EXHIBITIONIST: Phoebe English showcased pieces from her fall 2019 women’s wear offering at the Morley Gallery in South London at an exhibition called “Inanimate, Animate. (Only) Half the Reflection,” a show in two parts, the second of which features 30 charming marionettes wearing to-scale pieces from her archive.
The person-sized clothes, which made their debut during the men’s shows last month in a presentation, were suspended from the ceiling on rotating mechanisms that afforded close-up inspection of the intricate techniques that have earned her a loyal following.
There was a black pinafore dress with T-shaped cuts outlined with wide satin stitch embroidery, and a delicate white mesh harness.
“We call this coat, ‘The Coat of Dreams (and of Nightmares)’,” said English, fondly nodding to a black topper made from a great many patches of recycled black fabric, each piece encased in fine silk tulle. The kind of deceptively simple, thing that a cursory glance sets the mind to thinking, “Right, black coat” but an up-close eye-ball reveals all its complexities.
The space was scented by Timothy Han, who used the aromas of birch tar and dry wheat from his “On the Road” fragrance to emphasize English’s focus on natural sustainable fabrics, and Johanna Burnheart performed a live violin solo piece throughout the evening.
But perhaps what will draw the crowds to the show is the room containing the humanoid puppets wearing miniature versions of English’s greatest hits that were initially displayed in 2017 at the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Fashion in Motion live fashion show.
“This is the first time that we have shown the puppets without a person next to them wearing the same look,” she told WWD. “I worked with puppet-maker Judith Hope and she based them on the figures that I do my sketching on, so they’re more humanoid than human in shape, with no real waist, and no real shoulders, either. So making the looks on that scale was actually rather a challenge because it wasn’t a matter of just shrinking the patterns.”
Among the highlights were the black dress of leather scales, the oxblood red patent leather skirt and matching apron top, and the natural cotton plissé ensemble.
The show, which runs until Feb. 20, will close with a ticketed public event with an intimate walking tour of the exhibit, hosted by English herself. She will discuss her design process, experience and future manifestos of the label, followed by a quilting workshop using waste materials from previous collections that will contribute to an ongoing quilt project of the brand, which will be exhibited at a later date.