Hillier Bartley

At first glance, the smaller product range, luxurious fabrication, and grown-up formality of Katie Hillier and Luella Bartley‘s new line look like a total disavowal of the young, overloaded, punkish collections that they spent nearly two years designing at Marc by Marc Jacobs. But neither Hillier nor Bartley sees it that way. “I think it’s a progression, really,” Bartley says. “In a way, what we’re doing now feels slightly rebellious as well.”

Where their work for Marc riffed on the skate and rave culture of ’90s London, Hillier Bartley invokes the rakish, irreverent fashion of more classically British men, real and fictitious: Lucian Freud, David Bowie, Withnail, and Ian McCulloch. Their style feels even more transgressive when Hillier and Bartley reinterpret it as womenswear. “There’s an element of exploring sexuality in there,” says Bartley. “Sometimes the masculine can look very feminine.” There are also class contradictions at play in the collection. “You’ve got this very aristocratic feeling about some things, and then you’ve got these very English street references,” she explains. “It’s the tension between the two that I really like.”

The basic radical spirit of the clothes falls neatly in line with that of their earlier work, but their sumptuous dressiness sets them apart. Tuxedos, waistcoats, and shiny silk dresses, decorated here and there with fringe and Ottoman-looking tassels, ooze a distinctly Old World charm. Bartley remembers, longingly, a more “indulgent” time in fashion, before the internet made everything flat and hyperfast. “We’re trying to do something that we believe in, that feels personal,” she says. For now, that means smaller collections and a reticence to immediately post lookbook images online-an incentive for press and buyers to see and feel in person the plush fabrics they’ve developed. “It works,” says Bartley. “It’s really lovely.”