Late on Saturday night I finally find the way into Claire Barrow’s presentation, through a back door on a narrow mews just off Marylebone High Street. It’s like tumbling into another world, from a bright space of aspirational kitchenware shops to a shadowy one full of black-clad kids lurking around every corner, smoking Marlboro Lights and looking incredibly sullen for no immediately apparent reason.
Claire has transformed a large abandoned building into a theatrical space for her collection. The toilets are full of smoke and lit through orange and pink filters, there’s a whisky bar hidden in the basement and “I Feel Love” by Bronski Beat and Marc Almond is playing over the speakers.
Turns out we're in the orchestra pit of the old BBC Radio London building, where the likes of Elton John would once play impromptu concerts. Next week it will be demolished and turned into luxury flats, topped by a £28 million penthouse. But tonight it’s a lo-fi catwalk with models wearing black leather and white cotton hand-painted with images of weird, almost anthropomorphic cats.
The collection is called ”Tender Love and Care”, and its flyer shows two cats with human faces (just like the one painted on that skirt in the photo above). The clothes are sexy and perverse, the collection characterised by knee-high leather boots daubed with shouting cats and scary girls in stockings and suspenders.
“Yeah, but they weren’t really cats,” explains Claire outside. “They were people who have turned into cats because there’s a virus that’s turned people into soft household pets. They’ve all still got their urges – they all want to fuck still. It’s my vision of the future. I saw a quote saying science fiction is the purest form of creativity because it’s creating something that you haven’t seen yet, and I thought that’s a really good way of looking towards the future.”
I ask if she’d like to be turned into a cat in this alternate future. She says no.
Claire has written a short science fiction story and illustrated it all over the collection.
“People are turning into these pets,” she elaborates, “and then the nurses and doctors are seen as, like, godlike creatures, and that’s their uniform, what the girls are wearing.”
As the models circle the room, the speakers blast Owen Pratt’s custom soundtrack of "male" and "female" Japanese piano scales phasing into one another.
Claire Barrow really conjures up her own world, and it doesn’t end with this performance. There’s also a dancing video by Hot and Cool’s Theo Sion and Alice Goddard that shows the clothes in motion, and a late-night after-party at the Macbeth pub, where Australian art-pop star Kirin J Callinan will play his songs while performing an onstage fashion show in Claire’s archive.
There’s no need to return to reality just yet.
Click through to see more backstage photos from Claire's show.