"Only in the darkness can you see the stars" was the ever-powerful Martin Luther King Jr. quote at the centre of Ashish's SS18 collection. While last season was an explosively colourful, rainbow-themed show that celebrated university in adversity and the importance of diversity, last night's show was a far darker and dreamlike 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, all around the room. As the show began, harpist Tomos Xerri lulled the audience with celestial music that transported us into a star-studded sky. "I wanted a beautiful atmosphere. I imagined a harpist playing if you were in the clouds in heaven," designer Ashish Gupta explained backstage to Refinery29.
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 Ashish 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," Ashish told us post-show. "We live in dark times. It was that Martin Luther King 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 colours 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!"
And 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 pyjama 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 colour, bar flashes of red, Ashish's signature use of sequins reminded us of the need for optimism in frightening sociopolitical times, a glimmer of light in the darkness. “Sequins have always been a protest for me," the designer asserted. "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," Ashish told me. "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 symbolised 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 drew to a close with Larry B in a billowing crystal encrusted black cape, there was a moment of silence before the audience, including Years & Years' Olly Alexander, Justine Skye and Mabel McVey, erupted into applause. No one on the LFW schedule garners an end-of-show reaction quite like Ashish and he left us completely spellbound by his witches, shining stars and hopeful dream for the future.