Once a symbol of abject terror, the death’s head sprawled across centuries in a way few other symbols managed to achieve. It has been used with great potency for everything from Prussian military uniforms to warnings on tins of poison. But today, it’s quite jolly. It has shed much of its ghastly psychic weight, and it is simply there to be used with freedom and irony.

Here is the new death’s head, studded as little nuggets of decoration on a clutch bag from Kilt, 100 Victoria Street, Wellington. Admittedly it’s an edgy accessory, and the arrangement of skulls over a yellow vinyl background is elite kitsch.
Now, off to find a matching cocktail.

The Silk Princess

The gown is called ‘Imperial Princess’ and it is from Sophie Voon’s bridal collection. The use of the word Imperial easily evokes a world of Chinese silk merchants trading with a Czarist-Hapsburg nobility of Middle Europe. It is quite different to the more Western white of gauze, lace, trains and veils.
The material is dupion silk – the weaving of silk from multiple cocoons. This lends a textured feel to the fabric where the manufacturing doesn’t try to smooth out the small knots and tangles as the thread is drawn.

The embroidery is done with very fine threads allowing subtle graduations of colour. The thread’s slenderness also allows for a calligraphic presentation of tendrils and stalks from which burst the flower heads.
With such features, the material excludes anything other than a styling done along clean lines. Voon works the material with great poise and a satisfying lack of clamour. The only imposed piece of shaping are the stays giving volume to the bodice – a smiling, backwards glance at the centuries of suffocating, complicated bone corsetry.

The belt is also dupion silk, in a fresh bamboo green, finely ruched for texture, and fastened at the back with giant pearlescent spheres.
‘Imperial Princess’ is just one of the items in the collection. Browsing through the look book is like opening doors along a corridor of pretty, made so much more delicious by having the garments modelled and photographed in imaginative settings.

From Paris, with love

From long-established design house Lanvin comes this startling accessory; a collar. The material is a wool-cotton mix, weaved in such a way it feels and looks like felt. It is cut like felt, and at the edges it gently frays into whispers of fuzz. The colour is a rather arresting violet, yet as a background for the jewels, it works fantastically.

The jewels are glass, cut and bevelled with gem precision. Their arrangement around the collar is homage to Art Deco jewellery designs of the 1930s where sinuous lines, threads, beadwork and syncopated loops come out to play.
The work is from New Zealand designer Frances Howie who won the world’s most sought-after student design prize – the Smirnoff –in 2001. She later joined Lanvin’s head designer, Alber Elbaz, as part of his small team and it was within this atelier that the work was created.

The collar rests on a jacket from Dries Van Noten where fine metal thread drawn through silk leads the eye into a spangled, shimmering atmosphere.
The items are at Scotties, 4 Blair Street, Wellington.

Little Black Dress

In December 2010, Alexandra Owen unveiled her sub-collection ‘Little Black Dress’. It is a delicious journey into a noir theme-and-variation story line. If it were music, it would be in the key of B Minor. The collection comprises four main themes, with the variations being in fabric weights, sleeved or sleeveless, day or night styling, and textures ranging from rich plush through to finely-embossed cotton-viscose panels. They are lined with taffeta resembling sweeps of striped watered silk.

The launch was held in Owen’s showroom at 253 Wakefield Street, early in the evening. Inquisitive, late sunlight streamed through the windows to highlight the four models Owen had styled for the event. At first sight they appeared like mannequins, but then they meandered and grouped among the guests and thus the sculptured spirit of the collection became apparent. The use of accessories was imaginative. Certainly they looked back to a 1920s haute-couture, but this collection is strong enough to invite such seasoning.

 Owen’s sense of drama was further complemented by the finely-graduated use of MAC cosmetics, propelling the models into the realm of screen sirens. And the coiffure work, courtesy of Michael Beel, was a superb playtime in the decades of finger curls and bobs.
The Little Black Dress collection was not so much put on display, as held court.