In late May, Monsoon held a Press Day to showcase its Autumn/Winter 2013 Collection. On display with the usual bohemian, ethnic flare typical of Peter Simon’s 1973-founded company were ‘Russian-inspired knitwear’, ‘embellished outerwear’, and ‘elegant 1920s-inspired flapper dresses’ with Accessorize products to match and finish.
The setting for the vintage-twist collection was a wintry Russian birch forest especially erected to present the main range, served by a pop-up bar for adult liquid refreshments, and an Imperial nursery in an adjoining room for the children’s range, complete with matryoshki and snugly folk-print cushions.
With the recent release of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, the turn to the 1920s for inspiration is definitely on-trend. One only has to look to Harrods’ decision in May, to portray scenes and fashions from the movie in its famed window displays, for confirmation.
Yet, firstly, what Monsoon has done is extend from that specifically ‘roaring twenties’ style to what Mark Russell, Design Manager for Monsoon, described as “the art nouveau movement, so print movement, something very soft, feminine and romantic”, thus promising to bring to the cold months later this year a comforting, yet luxuriant, vintage feel. Secondly, it has done its typical ethnic sourcing and sought inspiration from Russian folklore for fabrics and the prints themselves, the 1920s in Russia having been considered the ‘golden age’ for such and, more recently, trends on the catwalk seeming to lean that way after Olga Vilshenko’s folk-inspired show.
The 1920s were a period when fashion was undergoing serious modernization, crossing the line between men’s and women’s clothing, with an androgynous flourish daring to blur slightly the gender boundaries – all in the name of style. From 1925 onwards this really took off, earning the nickname the ‘roaring twenties’. What particularly distinguished 1920s dresses and skirts from even the teens of the twentieth century were the implementation of the slit, pleats, and easy fastening devices such as the zip. All of these are present within AW13. Such alterations allowed for greater movement, making them perfect for a time famed for a dance-crazy generation familiar with the Charleston, and now perfect for today’s fast-paced, ever-on-the-go woman.
That was all until 1932, when print fashion, or the art nouveau movement, really came into its own, before sliding into art deco. Indeed, this subtle shift is also well evidenced in AW13, in the geometric shapes of accessorizing handbags and angular shoulder shapes of evening jackets and trousers, contrasting with the folklore prints and big, chunky knits. Given the Russian influence of the collection, one can detect also a constructivist tone, which was the Slavic equivalent of art deco, an androgynous utility (rather than stylistic flourish like the twenties) being the desired product. Of course, the ever-present bohemian vibe of the Monsoon brand softens down any extraneous hint at Soviet style and retains, as Catherine Hudson, Fashion and Lifestyle Writer, noted, ‘a really rustic feel’. It is perhaps only Monsoon that could have gotten away with blending the ethnic and the elegant.
In AW13, Monsoon also aims to showcase brilliant, ‘bejewelled accessories’. In fact, ‘bejewelling’ oneself was popular in the twenties, a post-lunch change of clothes into ‘tea gowns’, and later evening dresses, being a popular thing to do. The hemline was still below the knee, or even lower, and the waist wasn’t fitted, adding a sense of fluidity to the shape of the fabric, rather than cinching it in and hugging any curves, which was a later trend.
Indeed, flapper dresses purposefully flatten the bust, rather than accentuate it, again providing that subtle androgynous touch. It’s a touch which here lends a romantic appeal to the collection, that femininity typical of Monsoon, rather than an overtly sexy sentiment that might be more suitable elsewhere.
So, with print-splendid daywear on display side by side with evening wear at the Press Day, to get into the mindset, all guests had to do after indulging themselves in babushka-inspired daywear was go to the pop-up bar for a complimentary cocktail, before turning to view the formal wear range with ‘tea gown’ eyes.
And what gowns they are, the materials favoured being velvet, satin, and lace, all adorned with rhinestones or beads, or other glittery finery, adding a fairytale magic. This translates nicely to the children’s collection, also.
Celebrating 40 years in the business, Monsoon holds the Queen’s Award in Enterprise for International Trade. It’s come a long way from the original stall on Portabello Road. With over a 1000 Monsoon and Accessorize stores around the globe, the formula of old and new has kept its appeal, being perfectly suited to an era when we seem to be more nostalgic than ever, constantly seeking inspiration in the vintage. What Monsoon has done with AW13 is to quench our vintage thirst and yet, like a sugary drink, leave us craving more.