It started amid the raging winds from Storm Eunice, an extratropical cyclone which hit parts of Britain last week. It was as if nature were giving us a metaphor for where the fashion industry is at the moment.
There was no celebratory cocktail at Downing Street like there has been in past years. (The shadow of Boris Johnson’s “Partygate” still looms.) The big names — Burberry, Victoria Beckham, JW Anderson — were mostly absent, doing their own, off-schedule thing. Rumours circulated that Queen Elizabeth had tested positive in Covid.
Despite all this, and even for those who are still looking at the world through a digital lense, London Fashion Week was a refreshing change.
Perhaps that’s because it was the first real physical season since the pandemic began or perhaps because the lack of big kahunas let the littler fish shine (or even perhaps because New York was so low energy), the shows were fizzing with ideas and local heroes refusing to play it safe. It was a joyful rewriting of not only expectations but also the norm. How? Let’s count the ways.
The shadow muse of the season was the queen.
This was perhaps the most predictable of all developments. This is the year of Her Majesty’s platinum jubilee — a.k.a., the 70th anniversary of her accession to the throne — with all sort of celebrations (the Platinum Pudding Competition!) marking her status as the country’s longest reigning monarch. It’s not that her decades of influence, image-making, and image-making didn’t show in any obvious way (read: monochrome head-to toe plus a black bag). It was the idea and semiotics of royalty and how they have been re-appropriated by subcultures that made runway news.
That was apparent in Richard Quinn’s maxi and micro blooms on swing coats with matching hats and midcentury molded silhouettes; his swathes of taffeta wrapping the body from hooded head to tailored trousers. In Roksanda’s mix of utility sportswear and graphic grandeur, with giant opera puffers and anoraks sweeping over explosive layers. The capes that hung from Emilia Wickstead’s shoulders, which were otherwise simple tea dresses.
And in Edward Crutchley’s treatise on queer culture and the Goth, with its crushed velvets slipping down the torso, hole-poked cobweb knits — and reading list. (Sample: “The First Book of Fashion: The Book of Clothes of Matthaeus and Veit Konrad Schwarz of Augsburg,” Bloomsbury, 2015.) It was mainly worn by strong men to emphasize the point about gender, power, and who gets to decide what bodies should wear crowns.
Harris Reed summed up the theme with a characteristic parade of demi-couture silhouettes entitled — yup — “Sixty Years a Queen,” after an 1897 book published in honor of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee and featuring exaggerated mermaid skirts and a tuxedo wrapped in an enormous yellow satin bow.
The special relationship made a guest appearance — and upcycling is here to stay.
The vaunted (or excoriated, depending on your point of view) relationship between the United States and Britain may have its ups and downs, but this season it was creative fodder for Matty Bovan, whose controlled sartorial chaos came in the form of stars, stripes, denim and prairie dresses — the clichés shredded, layered and otherwise subverted. Connor Ives, an American in London, peopled his first show with female archetypes of his native land, including Kennedys (Jackie in the opera gloves and trapeze gown of her Paris tour; Carolyn Bessette in her bias wedding gown) and tailgating collegians — all built on a deadstock base.
Upcycling is no longer a niche practice. It’s now a way to build a collection. In that vein, Priya Ahluwalia offered up a “Nollywood to Bollywood” mix of cultural and material piecework in plaid, sari silk, argyle and denim. And Chopova Lowena extended the label’s magpie found fabric and hardware aesthetic to miniskirt suits and fuzzy, tactile knits.
Lingerie dressing is also a good idea.
For all the big volumes and sweeping silhouettes on view, there were also stripped down body-con lines — most notably at Nensi Dojaka, who continued to play peekaboo with the underneath in velvet, sequins and even stretchy knits. But there was also…