London, the city of punks, goths and mods; of gentlemen, the Queen, Sherlock Holmes. Fractured and multifarious, it is the home of the outsider, a melting pot of minorities, and its fashion week is known for eccentricity, creativity and tuninhibited joy of dressing. It’s the birthplace of deified design careers belonging to the likes of John Galliano, Alexander McQueen and Phoebe Philo. At least it’s these tropes we return to when we reflect upon the relevance of LFW today and when other creatives leave their tried and tested turf for those gilded shores: this season Victoria Beckham waved goodbye to the big apple after 10 years in the city, and debutante-dressing doyen Delpozo hosted its debut in the UK’s capital. Such paradigms reoccurred for Autumn/Winter 2018 but how many to memorable effect? Could it be that this is the age of wearability and, dare we say it, practicality, for fashion’s favourite rebel gang?
“It’s an amazing moment of clear-out in fashion,” said Jonathan Anderson backstage after his show. This season saw Anderson join the roster of designers combining men’s and womenswear into one collection. “We’ve reconfigured the entire way of shopping,” Anderson claimed. “Anyway, we know that a lot of women buy the menswear, and vice versa.” With this streamlined approach came a streamlined look – cool and calm in its palette, soft and low-slung in its silhouette. Anderson was veering towards “youthful prettiness”, and so followed an array of effortless outfits, drop-waisted chiffon in an alien cut, crisp handkerchief skirts, sleeveless satin dresses knotted as if like a sweater around the waist. Add to these, touches of grungy youth: doughnut keyrings, Camden-market belts for teenage boys, jelly Converse – each grounding Anderson’s quiet softness with tongue-in-cheek irreverence; enough of a statement to still instill a sense of must-have.
Youth buzzed through the collections: Burberry brimmed with streetwear and cheeky colour for Christopher Bailey’s swansong show at the heritage brand. Leaving the house after 17 years with its synonymous beige check at its most covetable – think: rainbow striped checks and Gosha Rubchinskiy’s subculture-safe caps that had editors running into stores post-show to swipe a rubberised grocery bag (as seen on the catwalks) alongside their purchase. Adolescence bloomed at brands known for their playfulness too: House of Holland, Nicopanda and Ashish, where colourful plastic shopping bags reigned again – each continuing to wave the flag for British kids and their penchant for play
These cornershop bags were distinctly British – notably unlike the printed paper bodega versions clutched at Calvin Klein during NYFW – lending the collections a feeling of domesticity, of residential spaces, urbanity. They were practical, rejecting luxury. Richard Malone, for his second show, harnessed this sense of modesty, his soundtrack riffing on the hustle and bustle of a street market, his signature weaves knitted from deconstructed laundry totes. Molly Goddard, best known for her outré smocking and unexpected party dresses, presented this collection in a kitchen; models milled around, nibbling on a humble menu of raw carrots and fennel – the unsuspecting stuff of supper clubs, not glitzy balls. It was a perfect location for Goddard’s unpretentious gowns, always paired with chunky boots, and cumbersome loafers. In each of these nods is an homage to little Britain, small-town homeliness and lo-fi comforts. They are unpretentious but no less creative and joyful. No doubt the nation’s designers are reminding us of the validity of those oft-ignored parts of the UK, particularly pertinent in Brexit Britain. But they are subtle and inviting odes – they eschew protest; there’s a fondness being played out. It’s as if, in times of crisis, we seek the shelter of our homes, looking inward for security.
An air of old-school Englishness came by way of reworked heritage prints. At Matty Bovan – another up-and-comer who graduated from the Fashion East hall of fame – tweeds were supersized, extreme and unravelled, complete with a crown of helium balloons, should viewers be in doubt of their party readiness. Checks were present and correct at Erdem and Roksanda too, ladylike, graceful and grown-up. They were melded into ’80s silhouettes as well, redolent of Princess Di at Erdem and Marta Jakubowski, tartans at Simone Rocha and Emilia Wickstead, in overblown Balmoral hunting looks from Asai for Fashion East. Jewel-toned taffeta emerged at Mulberry – very Lady Di – and Molly Goddard. Fitting really, since even Queen Elizabeth II attended LFW, sitting on Richard Quinn’s front row. Claude Montana shoulders at Gareth Pugh took us back to female power dressing – a theme with increasing relevance today.
Another form of power dressing emerged, this time from the shadows as dark and sombre looks took on new meaning at fashion’s home of edginess. Dressing in black has particular resonance right now, tapping into the Time’s Up movement, where Hollywood’s good and great hit the red carpet dressed in the shade to protest inequality between the sexes. Such stances refuse the potential frivolity of fashion, embody egalitarian qualities, and have connotations of mourning and meditation. In Erdem’s ode to Adele Astaire – the sister of dancer Fred – he showed women in dramatic black lace veils, lending his exquisite partywear an air of the gothic. Black had a similar effect at Simone Rocha, where her trademark Victoriana – all tulle, ruffles and ribbon – leaned towards the nightmarish with all-black ensembles. Meanwhile, Christopher Kane rewrote his favourites – lace, black leather, vinyl fabrics – and offset them with kitschy marabou trims and plays on pin-up looks and womanliness.
On the other end of the spectrum, designers offered a celebration of colour. Yellow – mustard, ochre, sunshine and mimosa – lifted spirits at Emilia Wickstead and Roksanda. The latter having incorporated symbols of comfort and protection into her pieces: padded scarves, swaddling cloaks in a soothing palette of cool blue, baby pink, rust and egg-yolk yellow. Pink was proffered elsewhere too, not of the millennial hue – finally – but petal pink, effusing femininity. Mulberry, JW Anderson and Rejina Pyo offered their own iterations – many of which appeared in fluid silks: easy, comfortable, elegant. They are pieces of female-friendly fashion, making one wonder how else, as customers and consumers, we ever could have been offered anything else.
LFW offered its trademark playfulness to today’s political tumult, which translated to easier, more enjoyable ways for women to dress. There was little escapism on the menu: instead looking inwards – tuning into the present, the here and now.
Photos: Getty Images