In a crypt, by candlelight. The sound of studded boots on the pebbles. The notes of a harp played somewhere in the depths of an invisible tunnel. The bell of the church of San Pancrazio rings the quarter of an hour above.
The show conjured up by John Skelton cast its utterly disturbing spell on the congregation that gathered to attend his performance on a dark January night in London. Gray hair and grizzled, or younger but with a chapped pallor from the veins: each pushing their own trolley containing a tungsten lighter to illuminate their face. Glimpses of Skelton’s suits flared up in the darkness: striped tailoring and swirling crumpled velvet coats, shirts printed with British folklore symbols – all suspended between living culture and the long-standing culture of the 19th and 19th century English worker. early 20th century.
Skelton is a non-Londoner whose appearances are rare. “I wouldn’t really say I’m nostalgic, but there are some things that have existed in the past that were really amazing,” he explained, hiding outside the crypt. “It is not so much the past as a slightly separate universe from what exists today, which I find really boring and banal.”
A Yorkshire man, Skelton was one of the first dissident students – a canary in the mine – who decided while studying for a master’s degree at Central Saint Martins (class of 2016) that he didn’t want to enter the dysfunctional fashion system. Instead, it plowed its own furrow in producing low impact clothing, supporting local manufacturing, building relationships with factories in Yorkshire and Scotland, using dead fabrics and researching and reviving the proud history of lost generations of artisans, farmers and workers. “There’s a romance, a real beauty to it,” she said. “It’s a magnet. I can’t break away “.
There is nothing cheesy about it. In some ways, Skelton sits in the long line of British fashion tradition with the likes of Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood in her resurrections of the British past, but her performances are always gritty confrontations with regional and working-class masculinities. Before the pandemic he staged a staging by Dylan Thomas Under Milk Wood in a Victorian chapel in London. The audience entered and were faced with the sight of bodies wrapped in a sheet, which eventually rose from the dead, wearing Skelton’s collection.