It all started amid the high winds of Storm Eunice, the extratropical cyclone that battered parts of Britain and northern Europe last week, as if nature itself offered a metaphor for the situation current struggling fashion industry.
There was no cocktail party in Downing Street, as there has been in the past. (The shadow of Boris Johnson’s “Partygate” still looms large.) The big names – Burberry, Victoria Beckham, JW Anderson – were mostly absent, doing their own off-plan thing. Rumors circulated, later confirmed, that Queen Elizabeth had tested positive for Covid.
Yet despite everything, and even for those like me who still watch from afar through a digital lens, this London Fashion Week was the opposite of a wet squib.
Maybe it was because it was the first real physical season since the pandemic started or maybe it was because the lack of big kahunas let the little fish shine (or even maybe because New York was so energy efficient), the shows were bubbling with ideas and the local heroes refused to play it safe. With a cheerful rewrite not only of expectations, but of the norm. How? ‘Or’ What? Count the paths.
The queen was the shadow muse of the season.
This was perhaps the most predictable development. It’s Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee year — the 70th anniversary of her accession to the throne — with all kinds of celebrations (the Platinum Pudding Contest!) marking her status as the longest reigning monarch in the country. Not that her decades of influencing and image-making have infiltrated in any overtly obvious way (read: head-to-toe monochrome plus a black handbag). Rather, it is the idea of kingship, its most obvious semiotics and the way it has been appropriated and re-appropriated by subcultures, that has made the news.
This was evident in Richard Quinn’s maxi and micro florals on swing coats with matching hats and mid-century molded silhouettes; its taffeta wraps wrap the body from the hooded head to the tailored trousers. In Roksanda’s mix of utilitarian sportswear and graphic grandeur, with giant puffer jackets and anoraks sweeping explosive layers. In the capes that trailed from the shoulders of otherwise minimal tea dresses at Emilia Wickstead.
And in Edward Crutchley’s treatise on queer culture and the Goth, with its chest-slipping crushed velvets, holey cobweb knits, and reading list. (Example: “Fashion’s First Book: The Book of Clothes by Matthaeus and Veit Konrad Schwarz of Augsburg”, Bloomsbury, 2015.) Much of it was worn by muscular men to emphasize the point about sex, power and who has the right to say which bodies, exactly, deserve to wear a crown.
Harris Reed summed up the theme with a characteristic parade of demi-couture silhouettes titled – yup – “Sixty Years a Queen”, from an 1897 book published in honor of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and featuring exaggerated mermaid skirts and a tuxedo wrapped in a huge yellow satin bow.
The special relationship has made an appearance – and upcycling is here to stay.
The vaunted (or excoriated, depending on your perspective) relationship between the US and Britain may have its ups and downs, but this season it’s been creative fodder for Matty Bovan, whose controlled sartorial mayhem came in the form of stars, stripes, denim, and prairie dresses—the jagged, layered, and otherwise spilled clichés. Connor Ives, an American in London, populated his first show with female archetypes from his native land, including Kennedys (Jackie in opera gloves and a-line dress from his Paris tour; Carolyn Bessette in her bias-cut wedding dress ) and hooker college girls – all built on a base of dead animals.
No longer a niche experience, upcycling is increasingly an approach to building a collection. In this vein, Priya Ahluwalia proposed a mix “from Nollywood to Bollywood” of cultural and material pieces in plaid, sari silk, argyle and denim. And Chopova Lowena extended the brand’s fabric and hardware aesthetic to miniskirts and fuzzy, tactile knitwear.
The same goes for dressing lingerie.
For all the big volumes and baggy silhouettes in sight, there were also stripped bodycon lines – notably at Nensi Dojaka, who continued to play peekaboo with velvet, sequin and even stretch-knit undersides. But also at Simone Rocha, who, inspired by the Irish myth of the Children of Lir, added sheer panels and slip dresses to her signature layers upon layers of mood and material, ruffles and feathers, to create a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t dose seductive tension.
There was an unexpected apparition.
Not a celebrity but rather Raf Simons. The Belgian creator has swapped his usual slot on the Parisian schedule to unveil his joint video for men and women. Opening with the glitchy words, “The ghost will let you in soon,” the presentation was set in an abandoned ballroom with an ornate crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling and matching chairs covered in crimson slips strewn across the space, through which models wrap their vinyl and latex fashion moves dresses and jumpsuits beneath plush alpaca overcoats and ruched nylon party jackets. Faces were shielded by fuzzy caps that either looked like a cross between a baseball cap and a nun’s habit, or a military helmet and a pelican; the feet were enclosed in patented rubber boots.
Backpacks and bags were wrapped in shiny satin bows and shawls, the ends left to trail like a train. Small skeletons hung from the ears and bony hands gripped the wrists. (Mr. Simons happens to have a hand with props.) The reference was the painting “Dutch Proverbs” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
It was both haunting and naughty, just like Erdem Moralioglu’s collection, a jagged ode to the decadent underground of 1930s Europe via jacquard, lace and beaded silk. It was bolder than his usual romantic historicism and more interesting for that.
And a big comeback.
Ozwald Boateng, who founded his couture brand in 1989, became Savile Row’s first black designer and then one of the very few black designers to lead a French heritage brand when he was named creative director of Givenchy Homme in 2003 (he left in 2007), returned to the London podium for the first time in 12 years.
He did so with a parade of bespoke suits that mixed jewel tones and prints from the African diaspora, his Ghanaian heritage and his master cut. It was a celebration of “black excellence” with 100 models and pop culture figures strutting and chatting at the Savoy Theater, including Idris Elba, Goldie and rapper Pa Salieu. The result was a reminder of how much he moved the needle, one stitch at a time.