London Fashion Week verdict: protest, diversity and commercial creativity
The catwalk fashion bandwagon has rolled on so what do we make of London Fashion Week now that labels big and small are back in their studios (hopefully) writing firm orders?
It was a week that mixed commerciality with plenty of uncompromising silhouettes - from the focus on volume to a fondness for deconstructed asymmetry that was at times quite challenging.
The event was notably less dominated by politics than NYFW had been a week earlier, UK designers possibly having more time to get used to their uncomfortable political realities (Brexit) than US designers have had to get used to theirs (President Trump).
But there was nonetheless a mood of protest in the air. At its most visible, it took the form of Ashish’s Trump-focused slogans in his signature sequins.Think Nasty Woman (Trump’s infamous description of Hillary Clinton), More Glitter Less Twitter, and Pussy Grabs Back.
More subtly, Erdem, best known for exuberant eveningwear and prints than for overtly political statements, made a point about cultural unity. Inspired by his two grandmothers and their “improbable meeting”, he referenced his British grandmother and his Turkish one who came from a region very near the Syrian border.
There was almost more protest seen off the runways than on. Peta, at LFW on day one, protested about the use of exotic skins in fashion, specifically crocodile. And mass-market e-tailer JD Williams grabbed the opportunity for a publicity coup. It got five ‘older’ models to demonstrate outside LFW’s main venue in protest against the lack of catwalk age diversity (the average age of runway models currently being 17).
But Jan de Villeneuve, Marie Sophie Wilson and Benedetta Barzininwhi (all in the 70s) and 50-year-old Cecilia Chancellor all walked for Simone Rocha this time while Gareth Pugh and Osman also used older models.
Taking diversity further, Teatum Jones used two models, Jack Eyers and Kelly Knox, with disabilities. The move drew praise from the UK government’s Minister for Disabled People, as well as plenty of press coverage.
Yet for most visitors and live stream video or social media feed followers, it wasn’t protest that counted but key names. Data from ad-tech company Captify showed the most-searched for designers during LFW were big-hitters Burberry, JW Anderson and Mulberry.
Ryan Lo saw the biggest search surge during LFW with a 2,831% rise. Topshop Unique rose 2,661% and Sadie Williams 1,759%. Molly Goddard saw searches up 1,671% and Gareth Pugh enjoyed a 1,521% rise.
Interest in Goddard came on the back of here rising star reputation and strong reviews for her quirky eveningwear. Topshop’s see-now-buy-now approach, plus its hosting of other shows in its own show space, paid off and helped it stand head and shoulders above retail sector peers in terms of fashion week visibility.
Who else got a thumbs-up? Almost everyone to be honest. With many critics and almost all bloggers often unwilling to criticise collections these days. Yet Mulberry under Johnny Coca continues to divide opinion (Vogue Runway’s review summing the collection’s apparel up as “a bit of a puzzle” while praising the bags and shoes).
Stepping away from the filter of the fashion press, buyers and analysts had their firm favourites but were sometimes more cautious.
Claire Miles, head of luxury retailer The Shop at Bluebird, told Fashion Network she loved Ports 1961. As the brand’s first London stockist, she was happy to see it show in London. “Their deconstructed suiting, in tonal greys and classic black would be the perfect additional to any woman's workwear wardrobe, while the innovative knitwear techniques on display are sure to make this seasons most-coveted lists,” she said.
She loved Anya Hindmarch too (“the camera bags are becoming her next cult classic,”) and also praised Peter Pilotto’s knits and prints, as well as two labels that showed at the BFC’s Designer Showrooms, Alistair James and Bruta.
Trendwise, she said maximalism “took a huge leap forward this season, as we saw more and more designers experimenting with bold colours, textured velvets and layered prints, while metallic detailing is sure to be a key trend.’'
Analyst Sue Evans of Stylus, an internationally respected catwalks consultant who advises clients on how to interpret runway trends, had mixed views.
“London Fashion Week currently feels like it’s between a rock and a hard place and, like NYFW, there are too many designers showing who seem irrelevant to the current fashion landscape,” she told us.
“But I did like the mood for heritage and history that powered some of the most noteworthy shows like Burberry, Mulberry, Preen and Simone Rocha.
“When the world is in a state of political uncertainty it’s reassuring to look through the safety net of the past. The heritage tweeds and checks, the more modest silhouettes, those Edwardian influences, chintz florals, the protective comfort of soft volume, shag pile furs and quilting. All familiar, but I think it’s what we need right now.”
Meanwhile Ruth Chapple, a design and brand strategist who consults for a basket of mid-to-premium-priced brands, praised Markus Lupfer, Christopher Kane, Preen and Marques’ Almeida. She liked the way they mixed strong creative statements with a commercial sensibility, even if Marques’ Almeida was on the surface the least commercial of them all.
But she was most impressed by Burberry. Having visited the static Burberry exhibition at the Makers House, she told Fashion Network: “I wanted a better close-up look than you get at the catwalk show and some of it blew me away. The couture-like detail in those capes is astonishing.
“But if you remove those, and the Henry Moore element, you have a collection with a lot of very, very commercial pieces, so it’s no surprise that some of it is sold out already. Burberry today is as clever a piece of marketing as it creative statement.”
And in many ways that sums up the whole week. The BFC has worked hard to maintain the creative edge LFW has always enjoyed and its stream of new talent via NewGen and Designer Showrooms.
But it is also more commercial than ever and the follow-up London Fashion Week Festival it organised this past weekend really sums that up. Designed to capitalise on LFW’s buzz and get consumers spending money on British fashion brands. £28bn of UK GDP comes form the fashion industry. LFW is the highest profile celebration of that fact.
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