Jordan Dalah salutes

When Jordan Dalah was invited to open Australian Fashion Week in Sydney last year, more than a few people in the industry were surprised. It was four months before Woolmark announced her as a finalist for their 2022 international award and just four years after graduating from Central Saint Martins College at the University of the Arts London. The occasion marked her first fashion show.

The occasion would become the driving force behind his Spring/Summer 2022 collection. The size of the platform inspired him to create 43 Looks, an ambitious undertaking for a one-man operation. He took inspiration from historical dress codes he had worked with before and combined them with new ideas. On the phone, he describes it as “decontextualizing these kind of interesting silhouettes…because I’m doing a show, let’s accentuate it, let’s make it more dramatic.”

These codes are what caught the attention of the press and stores. Dalah’s signature bulky Tudor-inspired garments look like they should be on a stage in the 16th century or in a parody of a fashion show. Its sleeves are so exaggerated and puffy that they go up to the chin and envelop the torso; its bustles are constructed from bouncy foam; his huge hemlines are so wide and thick that he named them the “doorstop”.

The show received rave reviews. It has been described as spectacular, emotionally charged, an extravagance. The collection itself – a hodgepodge of teal, creams, whites, blacks, navy, prints, stripes, browns, soft pinks and bright reds – has been sourced internationally from stores such as Dover Street Market , Joyce and Macondo. Almost every look wrapped the body in reams of fabric – weighted silks, technical wools and polyester blends – starting at the shoulders, sometimes covering the face and, more often, stopping at the ankles.

Dalah talks a lot. He is intensely theoretical about the brand, “the world” he has created. He says it was important for the show to be a “story told properly”. He started with the story behind each look, from the shoes, which were a collaboration with Melbourne-based label Effectivement, to the style and designs he chose.

It’s not entirely clear, even to Dalah, what the inspiration behind this story was. He says he was “not inspired by one thing” and it was about “finding the normality of certain silhouettes and playing against them”. He cites dance as an inspiration, “this idea of ​​a girl, half in her ballet costume, half in her leotard”. It also draws from theater archives, the way shoulders and sleeves were exaggerated to highlight a character’s attributes so audiences could tell from a distance who they were. He says that although he didn’t spend time in the theatre, he “grew up painting portraits of women” and his desire to create women’s clothing “naturally progressed” from there.

That he was attracted to painting portraits of women is curious in the context of the silhouettes of the collection and at this time in society when women are more visible in their struggle to escape subjugation. The proportions on the body are exceptionally exaggerated, so much so that they do not evoke the body or the curves of a woman, as much as they disguise and divert them entirely. It would be impossible to fit more than one room on the track, sit, dance or have a busy day. This tension is inherent in men designing for women in 2022 and is by no means exclusive to Dalah. Fashion has a gender equity issue. A 2019 study by PwC found that although women make up 78% of students at the world’s leading fashion schools, only 4.8% of Fortune 500 apparel companies had female CEOs.

One such silhouette is a teal dress made from a shimmering blend of polyester and acetate. Jordan calls it “the pool toy dress”. The shape of the dress itself is beautiful. It has a high neckline and long sleeves cleverly slipped under the arm to create volume, each drape being fixed to the space between the bust and the armpits. The front panel is simple but cleverly hides where the polyester oars that make up the full-length skirt have been inserted. The shoulders are an example of Dalah’s exaggerated silhouettes, they are heavily padded to appear artificially wider and taller. More foam has been tucked under the skirt of the dress – it looks like an inflatable pool ring is magically suspended around the model’s thighs – and draped in a heavy, luminous satin. This pool ring or bustle is sold separately and Dalah admits the dress is often purchased and worn without it, although the shoulder pads remain.

Another dress with outsized proportions is in tomato red polyester. It goes down to the knee and has a bow attached to the chest so huge that the model’s arms are hidden. A similar style has black and white horizontal stripes. The hem at the knee is gathered and tucked in below. It has four huge arches that look like puffy pillows strapped down the middle, positioned around the body. One is in the middle of the back and the other three form a line down the front from the shoulders to the hips, one at the level of the navel, one at the base of the neck and the last sitting on the model’s shoulders like a necklace. Dalah says this piece is easier to sell without the bows, but the red bow dress is a bestseller.

This illustrates a tension in Dalah’s enterprise: he constantly works to balance, between theater and function, costume and reality, art and commerciality. He clarifies that the style of the show was on stage for this one, and that the collection has key pieces that “will fit well in a wardrobe that already exists.” He also has a line of jersey knitwear that has endured since the brand’s inception and has moved away from the most conceptual pieces.

Some of that commercialism is captured in the simplicity of a black woolen coat with short, puffy sleeves, one of the only pieces that follows the line of the body. It has a simple pointed collar and 18 large, round buttons. The fabric is a blend of wool and bonded nylon, so it’s slightly water resistant and has a thin padding that makes it both stiff and soft. The coat is a good example of Dalah’s immense technical ability and skill.

He acknowledges that much of what the brand is known for are the “things stylists want to shoot”, but insists the collection is more wearable than it looks on the catwalk. He says that among the highlights, there are simpler pieces. “I feel like it’s very much about what people see as opposed to what’s actually there to see.”

I ask if he wears the clothes himself. He pauses and asks me to repeat the question. He said, “I don’t feel comfortable in it, because my stuff is women’s clothes.” He tells me that his preference is for simple men. “Even though I don’t personally wear it, I don’t feel like it’s the most outrageous thing…it’s just normal in my head.”

This article first appeared in the print edition of the Saturday Paper on January 29, 2022 under the headline “Take a bow”.

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