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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Olivia Petter and Joseph Bobowicz

London Fashion Week tailors to Barbie babes and Nineties cool girls on day four

Dave Benett/Getty

Delivering your collection on the penultimate day of royal mourning is a tough gig. In this instance, reading the room means judging the mood of both the fashion pack and some 68 million Brits. Fortunately, day four of London Fashion Week hit the right note.

Rising star Nensi Dojaka confronted the challenge with tact and integrity to her own label’s characteristically sensual USP, while ritzy king David Koma paid his respects with a silence before unleashing the flashiest fare you can imagine. Fair enough. Her Majesty was always partial to a touch of bling, and would hardly have discouraged an institution she so ardently supported.

Indeed, Halpern put paid to the power of optimism in light of loss with paillette gowns and rouching galore. Sure, the looks would make dubious mourning attire this Monday, but they are, nonetheless, a testament to the defiant composure that defined Queen Elizabeth in the face of adversity, and more broadly, her Great British public.

While the collections that preceded day four were marked by their sheer variety – ranging from a sober farewell at Daniel W Fletcher to a flurry of ebullience at Molly Goddard – this Sunday felt unanimously emotional, albeit positive.

Closing with the city’s darling designer Christopher Kane, it was a mixed bag that both celebrated London’s creative effervescence and remained duly mindful of the context. Striking this balance through empowerment, glamour and brilliance, the collections put the women in womenswear in an unequivocally femme offering that juxtaposed the androgyny and co-ed casting prevalent in Saturday’s collections from SS Daley, Eudon Choi and JW Anderson.

Kicking off the proceedings, Albanian-born Nensi Dojaka gave an exquisite ode to the female body, drawing every editor and influencer worth their Tik-Tok or Instagram following to the strip-lit pews of a north London photography studio. Here, they were greeted with white confetti and hydrangeas for each guest, a pure detail that brought home today’s significance.

Nensi Dojaka (Dave Benett/Getty Images)

“The flower was quite literal,” she explained backstage. “But it was also in the drapes.” Indeed, the floral motif was felt in sprawling trains and broaches that anchored criss-cross spaghetti straps. Fluttering trousers that softened into sheath, contoured bodysuits with O-ring hardware and lurex garters cut with angular relief all spoke to a woman at home in her body.

These were clothes to strike a pose in a la Grace Jones. Not surprising, then, that imagemaker Jean-Paul Goode was the starting reference for Dojaka. Assured, the Dojaka girl, it seems, is happy to flash skin but only on her own terms. Erogenous zones, these are not.

Rather, this was Dojaka proving that what you don’t show counts as much as what you do. Her third time showing on the official fashion week schedule, the smattering of shoes, the now-signature deployment of intricate lingerie design, and the introduction of denim and footwear, has officially cemented her status as a London fixture. Dojaka has found her feet. Her go-to shoe? Crystal-embellished kitten heels guaranteed to slay.

Next, the fashion pack jostled into the white-bricked walls of Yeomanry House in central London for 16Arlington. Evidently, the weekend fatigue was starting to settle in, with guests clutching their takeaway coffees on the FROW, and keeping their sunglasses firmly on.

16Arlington (Chris Yates/ Chris Yates Media)

It marked the brand’s second show since the devastatingly sudden loss of Federica “Kikka” Cavenati, who co-founded the brand with her partner, Marco Capaldo, in 2017. Titled “Forget Me Not”, the collection was inspired by the wildflower known for representing eternal love, devotion and remembrance. It was a joyous celebration, though, featuring many of 16Arlington’s signature tropes: sparkles, sequins, faux fur.

The brand is famed for its going out-out aesthetic – and the spring/summer 2023 collection is an appropriate contribution that will turn plenty of heads on London’s dimly lit streets next year. Hemlines were as micro as ever; crystal studs covered strapless dresses, mini skirts, and tailored overcoats. Leathers were stiff, satins glossier than ever. Gorgeous maribou coats came in full-length with power shoulders.

There were python prints aplenty, too, with white and grey variations on suits and maxi skirts with thigh-high slits. There was something satisfyingly Nineties about low-rise silk skirts styled with sleeveless tank tops – a party look for the nostalgic cool girl, perhaps.

All in all, the collection was a thrilling tribute to party women everywhere. It was, as the show notes put it, “clothing for unforgettable women”. But one woman in particular, of course, was on everyone’s minds more than most.

Then it was onto Rejina Pyo. Set on the 28th floor of an office building behind Bloomsbury with floor-to-ceiling windows, the collection was surrounded by London’s skyline. An apt choice, as it so happens, given that the collection was a celebration of women “and what it means to love and work”, the show notes stated.

Rejina Pyo (Ben Broomfield @photobenphoto)

And there were many women who do just that sitting on the front row, including Sharon Horgan, Imogen Poots, and Jessie Ware. They were all clad in Pyo’s delicious designs, with Horgan wearing a particularly striking blue trouser suit as she fanned herself with the show notes – those windows made the venue feel a little like a greenhouse.

The business theme could be felt throughout the collection, with plenty of oversized Working Girl-style tailoring, and a largely corporate palette comprising beiges, dark greys, sage greens, lemons, taupes, and creams. Pops of colour came by way of a cobalt blue wide-legged suit and a backless fuchsia slip dress – a day-to-night option, perhaps.

Button-up tops were revamped in sheer fabrics, while delicately crocheted bras were draped over plain T-shirts. Pencil skirts were modernised with strategic styling: worn over strappy bodysuits and accessorised with yellow-tinted sunglasses. Whereas mesh yellow and green bodycon dresses were sexed-up with circular cutouts running across the body. There was lace, too: buttercup yellow on a lingerie skirt and elsewhere in white and on a floral bodysuit.

The show notes summarised the collection with a quote from Tolstoy: “One can live magnificently in this world if one knows how to work and how to love.” They certainly can – particularly if they’re wearing Rejina Pyo.

At David Koma, we were treated to an outdoor venue, the Theatre Courtyard Gallery, which according to the designer, has hosted some of Shakespeare’s earliest shows. It was perhaps fitting, then, that once the minute’s silence for Her Majesty finished, Koma’s show unleashed drama.

David Koma (Dave Benett/Getty Images for Dav)

“To be honest with you, it all started with a gasoline stain on the pavement,” Koma said backstage. And so, we saw iridescence in buckets, splashed like an oil spill across fitted biker jackets, knee-high boots and costume jewellery that enveloped the body like gleaming muscles from the ocean.

“I tend to be inspired by incredible women in a mostly male-dominated field,” said Koma. This time, it was marine biologist Sylvia Earle, whose poetic description of the world below sparked an obsession in Koma. Despite our reality, sat outside in the midst of global mourning, Koma took us to the deep depths, recreating his own vision of Atlantis with pearlescent pendants, starfish-buckle belts and mirrored barnacle dresses.

Throughout, chainmail was present, perhaps a nod to pageantry, but also his tenure at the house of Mugler, which also lost its figurehead this year. Alongside bejewelled blade inserts and shocking orange slip boots, his traditional tropes – the marabou, the puffball and ballgown – took on a theatrical tone rooted in fantasy. Therein lies the takeaway: for all the accusations of frivolity fashion faces, clothes like these are a welcome refuge in turbulent times.

The same could be said of Halpern’s collection, although, despite the glitz, there was something presciently real at play. Opening the show without any music, just the patter of heels on marbled floor, a model caped in blue with a dégradé headdress lapped the crowd alone.

Halpern (Ik Aldama)

The acoustics of the Royal Exchange Bank where the show took place made this tribute to the late Queen all the more haunting. Then, the show went on as planned. “It’s the only way I know how to do things, through clothing,” Michael Halpern told us after the show. This was his way of saying thank you and sorry.

“For me, the most respectful thing you can do is keep on creating,” said Halpern. And boy, did he. Sumptuous velvet blazers glistened so much that actual rainbows scattered the floor before models. Meanwhile, unprecedented quantities of sequin dazzled the audience. Literally!

At points, you could actually smell the lubricated latex of baby-pink evening gloves as they shimmied past the crowd. Meanwhile, tulle-topped jumpsuits brought a Bowie-influenced edge to the designer’s disco designs. Inappropriate? Not at all. Inspiring? Absolutely. Again, despite the fantastic elements at play, this came from an honest love of dress-up.

Michael, who grew up in New York with a mother that cherished him as he is, loved Barbie as a child, and so, the pink wigs, Play-Doh palette and strappy heels all felt honest. The icing on this voluptuous, infinitely ruched cake? Barbie handbags with fuchsia typeface, designed as part of an exclusive collaboration. If you’re looking for the new it-bag, consider it found.

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