Brexit looms, but the Brits are showing that creativity has not left the fold
The just-concluded London Fashion Week isn’t like New York Fashion Week: boring. The city, like New York, is where many designers—not necessarily from London—feel the creative pull. Yet, unlike the Big Apple, London designers aren’t attached to a certain English aesthetic the way US designers are stuck to American sportswear, including those designers in the east coast—if the reported rise of Los Angeles is to be believed. The English are more freewheeling that way, allowing the city’s plurality of culture to inform their design directions. They are not wedded to predictability.
Indeed, London designers are not hung up about adhering to a certain English look. Although Burberry’s Christopher Bailey paid homage to English sculptor Henry Moore, the collection is far from depicting a certain English ideal. Many London designers do not appear shackled by the need to keep the flame of Englishness alive. Indeed what is English today isn’t quite the same as what it was in the Sixties, when London was called “swinging” and positioned as the centre of the “youth quake” of that era. Sure, there’s always the influence of the past—royalty, Victoriana, punk, the New Wave, the Scottish Highlands, the old garbs of fishing folks of the bleak coasts—but English designers tend to look ahead, drawing from urban miscellany to forge a more progressive whole.
J. W. Anderson
You don’t get British designers revisiting to death Mary Quant or Biba, but you do see American designers returning to Studio 54 time and time again, as if the ’70s can never be left behind, as if the Battle of Versailles was not proof enough that American designers are able to march to a new beat. That the past may influence the present is understandable. Some of Britain’s great designers, such as the late Alexander McQueen, drew heavily from what went way before. The past is, however, a platform to springboard to the future, or, at least, delineate the present.
That was what we sensed at Christopher Kane this season. There’s something vaguely and deliciously old-fashioned about the collection. Mr Kane is not, of course, a trad lad, but his approach to designing seems born of dressmaking of the past. Still, there is none of the British frumpiness, or maybe there is, just cleverly subverted with spiffy cuts and shiny fabrics. We like his flattering, feminine silhouettes too, within which he makes his magic. That’s where his unpredictability lies. Contained in near-conventional forms, Mr Kane incorporates fold, tucks, and slits within. The look isn’t wayward, yet there’s something unusual about it. Appealing, too.
Similarly, J. W. Anderson, created some rather compelling clothes. While media eyes are mainly on his work for the Spanish house Loewe, fans are keeping a close watch on the developments at his eponymous label. Mr Anderson is not terribly concerned with Britishness, but he is adept at reaching into the mixed bag that is modern-day England and pulling out quite a remarkable jumble. It’s not easy to pin-point the typical J. W. Anderson silhouette, but that’s precisely why his work is so beguiling. His autumn/winter 2017 collection shows draping, asymmetry, and gently puffed-up shapes, and in-between, something plucked from Qing China.
One of the London collections that made us re-focus on the line is Erdem. This is supremely feminine, not something we normally would pay close attention to, but Erdem Moralioglu has created a smashing output based on so many desirable dresses that are, to us, post-Duchess of Cambridge. There is a certain artistic aspect to the way he mixes fabrics and prints, all the while keeping the silhouettes rather controlled—not-too-princess-friendly. We were thinking that if ever (and, really, just if) Pierpaolo Piccioli should ponder leaving Valentino, Erdem Moralioglu should be considered for the job.
Throughout much of London Fashion Week, under-appreciated English labels are doing more interesting work than over-exposed American names across the Atlantic. One that deserves a bigger audience is Joseph. Although once a fairly conventional brand, Joseph has, under the stewardship of Louise Trotter, steadily evolved into a line that straddles confidently between sophistication and edginess. Ms Trotter does not shy from unconventional shapes, nor quirky details that give her designs character. We appreciate her pairing of prints, placement of pockets, and the push-pull of masculinity and femininity. It’s the creative tension that gently tips her work outside basic. It gives you reason to make space in the wardrobe.
British designers are re-defining femininity without having to underscore it. In fact, it is heartening to see them not succumb to the commercial appeal of the fit-and-flair dress shape that many of today’s women cannot seem to break away from. Constant is their exploration of the spatial relationship between fabric and the body, so that the basis of the silhouettes is not the hourglass shape, or a figure that adhere to the vulgar sexiness consistent with those frequently witnessed on social media. These are not clothes to show off Victoria’s Secret underclothes. For that reason, we’re keeping our eyes on London.