London designers are at the sharp end of just about every social and industrial problem current events can throw at them, but the vibrancy of youth-activated British creativity persists. London can hold its head up as a bellwether of the future; after all, this is the city whose young people have generated both the Extinction Rebellion movement and the grassroots Fashion Revolution organization. Both are rapidly spreading globally. What we’ve seen here is a whole new generational order of “influencers” afoot—and they can’t be stopped at any national borders.
Inside the British Fashion Council’s Positive Fashion Designer exhibition, young sustainability-solvers were put front and center for the first time. Meanwhile, in the studios of designers, there is general agreement with the protesters. Everyone’s minds and hearts are focused on the same aims: to slow climate change and come up with new business models to cut waste.
In the Brexit gloom, the focus on making exciting clothes, on individuality, and on relevance shone perhaps even more sharply now that consumers themselves are increasingly selective about what’s worth buying and what will have longevity in their wardrobes. They’re beginning to question the cost and value of clothes in a 360-degree way.
Bright and optimistic clothes emerged as London’s antidotes. The color and ease of pro-feminist dressing came up again and again: gentle volumes and vibrant shades at Molly Goddard, Simone Rocha, Victoria Beckham, Erdem, Duro Olowu. Fit-for-purpose design is one way of looking at it. At Burberry, Riccardo Tisci homed in on his intention to elevate the collection: design over generic branding. Kane sent out exceptional arguments for “keepers,” especially in eveningwear. Jonathan Anderson discussed reusing ideas from the past in new ways.
Topping off the week, Richard Quinn went all-out to create a dream of haute couture extravagance, a show imagined as “a fashion sanctuary, where everyone can come to be transported and celebrate together.” It was escapism, yes, and evidence of young British aspiration against the odds, too. But with the fantasy comes a down-to-earth sense of responsibility. On the bottom of his press release, he included a statement about the printing equipment he uses, how his inks are disposed of and fabric cut to eliminate as little waste as possible. That looked like a signpost for the coming future, too.
“Rather than conjure some elaborate theme, Goddard spent her time refining her technical know-how for Spring. The main goal was to find ways to blow up the silhouettes that have become familiar in her repertoire without any hidden tricks or underpinnings. The new pieces appeared effortlessly light, buoyed by new pattern-cutting techniques and expert layering with sheer ruched dresses that alluded to skin worn over billowing ankle-length skirts. There was a charming allure to the more casual looks as well, including the sweaters tied with ribbon that revealed a sliver of the upper arm, paired with micro-floral-printed bubble skirts that were gently raised over one knee. After the unapologetic nakedness on the New York shows, this subtle brand of seduction was especially persuasive.” —Chioma Nnadi
“Duro Olowu is well known for dressing women in the art world. The muses he looks to for inspiration reflect the discerning tastes of his stylish clientele. This season he drew on the work of Françoise Gilot, who is perhaps most famous for being Picasso’s romantic partner, though the 97-year-old French painter, art critic, and author is a creative force in her own right. Olowu came across a recently reissued collection of her travel sketches, and her colorful impressions of India, Senegal, and Italy from the late ’70s and early ’80s informed his new collection. The soft pale blue and green tones of a belted cropped jacket and maxi skirt with gently ruffled hem were evocative of the faded yet glorious frescoes you find in Venice, a nice counterpoint to the rich, saturated palette that is Olowu’s signature. One particularly eye-catching coat in that series was spliced with panels of pale pink made from vintage interior fabric that Olowu came across on a trip to Lille, in northern France. It was upcycling done with a sophisticated hand.” —C.N.
“For Spring, Beckham’s options were essentially whittled down to neat-and-together tailoring with a slight ’70s flavor and flowy, waist-free silk ankle-length dresses. ‘There’s a lot of focus on dresses,’ said Beckham in a preview at her West London HQ. ‘I like the ruffles that dance as you’re moving. There’s a lot of volume. The patterns are much more complicated, but they feel very light and flattering—you feel very little in them.’
In the olden days of Victoria Beckham, feeling ‘very little’ meant being encased in power-meshed body-con knee-length dresses. (See how far she’s come by checking out her first show, reviewed by Nicole Phelps in 2009.) With time Beckham has gone with the general flow (which is now very liberatingly flowy, thanks to the influence of Pierpaolo Piccioli at Valentino), while always—to her credit—scrutinizing why and how any garment translates as practicable and relatable to a laywoman.” —Sarah Mower
“Come showtime one never has to hunt too far to feel the shadow of something dark among the prettiness at Simone Rocha. On the surface this was truly one of her prettiest collections, what with its trapezoid volumes, sheer leg-o’-mutton sleeves, shirting smocks, and eyelet-edged cuffs. Lovely palette too: after the china prints came sugar pink, dark red, and faded chintzy antique prints. Shown in the round—the stage of a flaking theater at Alexandra Palace—you caught the profiles of bubble dresses, new silhouettes ballooning outward to be gathered in at knee level.” —S.M.
“[Ilincic] is a wonderful colorist of a designer who has long been a go-to source of statuesque, clean-lined gowns brushstroked in arresting tones. At her Serpentine shows—this was her third—she has moved on to consider all the art forms her venue encompasses. She said: ‘I want to combine architecture, art, and fashion. This is happening a lot here in London at the moment; it is one of the positive things coming out of other negative things.’
That tangerine runway, then, was a nod to Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s 2016 installation The Floating Piers on Italy’s Lake Iseo, while the backdrop behind the models was Ishigami’s textured roof. The collection started plainly slate-toned with some loose dungarees cut from superfine tailoring cotton and some suiting featuring detachable inner jackets and sash details. These looks and their cousins, sometimes cut in jersey, represented an extra artist contamination in its echo of some of the menswear experiments we saw in Paris back in June.” —Luke Leitch
“Seeing [the models] silhouetted against the green led to yet another thought: how perfectly they fit into the scenery, like guests at a particularly well-dressed summer wedding. This socially attuned design is, of course, Erdem’s talent (his own wedding to Philip Joseph a couple of weeks ago was a fully begowned affair), but he always arrives at his collections through the biographies of particular people. This time, it was the multi-episodic life of Tina Modotti, whom he characterized as ‘a romantic and revolutionary, a woman of principle. Each outfit was like a postcard from a part of her life.’ . . . The pictures of Modotti’s life inspired Erdem’s voluminous proportions, the exaggerated shape of yoke blouses, rose embroideries, and the fringed shawls he tailored to sit on the shoulders without slipping. ‘It was the waistless-ness, tiers, the combination of Victorian dress and traditional dress that interested me,’ he said.” —S.M.
“High fashion that sends out irresistible but covert seduction signals is really the genius of Christopher Kane. On that kind of wavelength, it would be hard to beat the impact of, say, the combination of a black tuxedo jacket with matching rectangular crystal brooches on either lapel, shrugged over a floor-length cerise lace dress with a plunging neckline. Throughout Kane’s career, his female fans have testified to the fact that his work doesn’t date—separates such as these will likely be kept and worn again and again.
But loving the planet? Giving that as a topical message for our times begs an obvious question. How much care does Kane take over minimizing the environmental impact of his company? Since leaving the Kering group, Kane says he’s absorbed the sustainability standards of the corporation (which are some of the best in that echelon of the industry) into his own company. Over time, he and his sister will make sure they continue to improve on that front. Otherwise, there will quickly be no more joy to be had from lying in wildflowers with a lover and looking up at the sky.” —S.M.
“A growing sophistication is a mark of how far Anderson has come. Where his creativity used to be fast and furious, sometimes to the point of confusion, now it’s focused on tailoring—experimental “ Antoinette-ish” volumes, as he called them, balanced against more regular coats with contrasting lapels—and accessories with the crafty quirkiness he’s so good at.
At a difficult juncture in life on earth, it felt fresh, balanced, and optimistic, and full of products that struck a sweet spot between originality and practicality, like the strappy rope-soled sandals or the leather pouch bandolier bags. Or just to up the ante on elegance, something to cheer a woman into next year and beyond: a silver lamé cape to sling about her shoulders, perhaps?” —S.M.
“Genuine voices and authentic skills are what make designers stand out today—and in a competitive climate, the powers of true fashion leaders, rather than mere brand operatives, are at a premium. Where Tisci says he connects with Burberry’s heritage is in the Victorian roots of its founder. Gothic Victorianism was an obsession of the young Italian from the outset of his career. We saw it surface amongst the white lace dresses he showed among the pretty, feathered and besparkled eveningwear: an appealing reclaiming of his own background in haute couture. And there was an accessory certain to get people talking: a merge of baseball cap and Victorian bonnet. From side view, the face-concealing peaks triggered audience members to draw comparisons to Handmaid’s Tale headgear. It was purely accidental. Asked about it, Tisci drew a blank. He’s not watched the series. As far as he’s concerned, it’s just a fun part of his mission to make Burberry great again.” —S.M.
“There is no denying the allure of his escapist vision. Quinn’s clothes conjure a couture fantasy, with unabashedly extravagant shapes and lavish embellishments. This season the look veered between thigh-grazing confectionary frocks and a more dramatic voluminous silhouette that tumbled to the ground and swept the floor. The floral cocktail dresses of last season were even frothier this time around, bold in the shoulder and replete with handfuls of bows along the sleeves. If that sexy, legs-for-days line evoked frivolity, then the longer, grander gowns readdressed the balance. Though wiped clean of his signature floral prints, the yellow silk charmeuse number sculpted into the shape of a rose across the chest seemed to perfectly exemplify Quinn’s maximalist aesthetic.” —C.N.