Clowning Around


Even in recession, fashion ain’t for shrinking violet’s and all the world’s a stage. More precisely, it’s a circus, with pandering designers or dangerous tight walks (Those Louboutin’s at Ruffian? Treacherous!). So designers like Erin Fetherston or Swedish trio Minimarket look to the big top for inspiration, channeling the tragi-comedy of clowns with enlarged collars, bright color-blocks, and powdered faces.

The first circus act came last summer, during Topshop’s Fall/Winter 2008 collection, when the British store took a page from Miu Miu and Viktor and Rolf for feminine, tri-colored ruffles or sequined, almost too cute mini dresses that literally felt like an Oxford Circus. High-waisted overalls and bowler hats were unmistakenly following the ringleader, and subtle Mondrian blocks were often main prints or subtle details (around the neckline, for example). Topshop’s Unique line for Fall/Winter 2009 didn’t drop the baton, featuring glittery dresses getting more campy than glamorous. (Photo: a look from Manish Arora)

Looks from Topshop, Topshop Unique

Then Minimarket, three womenswear designers from Sweden, debuted their Spring ’09 collection, pleating high waisted skirts and pairing red on top of white (like a circus tent, perhaps?), topping every look with a brightly hued bowler hat to show that, despite economic hardship, fashion is meant to be lighthearted. Indian designer Manish Arora created a circus of his own for spring, literally turning merry-go-rounds into skirts or using psychedelic elephant prints, painting model’s faces a porcelain white. Despite being virtually unwearable, Arora’s collection was beautifully absurd.

Looks from Erin Fetherston, Minimarket

But perhaps the thoroughly interpreted example was Erin Fetherston’s recent pairing of a the jester cuff with a one-piece, maxed out bows around the neck and created angular, extreme silhouettes with poof skirts and ringmaster jackets. Equal parts dark and precious, Fetherston recalled a Pirouette, the French clown that mimes sadness, putting models in waist coats and peplum jackets atop black-and-white striped hosiery. The drama and whimsy in Fetherston’s collection teetered between playful and serene, seeming to suggest to that, while the gift bags were shrinking and designers are becoming more commercially motivated, the show (and all of its performers) must go on, even if that requires painting a smile on your face.