The conversation about London Fashion Week in recent years has been about how the city is slowly losing its tagline as the ‘little sister’ of the big four fashion weeks. London is growing up. The designers are getting rather good and they’re beginning to balance creativity with commerce. Significant fashion houses are choosing to show in the city. These are the headlines that have pervaded over the past two or three years.
We are finally at a point where we can fully accept that LFW isn’t the squeezed and forgotten fashion city in the ready-to-wear whirlwind, but is now a highlight for many editors and buyers. We can be proud of the sheer variety of talent that the city generates and nurtures. It’s legit. London has grown up, but it hasn’t lost its identity. London still stands for unwavering commitment to creativity. The one niggling fear is that the balance tips too far in favour of commercial viability. What sells London designers to the customers and investors, isn’t that they do Armani-esque suits or Celine-lite minimalism, but that they have their own distinct lookthat they are still exploring in young stages of their careers. There are surprises to be found in London, where other cities can often skew to the predictable. London’s a big girl now but it still has a renegade streak.
Undoubtedly the head boys of LFW, Christopher Kane (backed by Kering Group) and JW Anderson (backed by LVMH) were leading the charge, as they both proposed a tough, almost brutal mood for Autumn/Winter 14-5. Anderson encased his women in dark-hued corduroy corsets paired with flaredmidi skirts, wool ruched blouses that seemed to shrink and balloon on the body, and austere dresses with deep clefts. Monastic, imposing and deliberately difficult, Anderson wants to push buttons, despite being backed by a major luxury conglomerate. He’s building a brand based on women who want a different shade of luxury.
Christopher Kane unleashed an array of ideas that were euphoric in their execution and left you buzzing about black puffa jacket nylon mixed with guipere lace, neon pom-pom knits, sick shades of pink, floral prints and organza layers that turned like pages of a book on a stunning finale of dresses. They’re odd ideas, but Kane’s schtick is to make odd look covetable. There’s always something a bit off-kilter in Kane’s imagined woman. It just so happens there are many of these women out there – and in the audience, judging by the rapturous applause and reaction after the show.
Erdem also added something darker to his usual feminine floral wiles with cut-out dresses and unfinished embroidery – these tougher Erdem girls revel in garments that unravel. Simone Rocha is another golden child of LFW. Her shows with theirs sensitive nuances move you (sometimes to tears). This season, Rocha got angry, and channeled that into her collection inspired by Elizabethan grandeur. No Blackadder ruffs here but instead, she gave oversized coats and dresses voluminous flounces and retained her tough girlish charm with her signature perspex-heeled pointy brogues and played with textures like python and tartan.
A few years ago, we had a slew of designers who had done really well to establish a signature. Then critics called for change and evolution. This season, the designers reacted. Mary Katrantzou is known for her digital prints and this time around she went volte-face and didn’t have a single print. Instead she built up images of symbols, badges and signs with embellishment and textures instead. The intricate collaging on uniform-esque ensembles worked a treat and some declared it to be her best collection yet.
Roksanda Ilincic changed up her red carpet eveningwear stance to include asymmetric tailoring in a palette of Yves Klein blue. Jonathan Saunders is another print designer and supreme colourist who decided to go for graphic textural mash-ups with his metallic patchwork coats and harlequin flocked check dresses. There was something deliberately jarring about the collection. It felt like a protest against his previous greatest hits. Rumour has it Saunders is consulting at Paul Smith, and prints emerged everywhere in the masculine stripes, paisleys and Persian carpet patterns.
Christopher Bailey pushed a softer mood at Burberry that finally felt personal and emotive, as he sent out his Bloomsbury Girls in painterly prints, cosy blankets and stellar painted shearling jackets and trenches. No doubt we will see similar versions appear on the high street. Or you could go down the DIY route.
Off trend, off schedule
London always has designers that flout any overriding seasonal trends (minimalism, easy-chic, tomboyish dressing) to do their own thing. Fashion East’s ex and present roll-call of young designers are firm supporters of the feminine frill. Ryan Lo’s girls were trussed up in tiered lace, Victorian-inspired knits and pilgrim shoes, ready to meet a cowboy lover on the rodeo. Ashley Williams also looked to the cowboy state of Texas with kitten and horse motifs and apron-tie floral print dresses.
Lucas Nascimento didn’t do frills but he did smoulder with his sensual lurex knits, inspired by 1970s model Veruschka. Marques Almeida’s raw-edged fraying denim ensembles inspired by Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, were given a frou-frou flourish with smatterings of faux fur and ostrich feathers.
The crown of frilliness of course belongs to Meadham Kirchhoff. They don’t do things in halves and their collections −stuffed full of pastels, frills, kitsch, cute and craft −have a cultish following. Their latest collection was a re-iteration of what they had done before, only better-executedand even more beautifully rendered – Chanel-esque suiting, sweet slipdresses, beadwork, pin-tucked chiffon gowns and granny bags.
London has so many young designers that the official schedule can’t accommodate them all so you have to go further afield to seek out the really new. Special mention goes out to knitwear duo Leutton Postle who explored the doldrums of English life as seen by photographers like Martin Parr. Phiney Pet also took her cue from Englishness with a kawaii illustrated collection entitled ‘Deptford Wives’. Xiao Li, from China, impressed with rubbermoulded sportswear that literally glowed – one piece had embedded LED lights.
Then there’s Thomas Tait who does things his way. He’s the one everyone is keeping an eye on among international editors and he delivered a fast-paced collection full of sharp angles, abstract insertions of primary colours and asymmetrical construction. It felt new and highly-charged. No resting on laurels here.
More of Susie Lau's writing can be found here.