Chandeliers, a chamber orchestra, a choir, big hats and an elegant couture sensibility: Richard Quinn’s stylish spectacle was a fitting reminder that London Fashion Week is back with full force.
The joy and excitement were palpable, the air brimming with happiness because, after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, everyone from the designers to the models, buyers and press was excited to be part of a live fashion experience again — and in the hope that a sense of normality is returning and that British style is regaining its mojo.
Designers were determined to put on a good show. SS Daley created a theatrical drama to introduce women’s tailoring alongside his menswear. Dancers from the English National Ballet School leaped and pirouetted around London’s notorious Heaven nightclub in Preen by Thornton Bregazzi’s collection of floral parkas and romantic tiered dresses.
There were intimate couture-like presentations from Erdem, Simone Rocha and Huishan Zhang. Roksanda took over Tate Britain and showed her signature billowing silk satin dresses in wave prints, alongside installations by her friend, renowned artist Eva Rothschild. The designer used the lockdown period to rethink some of her clients’ priorities and, with some pragmatism, introduced utilitarian separates, jumpsuits and trench coats, as well as a series of exaggerated down-filled duvet coats and moonboots in a sportswear collaboration with Fila.
It was Savile Row bespoke tailor Ozwald Boateng, however, who really dialled up fashion week with a glorious Technicolor show of men’s and womenswear at the Savoy Theatre, featuring poetry, music and Idris Elba, Dizzee Rascal and Goldie modelling Boateng’s slick tailoring. In 1995, Boateng was the first black tailor to set up shop in Savile Row and he has a roster of cool male music industry clients drawn to his adventurous use of colour and pattern. However, his glamorous womenswear in pyjama silk prints, jacquards and velvet was a revelation.
For the first time in almost a decade, fashion week brought together men’s and womenswear designers under the same umbrella. This saw some designers breaking down the barriers separating the two sectors and creating hybrid shows such as menswear designer SS Daley including corduroy and tweed women’s tailoring, and Molly Goddard adding menswear and proving that a man can wear a ruffled fabric shoulder bag slung over a tweed coat, or floral print jeans with a football shirt if he feels so inclined.
Fashion designers are continuing to break down the gender barriers on the catwalk, and we are seeing more menswear filtering into women’s collections. Some designers are taking a fluid approach as to who may end up wearing their designs — case in point, Matty Bovan’s genderless collection was modelled almost entirely by men, but for a guest appearance by Irina Shayk.
Performances aside, London Fashion Week is a good reference point for style takeaways, fashion trends and the looks that can be can be adopted into your wardrobe now. The straight chemise dress is the new silhouette. Doing interesting things with denim is a fad that’s here to stay awhile, even as colourful trouser suits continue to hold sway. For a bit of glam-dram, add long gloves and thigh boots to your look.
At opposites ends of the spectrum are big volumes and body-conscious silhouettes, both of which remain strong trends. A perfect example is the contrast of Richard Quinn’s voluminous floral-patterned dresses and skin-tight catsuits worn with giant matching hats.
However, there is a shift in the air. Simone Rocha’s bouncy crinoline dresses remain part of her DNA, but she is introducing a handful of 1930s chemise-style dresses, straight-cut with delicate chiffon embroidery and fly-away ribbons. A partywear version of the chemise is the flapper dress of the 1920s and early 1930s Art Deco era, which inspired Rixo’s metallic versions shown in the gilded surroundings of Goldsmiths’ Hall.
This refreshing silhouette was revealed also in an imaginative series of dresses at Erdem, inspired by the female avant-garde artists of the 1930s in Berlin and Vienna. The dresses, worn with long gloves, sequin caps and masculine shoes, came across as oh-so fragile, whether in the finest of black Chantilly lace or in delicate jacquard weaves unravelling into a fringe of threads.
The body-conscious look that emerged a few seasons ago still has its fans. More recently we are seeing it manifested in dresses and trouser suits with cutaways to reveal the hips or a waistline. Nensi Dojaka received the 2021 LVMH Prize for her minidresses and camisoles constructed from geometric patches of nude tulle, organza and black jersey held together with fine rouleau threads. The bareness of these lingerie pieces may mean they are destined for the young and daring (the look is cool rather than sexy), but Dojaka is teaming them with trousers and tailoring, as well as crafting them on to the body of a jumpsuit to make them a little less showy.
An interesting detail to adopt from Dojaka’s show is the kick-flare hem on skinny trousers — slit a few inches up the front or side and flicking out wide below the ankle. It’s an updated tailored version of the 1970s trend for flares, but these flicky hemlines featured even at Connor Ives (the American designer who lives in London is known for his use of upcycling vintage fabrics) and are a trend emerging in denim this summer as a fashion-forward twist on a pair of classic jeans.
Denim was a strong trend around the catwalks with designers exploring innovative ways of updating one of the foundations of our wardrobes. Half-Indian, half-Nigerian designer Priya Ahluwalia turned out grid-patterned denim and subtle tonal laser-prints taken from Bollywood posters, with both Bollywood and Nollywood (the Nigerian film industry) proving a big influence on the storytelling of her collection.
The designer is another LVMH Prize winner (2020) who, along with Connor Ives, Maximilian Davis (who has dressed Rihanna and Dua Lipa in his body-con dresses) and Dojaka, is part of the new generation of bright young things trailblazing at London Fashion Week.
Another version of the printed denim story was portrayed in the floral graphics on Molly Goddard’s frayed denim skirts and jeans. Goddard is known for her bouncy multi-frilled tulle skirts, but denim is one of the ways she toughens the sweetness of her aesthetic and makes it look cool. Although the denim is printed with florals for both guys and girls, Goddard teamed the look with sporty tops and argyle cardigans.
There is also a more polished version of denim you can turn to, one that’s lightly tailored and with an interesting dark indigo finish, as seen in the collection of Bahraini label Noor by Noor, which was showing in London for a second season.
Feathers, fringes, long gloves all seem part of the party vocabulary for next autumn and trimmed many a London show. Layered fringing and long satin gloves add drama as envisaged by Halpern, which is the go-to label for a mood-boosting sequinned evening dress.
London resident New Yorker Michael Halpern was brought up on old Hollywood movies and glamour is deep in his design DNA. Accordingly, the red-carpet dresses on the catwalk were inspired by Cecil B DeMille extravaganzas, with slipper satin draperies, giant-ruffle-trimmed dresses of gold and emerald jacquard, and a series of jumpsuits and dresses with colourful block fringing that mesmerisingly swished with every movement. Some will surely be destined for the Oscars next month, and a few months further on, those fringes could be swishing into many a wardrobe.
Amid all the joy of being immersed in fashion week again there was some sadness, as Federica “Kikka” Cavenati — one half of 16Arlington — died suddenly last autumn at 28. Her partner in life and business, Marco Capaldo, made the decision to continue with the collection, which must have been difficult given the label is known for its zingy partywear, a reflection of Cavenati’s personality.
Emotions overflowed into the collection with shimmering sequins and crystals placed like teardrops on grey wool fabrics. There were watery blues fabrics with translucent sequins, marabou jackets and hats, feather prints and a series of feather “jewellery” that would be a delightful way to update party accessories.