Preparing a collection for a runway show is challenging at the best of times, but the events of last week made the task ever more complicated for the city’s design talents, as they navigated London Fashion Week preparations during a period of national mourning.
Parties and dinners were, quite rightly, cancelled and a handful of designers — among them big names Burberry and Raf Simons — postponed or pulled their shows. For smaller brands, who rely on the event for new business and couldn’t afford to lose the money they had invested, the message was clear: keep calm and carry on. Albeit with party playlists scrapped in favour of more sobering soundtracks and Queen tributes woven into their shows.
Among those that remained, the creativity on display was indisputable. From the return of big names like Christopher Kane and JW Anderson, to standout shows from Central St Martins graduates Richard Quinn and Simone Rocha and the debuts from emerging talents like Chopova Lowena and Dilara Findikoglu, it was clear London is a major incubator for progressive, vibrant and experimental design. The nation might be facing some dark days, but the London Fashion scene is emerging full of light and life.
Royal runway tributes
Many who stuck to the schedule despite the news paid respect on the runway. LFW was bookended by the most sombre approaches. Daniel W. Fletcher opened the week with a minute silence, a charcoal British wool suit and commemorative black armband, while Richard Quinn made for an explosive ending, having pulled together a 23-look, Victorian mourning-inspired sequence from scratch in 12 days. Smaller nods came from J W Anderson, who made a black T-shirt which read “Her Majesty The Queen, 1926-2022, Thank You”, and Halpern, whose first look, a billowing satin cape worn with a headscarf inspired by Her Majesty, was walked in silence. Dilara Findikoglu made a Union Jack corset dress worn with a hair crown, while SS Daley started his show with a group of blackclad models holding candles. “It struck me that the figurehead of the older generations, my grandparent’s generation had gone,” Daley says. “It’s a scary idea to see the people in this life that have been a constant, vanish.”
Sex and the Satin
For those not keen on cargos or midriff flashing, the 90s revival has, thus far, borne limited fruits. But the London shows this weekend unearthed an altogether more sophisticated Sex and the City-era staple: the floor-length satin coat. Spearheading the trend was London label 16Arlington, which proffered a summer ’23 wardrobe of crystal-encrusted minis and snakeskin leather, layered under sharp-shouldered, floor-skimming satin coats in dusty rose, ivory and the palest of cornflower blue. “For me it was interesting to explore what we like to call after dark wear in a way that felt different to previous seasons,” says brand co-founder Marco Capaldo, who dedicated the collection to his late partner and co-founder Federica ‘Kikka’ Cavenati, who passed away suddenly in 2021. “I took inspiration from the way that Kikka would wear my tailoring, somehow taking something masculine and transforming it with a very feminine energy.” SS Daley did more wintery iterations in velvet with satin lapels while Simone Rocha gave a sportier take, with voluminous (and genderless) satin bomber jackets forming part of her debut menswear offering.
Disco ball dressing
Partywear remains front and centre post-pandemic and for summer ‘23 high shine silver is set to dominate the dancefloor. Albanian designer Nensi Dojaka, winner of the 2021 LVMH prize for young designers, added super sheeny silver sequins to her line up of gossamer light, lingerie-inspired LBDs. “It adds a celebratory air to the signature pieces and is quite a new perspective,” says Dojaka, who did all-out sequin mini dresses, plus date night-ready silver sequin strappy tops paired with wide-leg jeans. “I think the world now needs a more positive tone and some - thing fun and easy.” Certainly JW Anderson agreed, serving up playful silver minis with bulbous peplums, shimmering silver short suits and a giant orb-like mirrored dress that would make quite the entrance on the dancefloor. Huishan Zhang offered an elegant take, with unlined semi sheer pale pink and peach shift dresses strewn with lines of iridescent sequins twinkling like binary code. “I’m fascinated by how modern the iridescent sequins appear,” said Zhang, “and the way they change under the light, almost looking digital.”
Going in for the kilt
Versatile, flattering, and enjoying a renaissance — the humble kilt has received fashion’s touch. One of the most anticipated debuts this LFW came from the English-Bulgarian design duo behind Chopova Lowena. They have built a cult following since meeting at Central St Martins, and are best known for bringing kilts back to high style. “A great kilt is the details,” says Chopova. For SS23, they turned the Scottish staple into panelled minis, fastened to thick red leather belts, and knee-length in tapestry fabrics. Outside, the street style set wore their own with pride, and each looked unique. “There are so many ways to wear them depending on your mood or your style: over dresses, trousers, under a big sweatshirt or all dressed up,” says Lowena. Poster Girl made teeny versions for the party tribe, Daniel W. Fletcher’s were cream and navy and worn with cummerbunds and trousers, while 16Arlington’s satin, micro skirts came heavily pleated. “There’s something very classic and considered about the perfectly fitted pleated skirt,” says the designer Marco Capaldo. “Any woman can wear them, any shape, any size. It’s all about attitude.”
Rev your engines, for motocross jackets are set to overtake the leather blazer come 2023. Inspired by the gasoline-stained streets surrounding his Shoreditch studio, London stalwart David Koma went heavy on race - track-ready leathers, the best of which came with iridescent acrylic decorative inserts or others in the shape of glittering fish hooks. “Motocross jackets are timeless, and fantastic at creating a strong and powerful silhouette,” he says. “It is certainly becoming a Koma staple outerwear piece.” KNWLS kept hers vintage style and stomach cinching, while Yuhan Wang offered a feminine take with a cropped black biker painted with the florals her brand has become known for. Her collection was inspired by female pilots — chiefly Lee Ya-Ching, the first Chinese woman to be granted a civil aviation license in China, Hazel Ying Lee, who flew for the Women Airforce Service Pilots in WW2 and Amelia Ear - hart, the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean — and thus her floral biker jacket came with a matching floral leather aviator bonnet.
Collarbone-brushing ear candy
Bye-bye big hoops, there’s a new extra accessory in town: dangly earrings so long they brush your collarbones. At Mithridate, by the Chinese designer Demon Zhang, they came shaped like Jimsonweed flowers, with crystal strands cascading down the chest. “Each pair takes two skilled craftsmen three days to construct,” says Zhang. “Statement pieces are always essential.” It was a similar story at Halpern, where strings of diamantes were long enough to reach dresses’ necklines, and at Nensi Dojaka where clavicle-reaching chains were decorated with pearls. “The drops are long and thin, and have a very different feel to hoops,” says Andrew Bunney who made Dojaka’s. “They generate quite a lot of drama when worn as they swing and dance around the face and neck.” For a similar but less extreme version, look to Erdem who did beautiful drop pearls which went with every colour — from tangerine frocks to shredded, floral trenches.
On the F’row
Famous faces flew in to make their mark on the city’s show circuit. Amer ican model Emily Ratajkowski was the highest profile on the catwalks this year, as she stormed Nensi Dojaka’s show in a sheer, burgundy dress and took to JW Anderson’s Soho arcade runway in bedazzled jeans. She was joined on the latter by Ella Emhoff, stepdaughter of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, and Romeo Beckham’s ex-girlfriend Mia Regan. Jourdan Dunn made an impressive commitment to bolstering independent brands, showing up dressed head-to-toe in their creations. And Richard Quinn’s F’row packed the most colourful punch, as Bridgerton’s Nicola Coughlan joined singer Griff, UK Drag Race Star Bimini Bon Boulash and activist Munroe Bergdorf.
The three new designers who made their mark:
Jawara Alleyne @jawaraalleyne
Having shown three seasons with talent incubator Fashion East, Alleyne, from Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, had his last hurrah. The man known for dressing Rihanna as a spliff for Dazed magazine showed more of his signature draped, shredded and safety pinned garments and offered sleeveless knits and pleated shorts for the boys. As he goes solo, the future looks bright.
Dilara Findikoglu @dilarafindikoglu
She comes with the approval of Bella Hadid, and at her LFW debut Turkish-British designer Findikoglu showed why. Her level of garment construction matched (and in places surpassed) other names on the schedule. Think Gothic brides, tight-strung corsets and Alexander McQueen-esque touches. Her scarlet feather closing gown was a highlight of the season.
Masha Popova @mashapopovap
Electric shade, butterfly bralettes put Ukrainian designer Popova on the map, but for her first fashion week show she did well to prove her potential. Aside from the tops that Dua Lipa loves, she was playful with her use of tie-dye denim this season, crafting cinched waist gowns and halter neck slips. Coming to a red carpet near you.