Matthew Williamson: 10 Years in Fashion at Urbis

These days designer Matthew Williamson, the British fashion prodigy, is reported to open his first NY shop in early 2009 and to leave Emilio Pucci where he was a Creative Director since 2005, having succeeded Christian Lacroix. And in the meantime the exhibition “Matthew Williamson: 10 Years in Fashion”, celebrating the start of his burgeoning career in 1997, has made a stop in Manchester, until 21st of September 2008.

Manchester is Williamson’s native city
. Born on October 23rd 1971 in Chorlton, Williamson subsequently graduated from Central St Martin’s with a BA 2:1 in Fashion Design and Printed Textiles. He then had a freelance design project with Marni and worked for Monsoon and Accessorize before founding Matthew Williamson Company in 1997 together with Joseph Velosa. He has been nominated three times as the Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Awards, won Elle Designer of the Year award in 2004 and Moet et Chandon Fashion Tribute in 2005. He has been showing consistently at the New York Fashion Week (with the exception of the Spring 2008 show, when he made a return to London, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of his designer’s activity).

The exhibition that is currently at Urbis in Manchester is the one that debuted at the Designer Museum in October 2007 and is apparently destined to travel internationally, celebrating, commemorating, and even perhaps letting discover, Williamson’s talent and work. The displays that focus on four main themes – Colour and Psychedelia, Hyper-Nature, Global Extravaganza, and Lifestyle – feature Williamson’s sketches, notebooks, as well as the actual pieces from different collections.

While the exhibition and talent of Williamson leave no doubts in their potential to inspire and grow, the displays at Urbis located on the top floor of the ship-like glass building probably suffer to an extent from the organisation of the space and light – and from the Manga exhibition on Level 1. You really are best taking the lift to see “10 Years in Fashion” first and then go downstairs, if you want to sink in the multi-colour world of Japanese Manga. Williamson’s designs, for which he consistently draws inspiration from ethnic cultures (his spring/summer 2009 pre-collection is said to be inspired by contemporary Havana), are indeed colourful, but in a different, multi-layer, multi-pattern, multi-mix way – quite unlike the deep single arresting colours of the Manga displays, which are bound to leave the impression even if you simply run past them. Unfortunately, displayed against the white walls, or in glass cabinets, on the top level where the light and reflection depend not just on artificial lighting but also on the weather outside, Williamson’s designes lose some of the impression they can certainly make. On occasion, the space perhaps has its say in reducing the impression, which again has to do with the actual location.

Still, as you can see on the photos I took at the exhibition, there is a lot to see and to enjoy. In one particular display your attention is sure to be caught by the pink embroidered trouser suit, and also a long fuchsia dress. I love bright colours myself, and on that not particularly sunny day wore yellow tights, fuchsia shoes, a blue dress, and a hand-made yellow-and-pink mohair jumper (which you can see on the picture). And it’s been quite some time that I’ve been thinking of knitting or crocheting myself a long dress, and going to Matthew Williamson’s exhibition convinced me to say “yes” to the inner urge. Behind me in the picture you can see one of a few catwalk shows that you can watch at the exhibition.

Apart from the ones I’ve just mentioned, other designs that impressed me are from the spring/summer 2008 collection. Think ruffles, sequins, khaki (for which colour I have a soft spot, which is why the maxi dress on the left was an instant favourite), but also highly stylish bags (they are, too, a girl’s best friend, after all). But then have a look at the yellow coat from the fall/winter 2008 collection, or at the pale coloured dress with uneven length from the pre-spring 2009 collection, and you will be confronted with totally new ideas for female fashion. In a way, the designs from the pre-spring 2009 collection may be as challenging to some as pinafore dresses – but that’s what fashion is about, really: pushing you out of the old routines.

And bearing in mind that Williamson has now taken inspiration from Cuba, this really must be telling.

As a matter of fact, Williamson has apparently only just bought his first piece of art: “a light installation – a series of horizontal neon tubes that move and change colour” by Rob and Nick Carter, t5m reports. Williamson acknowledged that himself, but I think the very description of the art object tells us: this is the quintessence of Matthew Williamson – ever-changing, ever-colourful, and ever-light.

Notes on the images:

Pictures from the Urbis exhibition were made by me and can seen in Matthew Williamson: 10 Years in Fashion Flickr photoset.

Other image credits: Matthew Williamson official website and NY Magazine.

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