House Of Style: Episode 09

amsterdam international fashion show

The Smirnoff International Fashion Show Awards in Amsterdam in 1991.
Photo: MTV

Season: 3 Episode: 9

Title: Summer '91

Original Airdate: 7/10/91

Appearances: Frans Ankoné, Joe Casely Hayford, Francesc Grau Tomás


There's so much going on in this clip and for reasons of weirdness, it's actually one of my favorites. I have one trillion individual beefs with the fashion industry but some of the pointier bits have to do with how designers' ideas are put under so much pressure to be commercially viable or be 1,000% red carpet fame-balls that so many silhouettes are compromised, boring and unimportant.

So when you remove any chance of mass production but provide a cash prize to dazzle some judges, the designing gets SUPER nuts. The Smirnoff Fashion Awards was a showcase that began in 1985 in the United Kingdom as a sponsored show in which student designers competed to win loot to either fund further schooling or provide seed money for a line. In 1991, the show went international with an event in Amsterdam that rounded up student designers from 25 different countries. I wish each of them had a blog because I would've read all about it.

It's actually frustrating how little information there is about the shows. If you look up the Smirnoff International Fashion Awards, you’ll learn that they were held anywhere from Cape Town to Toronto to New York City...until about 2003. The designs are zany and show-offy which is what you'd expect from kids with huge ideas and varying degrees of success at pulling them off. The shows look homespun and retain a “ball” feel because they were often held in nightclubs. Despite the dearth of information, we did discover that several of the designers and judges went on to fashion greatness. Alexander McQueen judged in 1995 and there's no way he would've granted points for anything less than extraordinary.

The designs in the 1991 show are scrappy and DIY-fancy. There is a disproportionate number of hoop skirts; see-through plastic things; dresses that jut out and are strung with so many dangling gewgaws that it makes the clothes look like mobiles or wind chimes. There are black-and-white jester outfits that feature dice as hats, and a series of models who walk out shrouded in giant, lumpy, elastic-gathered, bouffant surgical caps that are then removed to reveal the clothes underneath. I can't figure out a more elegant way to put it but basically it's like the body condom scene in Naked Gun. “The inspiration of the collection was artist Christo, the artist who wraps everything up,” says Vera Vandenbosch of Belgium. “I decided to wrap up the models.” OK, we're going deep in the nerd rabbit hole but Vera is a contender because she went to the Royal Academy in Antwerp, which is the same school attended by the “Antwerp six” (Ann Demeulemeester, Dries van Noten, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkenbergs, Walter Van Beirendonck and Marina Yee). Kris Van Assche (Dior Homme) also went there. So did Vincent Van Gogh. Vera did not win in 1991, but went on to become the director of e-commerce and design project management at the upscale furniture wonderland ABC Carpet & Home. She now lives in Brooklyn.

One of the judges that year was a lovely man by the name of Frans Ankoné. His résumé includes stints as the director of fashion and style at the New York Times magazine; a tenure as the Fashion Editor of German Vogue; and an appointment to the Fashion Director position at Detour magazine. Another judge, designer Joe Casely Hayford, went on to great acclaim. His impressive career ranges from dressing U2, the Clash, Seal and Duran Duran to making safari clothes from surplus tents in the early ’80s (not unlike Miuccia Prada, who put her family’s leather goods company on the map with black, parachute nylon backpacks a couple of years earlier). Ankoné also spent time as creative director of Savile Row’s Gieves & Hawkes. In 2007, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to the fashion industry.

Of the assembled designers, the winner was Francesc Grau Tomás of Spain. Ankoné says, “We chose Spain—the whole jury did—because we thought it was a very new idea to use sculpture on clothes. He did it in a very nice and interesting way.” The winning design was a floor-length smock with hillocks that resemble egg whites whipped into peaks, with a long jacket over the top featuring a mask on the back in relief. “It was the mask of an African tribe in Zaire,” Francesc explains. “It was a look towards the past, towards the naturalness of primitive tribes. And it was a play on words—the mask hiding fashion.” The impressive part is that the topographical elements identifiably form a face, and none of it is cumbersome. The model walks smoothly, and the garment exhibits remarkable fluidity while maintaining its shape. The garment also very much resembles this Jean Paul Gaultier wedding dress that uses the same idea.

The use of added dimensions continues to be explored now. The mask is evocative of the polygons seen in the current “art realism” or “new aesthetic” movement, which explores how things in the digital realm become real by either creating the illusion of depth with patterns and projection mapping, or creating topography with innovations in 3D patterning and 3D printing. For further reading on the subject (with multiple Pinterest examples), look to Joel Johnson’s study of the new aesthetic as it ties together fashion and video games or take a look at the gorgeous series in the “Digital T-shirt project” that features a sculpted wolf shirt that seems to reference Francesc’s mask more than twenty years later. You can also download 3D patterns as well.

For his undeniably avant-garde idea, Francesc won an 11-month course at Domus Fashion Academy in Milan (Vogue Japan’s Anna Dello Russo went there). He now teaches fashion design at Istituto Europeo di Design (IED) in Barcelona.


Smirnoff Fashion Award Show | 'House Of Style' Collection On MTV Style


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