The lights shut down. Sirens reverberate. The throng of students, visitors and press crammed around a tented box falls silent.
The veiled runway space, the dark barn, a voice blaring an evacuation speech – the thrum of anticipation bleeds into the rising feeling of panic and emergency. “Run, don’t walk” blares repeatedly, finally chopped into silence until only the frantic crowd remains, fixating our mass energy on a blank block as alarm bells warn us to leave.
The tent drops, unveiling a rough-and-ready wooden runway. The models burst on to uproarious applause. And from that point out, the night is devoted to working out that frantic tension with an explosion of avant-garde fashion and playful runway antics.
DONT WALK is a firmly established fashion phenomenon on the St Andrews radar, a student-powdered tour de force of spectacle which garners considerable funds for a yearly chosen charity. In the wake of the royal wedding, it’s been widely embedded in the popular psyche as the spark that ignited Prince William and Kate Middleton’s relationship. In fact, the see-through turquoise-and-black dress Kate wore down the runway in 2002 has become something of an icon, recently sold at auction for £78,000.
But underneath this oft-related tale is a kernel of truth emblematic to the DONT WALK experience: it’s never exactly what you’d expect. It stirs up the potentially stuffy into an exuberant, sexy, boundary-pushing great time, and in that light it’s easy to see how it could stimulate any long-drawn-out romance.
This year the show went rogue, dropping onstage frills to centre on an electric atmosphere and the array of clothes. The models, whose WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE mugshots line the walls, traipse down the runway like bandits having the time of their lives, either strutting combatively or boogying with abandon. The stage, an ordinary wooden platform organic to the setting of stone-walled barn, is split in two strips, divided by battered wooden crates and a DJ booth manned by St Andrews’ Dan Matthews in a gas mask.
Models thump down in packs, on opposing sides, before facing off in front of the press pit. They swivel, shimmy, and stomp their marks for a showdown or dance-off – displaying the clothes from every angle and taking the opportunity for some cheekiness. Caps are playfully shoved on heads, drinks are downed, and there may be some infinitesimal but calculated flashing. Meanwhile, the crowd hangs over the runway eagerly, proffering hands and drinks. The models return high-fives, dance with the onlookers, and scoop up cups as they wend their way down: all part of the combustive mix of intoxication fueling the night.
The barriers of the formal fashion show have been torn down. Against the bare-bones emergency setting, the models are renegade stars having as great a time as anyone. The stage set-up fine-tunes the drama and excitement, so that there’s always something to feast your eyes on, but its no-holds-barred bareness allows the models to unleash their own personalities with fervour.
First down the runway was the menswear collection of Crystal Mcfarlane, a graduate of University of Westminster, London who has interned at Savile Row and recently shown off-schedule at London Fashion Week. I took the opportunity to chat with her beforehand at the sponsorship reception in the quiet, glossy Rusacks hotel. She was inspired by a Hans Holbein exhibition in New York to craft a show about a “strong, powerful man with a soft, vulnerable side to him…a Henry VIII, romantic Westminster feeling”.
Her collection layers slouchy, sheer nylon and silk shirts in watered-grey and pale blue with various modern incarnations of armour. A chain of oversized gold Tudor roses serves as plate mail; an ornate net of diamond-shaped cut-outs is woven into a shirt’s fabric. Underneath, blue velvet sneakers pop, and ground the pieces’ modernity.
The show utilised fresh, London-groomed menswear talent elsewhere, too, featuring London College of Fashion graduate Deborah Afari’s conception of chunky knit sweater vests and an oversized oatmeal bowtie – aggressively geek-chic when styled with thick nerd glasses. The “surrealist vision” of Joao Costa, also of London College of Fashion, mutates pleather into puffy, trash-bag textures and tightly stitched fabrics into grandiose shapes. An array of experimental menswear – mashed up with the playful party vibe – expanded the horizon for St Andrean males.
Also, underwear. DONT WALK gleefully catered with eye candy for every specification, featuring guys in student designer Daisy Watt’s tongue-in-cheek black boxers adorned with jungle-overload plastic leaves or shiny buttons accentuating the crotch and backside.
Kicking off the intermission, models float down the runway in sheer lingerie encrusted with dazzling silver glitter, trailing wings, capes, and trains of pastel chiffon. The undeniable invocation of fairies and angels of the Victoria’s Secret variety is underscored by a grungy, heartfelt live rendition of The Subways’ “Rock and Roll Queen”. After the break, they emerge again, hooded in black and wreathed in mist, to unveil old-school glam underwear from Fleur of England. Silk and lace in rich jewel tones showcase trailing ribbon ties and shiny embellishments.
The heart of the night’s womenswear was in loose, loungey halter-neck shapes, with bare backs and low-dipping draped fabric – as seen in Indian designer James Ferreira’s “flowing garments,” spun out from a single piece of fabric. A peacock-blue silk halter, with barely-there breast straps and a wide belt in a bow at the back, paired a loose, beachy feeling, with the atmosphere of an Old Hollywood yacht.
A thrilled Alina Abouelenin scored the year’s Young Designer Award for her takes on the halter shape. Her dresses connect neckline to flowing skirt at the low point of the waist – exemplified in her stand-out white triangle dress frothing with slashes of blue paint. The black, laddered back of another gypsy-like concoction continues over the shoulders in two strips, connecting at the waistline to a sheer black shirt scattered with gold discs.
Elsewhere, references from Africa and the imagined Orient proliferated, as in a lustrous salmon-pink taffeta dress, draped abundantly, trimmed and widely belted with purple embroidered sari fabric. An origami-like dress of forest green is layered in strips above the waist in a bustier belted with cherry-colored ribbons.
This holiday exoticism mixed with a bohemian 1970s vibe in pieces from Alix of Bohemia, a St Andrews Art History alumnus who now resides in Hong Kong and creates made-to-order pieces – such as pale, lightweight flared trousers in china-blue toile de jouy. A snugly-tied old-man’s smoking-jacket in plush, 3D mustard-green, contrasted with red striped piping, continued the nonchalant vibe.
Charlotte Taylor furthered this with girly colour-blocking in traditional ‘70s hues; the stripes, bouncy curls, exuberant smiles, and graphic black eyeliner all invoked classic Sonia Rykiel. Taylor plays with triangle shapes and cut-outs, featuring denim chevron-striped shorts, a beige-and-yellow patterned dress with angular, protruding pockets around a white triangle cut-out, and a circle skirt of forest-green velvet with pale-blue ribbon trim. A long white skirt becomes a simple shift dress with multicolored velvet-and-silk ribbon trim at top.
Also notable were coats from Swedish spinner of “eco couture” Camilla Welton, whose elegant pieces recalled film noir with a hint of science fiction. The black Flower Queen coat, tied at the side with silk ribbon and featuring double-layered, petal-like sleeves, compiles off-kilter circular shapes with a swing. The Sirius coat, spaciously structured in olive green, zippers all the way up the middle and features a bulbous, puffy hood of silky fabric.
Lenny Leu Leu’s swimwear, in white, mustard yellow, and dark blue, separates neck and chest with space-age halters and color-block cut-outs with graphic piping. And Hanako Narahira stretched the mold of luxe, lustrous body-con knits with ripped, moth-eaten dresses featuring looped layers and bulging shapes, all in neon pink and yellow trimmed with black.
DONT WALK of course gave a runway flag-down of its central purpose: charitable collaboration, this year with Right to Play, a Canadian foundation dedicated to building spaces for play and development for underprivileged children. Guys and girls romped in sporty, emblematic hoodies provided by Roots, in red, yellow and black, emblazoned with Right to Play’s logo.
To top off the show, the models emerge in pairs, sporting plain white shirts printed with each other’s mugshot portraits, until the entire cast has tumbled onto the runway, lining up to dance and cheer. The clapping and general din rises to overwhelming levels as the runway show grinds to a stop, with everyone a little sweatier and more exhilarated – and at this point, the party’s just begun.
Photography and video – Aurora Hayden
Here’s a link to the video- The Tribe: DONT WALK 2011