London Fashion Week: Between sacred and profane as Brexit looms
Sep 17, 2019
London fashion witnessed a great debate this season, with two sides squared off in opposing camps – the sacred versus the profane.
In the left hand corner, a series of elegant and elegiac shows from notables like Roksanda, Erdem and Richard Quinn.
In the right hand corner, an almost pagan tradition mixed with arty decadence – seen at Simone Rocha – who referenced ancient Irish rituals - and Steve O Smith.
Throughout the capital city, the mood created by Brexit is so poisonous that few people mention the B-word. Though try to order a pint in a London pub and offer your opinion on Boris Johnson and there’s practically a punch-up.
Not all fashionistas played hooky from politics. It took an Irish designer to address this dreadful convulsion. A great show by Richard Malone featured brilliant cutaway tailoring with exposed seams, worn with matching pirate boots; stunning puckered silk dresses; and minimalist hussar’s jackets worn on a multi-ethnic cast – several in hijabs.
Receiving a huge burst of applause, the Irishman took his bow in a blue T-shirt that read quite simply: "F**k Boris."
Fear of immigration was a key motif Brexiteers gave for voting to leave Europe, yet London runways were full of hijabs. They even showed up in the ultimate British brand – Burberry.
Ironically, the law of unintended consequences may mean that Brexit may well lead to the dissolution of the United Kingdom. Recent polls show that voters in Northern Ireland would now marginally favor a United Ireland, so anxious are they about leaving the EU. So, it was telling that three designers from the island of Ireland all staged stellar shows – Malone, Rocha and Jonathan Anderson.
Monday, the key day of the catwalk season here, began with a graceful half hour at the Serpentine Gallery inside Hyde Park.
Models marched under the current exterior pavilion, created this year by Junya Ishigami, a dramatic slate roof that seems to emerge out of the earth and snake over the main gallery.
A key reason one comes to London Fashion Week, Roksanda has developed into a mature designer of truly refined clothes with a faithful following.
Her opening looks concentrated on tailoring; soft expansive looks in gray matte satin or jersey and charming calico raincoats and tunics – ideal for inclement weather in London today. The whites and light grays of the color palette matched by the sky above, and the lyrics to Joni Mitchell’s classic tune Both Sides Now, and its “ice cream castles in the air.”
Flowing dresses with multiple ruffles were followed by a series of fantastic grand gowns done in a magnificent graffiti, gestural abstraction prints. A truly assured show by the most sensitive creator in London.
Erdem continued the romantic mood with a show devoted to Tina Modotti, an Italian who went from being a silent Hollywood movie star to activist photographer. Though instead of the mannish overalls for which Modotti was famous, Erdem sent out experimental Victorian dress, with a soupcon of military references and rural Mexican hats. Modotti, who died mysteriously after leaving the home of Pablo Neruda in 1942, would surely have loved this show, staged with charm amid a tree-lined avenue in a Holborn park.
The season climaxed with a great show by Richard Quinn, a 40-piece orchestra and 80-piece choir standing on the wrought iron balcony of an obscure Edwardian ballroom in funky Tower Hamlets.
Quinn, the debut winner of the first Queen Elizabeth II Award for Design, clearly has an encyclopedic knowledge of fashion history. He cut all sorts of exotic gowns for an infinite number of soirées – modernizing them with black latex legging boots. There were some really beautiful looks, though the weight of history was too perhaps evident throughout.
Quinn has certainly got plenty of design chops but whether he turns into a conceptual historicist – the Home Counties version of Viktor & Rolf or Jeremy Scott; rather than a truly influential player like Dries Van Noten or Dolce & Gabbana remains to be seen.
As ever, editors love to discover raw talent in London, like Steve O Smith. He presented inside the Sanderson Hotel – an outstandingly quirky take on fashion by a designer very much worth watching.
An Anglo-American born in Wimbledon who studied at New England’s noted college, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Smith called his collection Garden Path.
The result was a series of dolled up debutantes with a twist – many of them fellow RISD graduates, in London for a “class reunion.” Twisted and ruffled ball gowns or giant Benjamin Langford rose pattern prints frocks all looked great.
“I wanted Friday night gone wrong,” quipped the designer. Neatly summing up what Brexit feels like today.
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