Saturday, 22 February 2014

Teatum Jones Autumn/Winter 2014 Womenswear

It was very telling that fashion designers Catherine Teatum and Rob Jones of London-based label Teatum Jones chose to call their first collection to be presented in runway format ‘I cried almost all the way to Nashville’, a sentence found in the recitation song ‘The Letter’ by Dolly Parton. Written on 2 June 1964, this was one of the American country singer’s most poignant biographical narratives that, in the format of an emotive epistolary account to her parents of the journey encountered after leaving home, established the foundations to understand the importance of working hard and of making difficult choices on the path towards professional realisation and personal fulfilment.

Photograph © The Style Examiner / João Paulo Nunes

Having this moving introduction as the only clue to start defining Teatum Jones’s collection, guests arrived at the ME Hotel in central London on the morning of Saturday 15 February and gathered in the lobby before being taken in lifts to the Radio Rooftop Bar. On arrival, rather than being allowed the panoramic views of the British capital through the expansive glass windows that have made the venue famous, Catherine and Rob opted to seat guests facing a square-shaped runway covered in swathes of beige industrial fabric splashed in black and white paint, a veritable stage set that highlighted expectations further with a literal and metaphorical sombre cloak. And when the first accords of Nina Simone’s version of the deeply sorrowful song ‘Strange Fruit’ started to play, it was hard not to stand still and feel that this was going to be another meaningful collection by Teatum Jones that treated its anchoring concept with dignified emotional intelligence.

Initially a poem written by Abel Meeropol (a white Jewish high school teacher from New York), Strange Fruit is a lyrical account of the hanging corpses of lynched African-Americans from trees captured in the photographs taken by Lawrence Beitler during the 1930s. After it was published in 1937, ‘Strange Fruit’ became one of the most emblematic depictions of racism in 1930s America and went on to influence numerous artists, from Billie Holliday to Bob Dylan. As an introduction to the Teatum Jones Autumn/Winter 2014 womenswear collection, Nina Simone’s voice engulfed the glassed room of the Radio Rooftop Bar with a contrasting sinister cloud that, even before the first model took to the runway, engendered an emotionally charged atmosphere.

Drawing inspiration from the severity of human existence captured in photographs taken in the early 1980s by Richard Avedon for his volume ‘In the American West’, the collection attempted to capture the endurance of human spirit against the barren and isolated landscapes of the Deep South. If the treatment of semantic tropes portraying physical and mental confinement are not new for Teatum Jones, in ‘I cried almost all the way to Nashville’ the duo revealed a (quite literally) deeper and multi-dimensional approach to fashion that took the underpinning notion of mimesis beyond the two-dimensional treatment of print and colour to attain highly successful experimentations with textures and silhouettes.

Photograph © The Style Examiner / João Paulo Nunes

Photograph © The Style Examiner / João Paulo Nunes

In addition to their investigation of abstract designs and a palette of industrial greys, denim blues, bright whites, and vibrant reds and blacks, the collection revelled on the playful layering of geometries and lines on cottons, wools and chiffons: seductive depictions of the shimmer of heat on the horizon of the western plains, of strata of dust and grime splashed on the grounds from which oil rigs erupt, and of the desolate eeriness of abandoned factories were enriched by textured jerseys inspired by weather-beaten faces, macramé patterns based on traditional wooden slat buildings, a hairy silk fleece that conjured straws dancing in the desert wind, an array of rich silk jacquards and fabrics with woven silver threads and raw-edged trims that suggested industrial landscapes, and detailed raised embroideries that, by virtue of being produced in artisanal British and Irish hand-operated looms, evoked the nostalgic appreciation for heritage and craftsmanship.

In a similar way, the silhouettes chosen by Teatum Jones for their Autumn/Winter 2014 collection mirrored their interpretation of human resilience and physical perseverance against destitution and social adversity by reinterpreting utilitarian workwear shapes. If the sartorial treatment of heavily problematic personal and societal consequences resulting from political and financial macroeconomics could have easily produced shallow results, in the hands of Catherine and Rob they generated confident and original statement pieces such as cotton bag dresses, lux dungarees, oversized shirts, dresses with dropped waists, and mid-length and full-length lines inspired respectively by Amish and Puritanical religious attire that contributed to a richer fashion lexicon.

If the choice of the words ‘I cried almost all the way to Nashville’ can be interpreted as the description of collective suffering in the face of adversity, they also suggest the hard work and dedication to sartorial art forms experienced over the years by Teatum Jones prior to reaching their runway debut. In this sense, this collection marks a turning point in the history of the label towards well-deserved wider recognition by fashion reviewers and buyers. 

In a few years from now, I hope that Catherine and Rob (and those like me who count themselves fortunate to have witnessed their creative genius at work) are able to look back on the early hours of that grey February morning as the dawn of a new day for their careers. And on that day, I also hope that the fashion industry is able to recognise that the line from Dolly Parton’s ‘The Letter’ that truly describes the talent of Teatum Jones is not the one about suffering on the way to glory but the one that encompasses the unfaltering commitment to the intelligent and artistic dimensions of creative integrity: “I believe that if I try long enough and hard enough that someday I’ll make it.”

Unless otherwise specified, photographs are courtesy of Teatum Jones

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