London Designer Showrooms: pick of the brands
The attention may have been largely on the big name runways at London Fashion Week, but London Designer Showrooms at The Store Studios on The Strand also offered up plenty of hope for future talent.
The environment for small labels is tough but the British Fashion Council remains heavily committed to supporting fresh talent with LDS showing an interetsing mix of homegrown and international brand while the London Showrooms initiative will take a strong selection of designers of UK-based labels to Paris again later this month in a collaboration with Tranoï.
In fact, many of the designers Fashion Network spoke to at LDS highlighted how important Paris is for them as a place to seal deals, while LDS itself is more about making ‘first contact’ slightly earlier in the season.
Among the most interesting designers at the event this time were Alistair James. The duo of Nicholas Alistair Walsh and David James Wise offered up an extravagant eveningwear vision inspired by Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell, by Sleeping Beauty, by British portrait photographer Julia Margaret Cameron and by the idea of the May Queen.
Decorative touches included the the briar rose (seen here as a woven metallic jacquard or a hand-drawn print), and an overlay of sparkle courtesy of the pair’s collaboration with Swarovski that showed up as draped chains or bespoke heart and star embellishments. Colours were low-key with white, silver and the sepia of Victorian photos mixing elemental shades of blue and green to “evoke the majesty of medieval tapestries”.
The two, who had worked together Alexander McQueen, set up their label only three seasons ago but have already made an impact and the label is currently available through The Shop at Bluebird and at Liberty in London, as well as on Farfetch.
But this season is a particularly important one for the design duo as they staged their very first show, which really boosted media coverage, a key step in building wider brand awareness.
The new season is also crucial because it sees them widening out from daywear into a more eveningwear-dominated collection that looks like it could also appeal to the bridalwear market.
KATIE ANN MCGUIGAN
At an even earlier stage in her career is print and embellishment specialist Katie Ann McGuigan. Winner last year of the Fashion Scout Merit Award and winner of the Mittelmoda Absolute Prize this year, she gained experience working for McQ in London and Marc Jacobs in New York but is now in only her second season as an independent designer.
At LDS for the first time, she was showing a print-heavy collection that blended the new season’s feel for controlled volume, strategic frills, texture and intricate gathering. Her use of print on heavy leathers was a surprise touch and contrasted strongly with the lightest of organzas. The earthy palette worked well for prints that felt part retro, part modern with added twists such as the use Prince of wales check as a background to vinyl prints.
It was all inspired by her Irish background and in particular a book by photographer Perry Ogden, called Pony Kids, about Irish travellers. “I’ve taken the details of their clothes, the ruffles, the little dresses and run an absolute mile with it,” she told us.
She works in an interesting way. “I find vintage garments, drape with them and drape against them to get a new shape that I’ve created on the stand” she explained. That results in pieces like a wool crepe dress with an overlaid vinyl print that looks like a classic fitted bodice/full skirt dress from a distance but becomes more intricate up close. “The pattern pieces are so weird,” she said. “We have a lot of elastication and gathers to get the effect and when it’s on the body it looks completely different. We’ve done it in wool and in an organza. [The wool] holds the shape and the organza is super light and delicate.”
Despite winning multiple awards, her label is still at a very early stage (she’s only had her own studio for three months) with no stockists yet but increasing press interest. Definitely one to watch.
A much bigger name already is Eudon Choi with the designer now being an LDS (and LFW) stalwart and also benefitting from retailer link-ups such as the current one with John Lewis that has been helping drive the retailer’s fashion sales in recent weeks.
The SS18 collection was inspired by Eileen Gray’s 1920s summerhouse (called E1027) in the south of France.
Its architecture, surprise features and unusual angles were “the starting point,” camera-shy Choi told Fashion Network. The house was very much one that could be adapted to whoever lives in it and “our collection can be adapted for the wearer and how they want to wear it,” he said.
Its unexpected drapes, proportions and details like slits and ties added an edge to classic pieces while the collection’s materials also reflected the fact that “we sell in a lot of hot countries,” Choi said. That meant shirting was all-important and lightweight cotton dresses were star pieces.
Colour went from the classic tones of men’s shirting to pastels and power brights and these were seen to good effect on the collection’s bags too, created in a collaboration with lifestyle brand Decke. It’s the pair's second collaboration and Choi said the bags were proving particularly popular at LDS, their strong colour contrasts and focus on circular/cylindrical forms or mesh overlays tapping into key current trends.
Choi’s stand was among the busiest at LDS and while he said he doesn't expect to start writing solid orders until Paris, London remains key. “People will finalise their selection in Paris, but they look at it here and get a real sense of the collection,” he said. “The calibre of the buyers coming here is fantastic and we get to talk to them. It’s a starting point and we have already spoken to new buyers who we haven’t spoken to before. This then connects to the Paris appointment. It’s building the relationship.”
Meanwhile Brøgger did something brave - turning up with a largely-outerwear collection for a spring/summer season. Or perhaps it wasn’t so brave given the climate zones today’s luxury shopper travels across in an single season these days.
The label is the brainchild of Julie Brøgger and Linn Norström, the former having designed for a number of London names, including Preen by Thornton Bregazzi, while Norström’s background is in marketing and branding (including many years at the Net-A-Porter Group).
The duo has a clear love of power colour and print and an interesting design ethos that starts, as mentioned, with outerwear. In her first season at LDS, Norström told us that “it’s about jackets and coats and blazers, things that we personally invest in.”
She continued: “Rather than spending £1,000 on a dress which is not realistic, we’d rather invest a bit more in coats and jackets that we wear a lot more. But for spring/summer we’re also making trousers and pieces that can be combined.”
She illustrated this point with a ‘coat-dress’ with a sheer top and heavier ruffled skirt. It can be worn solo as a dress, or as a coat with a slip underneath.
As with many collections at LDS, ruffles were a key feature of the collection, showing up on elaborately printed summer coats as well as daywear pieces. But there was a starker, more Scandi edge too. That meant simple blazers and coverall coats that were elevated by striking colour (orange, yellow, rich blues) or simple details like turn-black printed cuffs and quilting.
Having launched the brand only this season, Brøgger and Norström have been taking private orders and they have a small stockholding for the website that will be available later this month. But they're targeting wider distribution for SS18 and see LDS as key for this, with a follow-up to seal the deals in Paris.
“We’ve had a lot of interest here from some of the bigger e-tailers and retailers,” Norström told us. “Fingers crossed we’ll have some good stockists by end of market. We’re aware that Paris is really the place for brands like ours to be sold. But we’ve been very impressed by the footfall and the quality of visitors in London. People may close the books in Paris but London is important because they have more time to look.”
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