and powerful woman, reclaiming that power."
As the show came to a close with Larry B in a voluminous dress/coat hybrid, there was a moment of silence before the audience erupted into applause. No one on the London Fashion Week schedule garners an end-of-show reaction quite like Ashish, and he (once again) left us completely spellbound by his witches, shining stars, and hopeful dream for the future.