Despite CAFT, a bumper season in London Fashion Week
Call it a bumper London Fashion Week; with some epic shows, brilliant displays of experimental fashion; the debut of great heritage brand and a fond farewell to the most successful British designer of this century.
CAFT, the Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade, targeted multiple shows even though many of them contained not an item of fur. Their presence led to heavy security at all venues and tense exchanges with security staff, but their presence was indirectly proof of the huge success of London Fashion Week and its ability to attract global media attention.
The season’s three defining shows were J.W. Anderson, Preen By Thornton Bregazzi and Roksanda, all morning events which meant they were spared the attention of CAFT – a movement which rarely goes into action before lunchtime.
Though all radically different, what made all three so special was the ability to blend experimental fashion with commercial savvy.
Take Roksanda Ilincic, whose organic shapes; ruffled mini dresses and beautiful dusky color palette inspired by the bold hangings of French artist Caroline Denervaud made for a magnificent collection. Moreover, her rich choice of bags - textured leather totes and shoulder bags in matching colors showed a design extending her aesthetic into accessories. No wonder she is such a hit on Net-a-Porter.
While the season’s most driven young star, Jonathan Anderson, mingled conceptual with commercial. Mixing his idea of “suspension” clothing – calico dresses and plissé frocks that floated off the body, all inspired by 70s painter Richard Smith’s kite paintings – with witty accessories - resin doughnuts and lollipop colored high-tops.
Preen, again with an avant garde inspiration: the Haenyeo, Korean fisherwomen who dive deep for abalone into the East China Sea, and beautify their neoprene wetsuits with floral tops. The result: multi-fabric ecru evening dresses in layers of tulle, sequins and silk, finished with dense patches of actual seashells, and hints of octopus and sea creatures.
All three together, more visually stimulating that anything we witnessed last week in New York. And confirmation that Britain’s fashion capital has overtaken, quite frankly, the American season.
Though the defining moment was the runway departure of Christopher Bailey, ending a 17-year career at Burberry with a politically charged show supporting the LGBTQ movement and the house’s plaid redone as a Rainbow coalition flag.
One could also capture a quarter of BFC/Vogue Fashion Fund 2018 shortlisted designers, David Koma, Huishan Zhang, Marques’ Almeida and Rejina Pyo.
None of them had stellar shows, though once again they all showed business savvy with their choice of iconic pieces. As recently as a decade ago, when witnessing raw young British talent it always seemed like they would be heroes for a couple of seasons; and zeros at the cash register. The Internet, sponsorship and mentoring has changed all that. Now fledgling brands have real futures. To its credit, the British Fashion Council provided £1million worth of pro-bono support culled from its BFC Fashion Business Network partners; while mentors took on over 10,000 hours of support in 2017. Hard to think of any other city being so supportive of the younger generation.
Koma’s bold studded, '80s power shaped graphic black and silver clothes have won him a loyal audience; as have the wacky graffiti street-style meets British historic references in Marques’ Almeida. The latter might not have been an amazing collection, but the show – staged in a brick barrel vaulted warehouse underneath Waterloo station - was fantastic.
As for Huishan Zhang, this young Chinese designer referenced Wong Kar-wai’s cinema and the result were clothes of ladylike, though rather stilted, refinement presented in Mayfair. Now, if he can get the self-editing button right, this young man should have an interesting future.
This is a city that will always love an eccentric such as the wonderful Pam Hogg, whose rock-star, East-End monthly party fantasies – ranged from Querelle and Baron Munchausen to Tommy and Godspell.
Though the defining image of the season will probably be thanks to Anya Hindmarch. She celebrated her love for London across 29 iconic locations with her giant Chubby Hearts balloons – three meters high and floating above iconic squares like Covent Garden. Now when was the last time a Parisian or Milanese designer did the same thing for their city?
And, despite the fashion industry’s acute concern about Brexit, business could not be better. Mintel estimates that women’s wear sales grew by 2.9% in 2017 to reach £28.1 billion and are expected to reach £28.77 billion by 2021. Online fashion accounts for 24% of total fashion spend.
Fashion remains a huge UK employer with 850,000 jobs supported across the industry; powered by visitor spending. Chinese tourists collectively are the biggest spenders in the UK luxury fashion market taking 23%, followed by the Americans who take 7%.
New additions to the schedule this season included Josep Font’s Delpozo, showing in London for the first time. Though his highly romanticised view of style did not have quite the same elegance and wit as his previous shows in New York. The muse does not sing every season everywhere.
Finally, one great new heritage brand did make a calendar appearance - Johnstons of Elgin, a cashmere marque from way up in the Scottish Highlands. Truly cool luxury with the right quotient of lettering, branding and styling. Celtic, cool and clever.
Turnover of £74 million last year, and now Johnstons of Elgin are looking for a boutique in Paris. Stay tuned - this is definitely a brand to watch.
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