If Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games” evokes the heart-ache of a generation that prefers to express itself via text message rather than love letter, it was the pitch-perfect ballad to open Scottish-born, London-based designer Christopher Kane’s Spring 2012 runway collection. Kane’s retro-’60s looks seemed poignantly geared to women young enough to still play sweet and innocent but also possessed of a slightly tougher and more street-smart sense of romance. Sourcing inspiration from “really random” photos he found of teenage girls living in welfare housing, Kane imbued the collection with a dark undertone by designing sporty prep-school sweaters with thick black edges and flannel skirts that suggested very short Catholic-schoolgirl uniforms. These pieces, along with a color palette consisting predominantly of oxidized hues, nudged at the sinister side of youthful femininity.
Kane likes to take an idea and twist it inside out, until even traditional floral prints turn into complicated emotional battlegrounds. The saccharine images of flowers heat-sealed onto translucent fabrics were undeniably resplendent, all the while mocking the cloying sentimentality of a get-well-soon card. But perhaps it was the way Kane juxtaposed his clothes with the striking addition of athletic sandals—footwear more common at a swim meet than a fashion show—that revealed his interest in grounding his frocks with one foot in the real world. “I wanted to create an adult contrast,” says the 29-year-old Kane. “A really awkward shoe with a really pretty dress felt much more appropriate and right.”
Another juxtaposition Kane toyed with was the introduction of washed-out vintage-style jeans, part of the designer’s collaboration with the American-based J Brand, many of which were encrusted with sparkly, crystal embellishments. “The jewels are so precious but slightly wrong at the same time,” he says. “The jeans are something you could wear with a beautiful white shirt, a cashmere cowl-neck sweater, or even with flip-flops in the garden.”
Kane first made his mark in fashion in 2006 with an award-winning graduate collection at Central Saint Martins—and six years later, his eponymous label continues to be a crown jewel of London Fashion Week. One of the first to notice his talents was Donatella Versace, who offered him a consultancy role right out of school. In 2009, she named him designer for Versace’s Versus label, where he reinvigorated the playful glamour of its legacy with safety-pin dresses and pleated miniskirts.
Despite working closely with big names and big brands, Kane prefers the clothes he designs to be worn by women who are decidedly more under the radar. “It’s really good to see people on the street wearing my clothes” he says. “They’re not necessarily super-rich, so they’ve actually spent their hard-earned cash on something they really love that they will have for the rest of their lives.” At a recent Central Saint Martins party, he spotted his favorite kind of muse: “There was a girl who was wearing a £2,000 skirt rolling around on the floor. She was a young, cool girl and she was just having the best time with her friends and she didn’t really give a damn.”
Another fit model who the designer has in mind for this expanding empire is Christopher Kane himself. His first menswear pieces launched this past November. “It’s always nice to have something I can wear as well—I mean, I can’t jump out in a beautiful neon dress,” he says. “Besides, everybody knows guys today dress up just as much as the girls.”