Ian Griffiths is becoming the patron saint of overlooked and underestimated historical “muses.” Following his resort reassessment of fabulous-’50s Lisbon radical Natália Correia, Griffiths today turned his restorative eye two decades earlier. It focused on Renée Perle, a lover and much-snapped subject of early alpha-photographer Jacques-Henri Lartigue. “But she also painted all these self-portraits that were absolutely panned by the critics,” said Griffiths. Then there was Eileen Gray, who designed her own feminocratic ideal of the modernist house, the Villa E-1027 in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France, in 1929. This was much coveted by Le Corbusier, who painted murals in its interior while staying there and was sometimes even wrongly credited with its wonderful design. As Griffiths suggested, both women were cast as muses—objects of masculine inspiration—rather than artists who were themselves inspired. Said Griffiths, “Germaine Greer writes about this: Calling a woman a muse is a way of putting them in a box.”
The irony in the benevolently meant result of Griffiths’s rehabilitation mission was that while seeking to recast Perle’s and Gray’s place in history—notice the his—he was also to a degree reinforcing it. For there they were behind him as he spoke, fabulously frozen in time but pinned to his mood board like butterflies.
Griffiths’s excavation of these histories allowed him to pitch this collection as a redemption song, but it also provided the designer, whose college tutor in the 1970s was Ossie Clark, to engage with gusto in the fashion conversations that echo between the 1930s and that decade. Another key muse on the mood board was David Bowie, who was most directly referenced in the high-waist, fall-front, double-button pants with a swooping boot cut. These looked wonderfully gamine below the carefully styled billowing shirting, further enforcing Griffiths’s elegantly expressed tour through ambiguously gendered garments. Other examples of his appropriation of often (or at least sometimes) masculinely ascribed codes of dress came in his adaptation of the classic French workwear uniform (much loved by Bill Cunningham) called bleu de travail. Presented in a delicately washed lush indigo cotton drill, it was exemplary enough for this workwear-loving, male-identifying onlooker to immediately inquire after plus-size options, a testament perhaps to Griffiths’s precise execution of his study in neutrality. This neutrality was given material form through the use of unwashed linen in variously undyed shades of oat.
Yet it would have been remiss for a collection predicated on elevating unacknowledged female cultural protagonists to reject the full-blown “feminine,” and this was duly delivered in swooping backless dresses worn with doorframe-wide sun hats and a trio of swimwear-inspired citrus looks topped with Esther Williams–worthy swimming-cap hats. A closing bunch of hand-drawn floral gowns and separates, sometimes hitched to trailing bow-tied strips of organza, drew the veil on another dreamy Max Mara meander.