In a corridor of light, off one side of the airy Elms Lester Painting Rooms, 12 Japanese girls stand quietly, their long hair ironed straight but ever so slightly frizzy into oddly familiar pyramids. Designer Peter Jensen walks me among them, pointing out the prints and colours that make up Resort 15: ‘I could spend a whole year researching one muse,’ he says. ‘But I’m onto the next one.’
Ever since 2001, when Danish-born Jensen emerged into London fashion with his MA in menswear design from CSM, each of his collections have been brought to life by a muse. They’re not always obvious role models. Amongst Paulette Goddard and Sissy Spacek, are disgraced ice skater Tonya Harding, the character Candice Marie from Mike Leigh’s film, Nuts in May, and Jensen’s own Aunt Jytte who ran a cab company in Greenland in the 70s.
For Resort 2015, however, Jensen’s muse is undeniably fruitful in potential. Singer, songwriter, performance artist, activist (I could go on) Yoko Ono had been making waves since before she married John Lennon in 1969. I know a little about Yoko Ono; I know much more since Jensen walked me through his models. Resort 14 is a crash course in Yoko Ono-mania.
A grapefruit print across one sweatshirt refers to Ono’s book, Grapefruit, published in 1964, a piece of conceptual art consisting of a series of hard-to-follow instructions. The apple brings to mind to Ono’s surrealist work, an apple on a plexiglass plinth. Another motif, repeated across skirts as well as on pendants that hang from models’ necks, are scissors.
These refer to Ono’s intimate yet violent performance work, Cut Piece, in which the artist knelt on the ground and invited the audience to cut off any piece of her clothing. The ‘yes, yes, yes’ sweat is a reminder of Ono’s innate optimism, the word that, in 1966, John Lennon looked at through a spyglass in one of her shows and fell in love.
It is a lovely collection, signature Jensen, charming viewers with faintly gauche silhouettes in faux naïf colours and prints. Never have droopy layered pop socks looked so cool.
Jensen and I pause under a moodboard of inspiration: photocopied sheets stuck high up the wall of Yoko across the decades, singing, painting, sitting in the gallery having her clothes cut off. She is, almost without exception, always wearing black. I ask, knowing how unusual this would have been for the gently spoken designer, did you ever consider creating an all-black collection?
‘Yes,’ he replies, thoughtfully. ‘But we always need to think about what our customers want – and they expect colour and print from me.’ And so the only concession to Ono’s uncompromising wardrobe is a beautiful organza babydoll dress, with a single apple print floating cheerfully out from one breastbone.
Does Yoko know about the collection, I ask Jensen. ‘Yes,’ he replies excitedly. ‘She wrote to us. She loves it.’ And so she should. It’s a fitting tribute.