London Fashion Week hits the ‘wearable but interesting’ sweet spot

Talking backstage at London Fashion Week, designer Erdem Moralıoğlu emphasised the value of a catwalk show for an independent designer, despite the high expense. “I don’t have advertising campaigns — my way of communicating my manifesto for the season is the show,” he said. “It’s really important to be part of London Fashion Week, to share your work on a platform that’s seen around the world.”

Unlike Paris, with its roster of gleaming mega brands with mega ad budgets, London largely hosts independent labels.

This season, Moralıoğlu was inspired by the late Duchess of Devonshire, Deborah Mitford, and her home, Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. The first look, made in collaboration with Barbour, featured a trapeze opera coat in waxed cotton worn with a quilted liner in velvet rose devoré jacquard and remnants of real Chatsworth chintz curtains. It was a charming collection of 1950s-inflected car coats, peplum dresses, lingerie slip dresses and wool cardigans, which suggested a combination of opulence and make-do-and-mend.

His show picked up on other themes circulating this week, including 1950s shapes and lingerie detailing — and upcycling, as seen at Phoebe English, who used offcut fabric from bridal companies for her utilitarian tailoring, and Ahluwalia’s checkered denim, which used a minimum of 60 per cent recycled material.

Model on the fashion runway
Erdem’s collection was inspired by the late Duchess of Devonshire, Deborah Mitford . . . 
Model on the fashion runway
. . . and included remnants of chintz curtains from her home, Chatsworth House in Derbyshire 

Overall, many collections felt more wearable while retaining the individuality that independent labels need to stand out. Having a boutique, as Moralıoğlu does, can help designers understand what customers crave. Emilia Wickstead agreed that “my flagship store on Sloane Street is such a big educator for me”. This season she felt like customers were after “something a lot easier and softer”.

Her pared-back shapes with a dressed-up twist were inspired by the south of France in the 1930s. Deckchair stripes appeared on coats, mini dresses and column gowns, while the 1930s inspiration came through in wide, mannish trousers and a sailor top in denim. Long tunic dresses in pear green and silvery sequins showed how Wickstead makes smart dressing simple.

Model on the fashion runway
Emilia Wickstead looked at the South of France in the 1930s for her collection of tunic dresses and column gowns . . .  © Daniele Oberrauch
Model on the fashion runway
. . . while Roksanda Ilinčić referenced the fresco paintings of Serbian monasteries

There was a simplicity to the gowns in Serbian-born designer Roksanda Ilinčić’s collection, staged in a circular courtyard in the brutalist concrete of the Barbican. The collection was inspired by Serbia’s historic monasteries, and the most obvious reflection of this was in the wimple-like headwear worn by the first few models. Gently oversized tailoring came in concrete-coloured wool silk mélange, while monastic robes were reimagined as a grey strapless dress with origami folds and lime-green fil coupé fringes. Evening gowns included white silk kaftans screen-printed with yellow and pink watercolour brush patterns.

“Judging by my Mount Street store, my customers want more exciting, special things,” said Ilinčić. “It’s a post-Covid desire to take things to the next level. I offer quiet luxury in my tailoring but also opulent eveningwear. My customers want both but not the middle ground.”

Model on the fashion runway
Simone Rocha offered wearable shapes and volumes, with 3D roses appearing on a nylon parka . . . © Ben Broomfield @photobenphoto
Model on the fashion runway
 . . . and a series of Crocs decorated with pearls and crystals © Ben Broomfield @photobenphoto

Simone Rocha’s wistful show offered something special, yet with more wearable shapes and volumes than some past seasons and a highly commercial collaboration with Crocs featuring pearl- and crystal-studded shoes. There was a sportswear element in looks such as a cropped parka with 3D fabric roses. Rocha says she was inspired by artist Cy Twombly’s cake sculptures and a swagged icing motif appeared as appliqué on cotton shirts and tulle dresses, while a little cake-shaped pearlescent bag was especially charming.

Romance and florals appeared at Richard Quinn, where dresses and evening coats with strong echoes of 1950s couture featured beaded, sequinned and embroidered blossoms. The femininity of the 1950s also informed Molly Goddard’s tulle skirts in buttermilk and apricot, paired with bra tops and neat cardigans.

Model on the fashion runway
At Molly Goddard, skirts paired with bra tops and cardigans were infused with 1950s femininity . . . © Ben Broomfield @photobenphoto
Model on the fashion runway
 . . . while Jonathan Anderson riffed on functional daywear with cargo trousers and leather jackets at JW Anderson

While versions of femininity and romance abounded, there’s rarely a total stylistic consensus in London. A different vibe came from musician Skepta, who relaunched his sportswear label Mains with a catwalk show backed by Puma that took in preppy 1970s tennis club and motorcycle leathers.

Vogue World, the most hyped event of the week aimed at raising money for British-based arts organisations, was a bizarre mega-mix of music, theatre and fashion for TikTok attention spans. Singers such as FKA Twigs and Annie Lennox were surrounded by dancers and models wearing designer clothes, The Supermodels perambulated the stage, and Sienna Miller, James Corden and others pretended to be ushers clearing up the theatre in a rather am-dram comedy skit.

Jonathan Anderson explored form and texture in a show that opened with models wearing stiff clay versions of jackets and shorts. He riffed on functional daywear via combats, bomber and leather jackets and vests, while evening looks came from ruched jersey dresses in pale blue and sage wrapped in strips around the body and baring the stomach, alongside basketwork mini dresses and a pencil skirt made from unravelling strips of crystal.

Model on the fashion runway
Tove offered wearable neutral staples . . .
Model on the fashion runway
. . . while Supriya Lele focused on cropped-tops, cutaway jumpsuits and sheer, clingy skirts. © Chris Yates/ Chris Yates Media

Long jersey dresses — a trend this fashion week — also appeared at newcomer Standing Ground, in sexy versions at Supriya Lele, and at Tove alongside minimalist collarless suiting. The Tove show, which had echoes of 1990s Donna Karan, reflected the neutral staples that a large swath of fashion show guests and influencers like to wear.

While quiet luxury is probably the most popular look worn by industry figures who attend the shows, there is a wave of young designers favouring a more a sexy, eclectic energy, often influenced by Y2K. Knwls offered distressed minidresses, hoodies, corsets, hot pants and low-waisted trousers that projected a sexy biker look hovering somewhere between the 2000s and a future dystopia, while Supriya Lele picked up on cropped-tops, cutaway jumpsuits and sheer, clingy skirts.

Ida Petersson, buying director at Farfetch-owned London boutique Browns, was enthusiastic about the shows, writing via email that “the newest generation really played up to what makes London fashion great, strong silhouettes, playful accessories and clothes made for the club scene. We are going out-out. It was incredible to see every one of these designers really championing their own unique aesthetic and storytelling. The energy is back in London.”

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