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James Kelly: Art Comes to Life

James Kelly: Art Comes to Life

By: Gina LoPresti

Royal College of Art graduate and Fashion Scout’s AW15 Merit Award Winner, James Kelly, is back again with a new collection featuring an artistic influence.

Royal College of Art graduate and Fashion Scout's AW15 Merit Award winner, James Kelly, is back again with a new collection featuring an artistic influence. Upon entering the AW16 James Kelly show, entitled "I Can See Only, Oxygen," viewers were transported to a mysterious and enchanting world inspired by Francis Bacon and August Sanders. The inspiration was clear; the models looked like portraits come to life due to painterly brush strokes of metallic greys, reds, and blues across their faces and chests. 

When asked about how important winning the Merit Award was on launching his career as a designer, Kelly said, "It was very imperative for me as I feel so fortunate to be given the chance to develop and grow myself as a designer and give the chance for the industry to see more sides of my work ... the exposure I have received from the Merit Award from press and buyers and key people in the industry has been phenomenal and I can only thank Fashion Scout for that!"

Rather than a traditional catwalk, Kelly chose to stage his show in a Bacon-inspired bedroom setting. The models were surrounded by red velvet curtains and grey shag rugs. The scene was accented with wooden side tables, brown leather suitcases, glass bottles, and mirrors. The presentation easily captured and held the audience's attention. The models' tantalising movements and use of the surrounding props drew viewers in for a closer look.

Contrary to the colourful makeup, the garments in Kelly's collection are mostly black, drawing on his inspiration from August Sanders' black and white photos. There are traces of grey, maroon, and camel throughout the collection as well, including an oversized camel coat with multiple sets of pockets. This piece took centre stage, sticking out from the other dark-coloured garments. 

Kelly assembled his garments in a cut and paste style. Heavy wool fabrics made up the majority of the clothes but they were juxtaposed with nylon fabrics typically used for sports jackets. The looks were completed with leather headgear, fishnets, and striped socks.The collection is clearly reminiscent of Bacon's distorted artwork. Contrasting fabrics are sewn together to create a single piece, seams are left frayed and unfinished, and silhouettes are exaggerated. The presentation features male and female models and is completely androgynous. 

With it being displayed so vividly, I asked Kelly how the Francis Bacon inspiration came about.

"The Francis Bacon came quite natural. I have always admired his work and these nightmarish worlds he created. And for AW16 I wanted to go somewhere darker and a bit more stranger ... For AW I wanted to deform and mutate classic menswear tailoring and coats and the way Bacon would paint his figures on strange silhouettes and proportions influenced me greatly."

Kelly's presentation was disturbing yet seductive. The muted garments paired with makeup that distorted models' facial features created an eerie scene that captured the attention of everyone in the room. Kelly truly knows how to create a show that evokes a range of emotions and it was my favourite display that I saw at London Fashion Week.