Despite last year’s reports of the economic sky falling and gathering clouds sending buyers scurrying for safe ground, one designer stood defiantly against the whipping winds of change, scanning the skies for a little golden sunshine. And gold he found….caves of the stuff!
Designer Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi found refuge in the troves of religious iconography, mosaics and relics housed in the massive hull of the Royal Academy of Art’s exhibit Byzantium. Al Qasimi explains the concept behind the armor-like boleros and rippling sheaths, “It’s based on Byzantine women who have been woken up from a crypt and hauled on to the catwalk”. Wish I looked that good when I woke up, not to mention after a 2,500 year long catnap! What he has awoken is an appetite for unabashed opulence.
Qasimi presented a legion of angular gold boleros crowning regal sheaths in tomato and turquoise along with luxe ivory jodhpurs. His glazed, ‘Midas touch’ eyelids and halos of jutting jackets transformed models into saintly icons. His integration of geometry in this collection was inspired by 84 yr old Iranian artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian who encorporrates mirrored mosaics and reverse-glass painting in Islamic geometric patterns.
Qasimi enlisted the skills of British jewellery designer Scott Wilson, who has worked with groundbreaking designer Hussein Chalayan, to collaborate on the project. One of the most enticing of which were the bejeweled (and interchangeable!) spats.
The bubble of Byzantium existed in the Dark Ages, in may ways not disimilar to tremors we’re experiencing these days. While the Roman Empire disintegrated around them, plunging Europe into the Dark Ages, the rich island nation of Byzantium continued to pour money into the arts by commissioning religious works . While the safety and priveleges enjoyed by some evaporated to be replaced by a constant state of danger and uncertainty, others simply exchanged one set of miseries for another. A fitting era to look to for clues. “I wanted to create something optimistic to lift us from all the financial doom and gloom,” said Al Qasimi.
Byzantium continued to advance the arts in a cloak of spirituality when the lights went out in the rest of the world and it helps to remember that there would have been no Renaissance without it.
Currently in talks with leading department stores to produce a capsule evening-wear line aimed at Middle Eastern women we can just imagine Dubain princesses licking their lips for these Faberge dresses.
One person whose eye it pays to catch is that of Dazed and Confused creative director Nicola Formichetti. The style whisperer has already slipped Lady Gaga into a Qasimi creation for her new video and has tempted vocal vixen Florence Welch, from Florence and the Machine, into a new look by the designer.
Qasimi’s elevated tastes, if not perspective, never disappoints. So while we nibbled on foil-wrapped chocolates in the cavernous Old Sorting Building it was hard not to believe that luxury and limitless optimism were still kicking around out there somewhere.
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