London earned its rep as a hotbed of fashion design talent, and then some, this season. Vogue.com’s editors are packing up tonight, feeling invigorated by the multiplicity of voices, by its new garde—many of whom are women—by its embrace of sustainability, and more. Sally Singer, Sarah Mower, Chioma Nnadi, Maya Singer, and Luke Leitch all weigh in here.
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Sally Singer, Vogue Digital Creative Director
Here is what one didn’t hear much of during London Fashion Week: the shift to buy-now-wear-now shows and the illogical collections calendar. There was a sort of wonderful silence after the incessant hand-wringing of New York. But how peculiar, given that this is the city of Burberry (the first luxury brand to champion such changes) and Topshop (the high-street champion of here-today-gone-tomorrow). Instead, from Burberry, a thoroughly Fall 2016 collection of refined military coats and jackets, and at Topshop Unique, clubby items that won’t hit the shop floors for months . . .
Perhaps the real question here is not how to make the business of designers better resemble fast fashion, but how to make a business at all. There is such a wealth of talent here among the emerging and smaller designers—Molly Goddard, Marques ‘ Almeida, to list only two—but how will they find commercial support in this challenging climate? I can’t help but think that without Rei Kawakubo and her marvelous Dover Street stores, so many cool voices would just not be heard—Simone Rocha, for example, whose magical show has been one of the highlights of the season thus far.
Rocha’s intensely feminine yet curious clothes are on one side of the aesthetic divide I see in British fashion at the moment. Alongside her are the breathtaking laciness of Erdem, Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen (a welcome return to LFW), a soigné/demure Roksanda Ilincic, and Duro Olowu (who added fine jewelry of lapis, gold, and diamonds to his strong offering of capes and floral gowns). And on the other side are the equally curious, good/bad-taste wonders of J.W.Anderson and Christopher Kane, all strong technique, smart lines, and edgy grooviness. That both points of view can be so present and so compelling in one city is sort of remarkable—although, given the current fight over whether the country should exit the EU or not, a split personality seems at this moment to be very British.
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Sarah Mower, Vogue.com Chief Critic
What I care about for London Fashion Week is seeing the entire ecosystem of young designers develop, because this city would be nothing without them—and I know that because I live here. It’s been a decade since I first met Christopher Kane (standing next to his desk at Central Saint Martins, I was on a Vogue mission to find out where the Versace-redux trend was coming from—i.e., him, already); Erdem, pretending to be a Paris couturier in Hackney; Peter Pilotto, just arrived from Antwerp showing his sketches; Mary Katrantzou, working in a box and sleeping under her desk—and then a bit later, Simone Rocha, J.W.Anderson, and Marques ‘ Almeida taking their first steps. They, along with Roksanda Ilincic, are now the backbone of creative London with significant businesses, giving their variegated shows, which delighted this week.
But yes, Sally, although we are no-fuss British people who just plow on with the job in hand—keeping calm and carrying on is our national characteristic—we’re all contemplating what might happen once the see-now-buy-now revolution led by Burberry and Tom Ford hits next season. London is going to be the epicenter of this movement in September, but as I see it, the way forward can only be for a multispeed system to develop that protects and nurtures the young. It’s very much in the interests of large players to make sure the ecosystem for beginners and independents isn’t nuked. Otherwise, London—and the fashion world in general—will cease to be the place we can see avenues into the future opening up.
But I have an idea! The unavoidable fact is that beginners and indie startups are beholden to manufacturers, and will never be able to buy fabrics and invest in enough stock to go straight to market. I would like to call on powers such as Burberry and Topshop, who have all the resources and manufacturers within their control, to open up and share some of that know-how with newcomers. Inclusiveness and helping each other out is the London way. Topshop has been incredibly generous over the past decade in funding NewGen designers to put on shows and presentations. The new wave we’ve seen this week, including Molly Goddard, Marta Jakubowski, Ashley Williams, Faustine Steinmetz, and all the Fashion East designers, are beneficiaries of that. (And all the names I mentioned before have come through the scheme, too.) But times change and now the gearchange of seasons needs back-of-house re-engineering.
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Chioma Nnadi, Vogue.com Fashion News Director
To pick up on your point about a multispeed system, Sarah, I think one of the things I find most exciting about London is how quickly and nimbly indie labels are able to move their ideas forward. Where in New York some designers seemed to be struggling with a sort of creative inertia in the face of change, it was quite a different story here. Whether it was the vibrant clash of proportions and color at J.W.Anderson, the mind-boggling textile handwork of Faustine Steinmetz, or the real-girl princesses at Molly Goddard, your eye was constantly pushed toward a place it hadn’t seen before. However the logistics in this move toward a buy-now-wear-now system shake out for the little guys, that kind of confidence and conviction will put them in good stead.
And, on the topic of little guys, it was encouraging to see so many young women under the age of 30 on the NewGen short list, striking out on their own despite the somewhat uncertain political and economic future of the country. That kind of creative business-mindedness was certainly not encouraged when I was growing up in London, back in the ’90s. I think more strong female voices is exactly what fashion needs right now.
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Maya Singer, Vogue.com Contributor
Sally, Sarah, Chioma—all of you have made points about innovation, the thing we look to from the London fashion scene, that I wholeheartedly endorse. I’d like to add my own wrinkle. At this season’s Christopher Kane show, I happened to be seated just behind François-Henri Pinault. Perhaps because of that, I found myself wondering how Pinault’s laudable efforts to make the brands under the Kering umbrella more sustainable (from an environmental perspective) had or had not affected the collection that Kane showed. I know that Pinault’s aim is to make his sustainability initiative invisible—to implement smart sourcing and production strategies that allow designers like Kane to indulge all their ideas without worrying about the cost to the earth of all their bags, shoes, and clothes—but I do think it’s our obligation, as journalists, to keep the sustainability issue front and center.
Frankly, I think designers should be worrying about the impacts of their collections. I think worrying about those impacts would, in many cases, make them better designers. It would force them to consider the value of every single one of their garments. If designers could stand behind every item they put on a runway and say: “Yes, this must exist, it’s worth more to a customer than the base materials and the man hours that go into making it,” then there would be less chaff to sort through to more stuff that matters. As I see it, there are two ways for a garment to matter: Either it’s something durable that’s going to get a ton of use, or it’s part of a collection that’s saying something meaningfully new. I’m glad that original voices such as Kane, and with him Jonathan Anderson and Simone Rocha, have the freedom to use fashion as a form of dreaming. But as Yeats wrote, in dreams begin responsibilities. It’s more fun for us to write about the dreams. There will be better dreams, if we as critics keep an eye on the responsibilities.
Do I sound cranky? Actually, I’m not. London, that fashion innovation hub, is germinating a new kind of fashion visionary, one we should be paying attention to. Christopher Raeburn and Samantha McCoach of Le Kilt are two designers operating in the considered way I’d like to see become standard. I’m not going to make a case for either of them as game-changers as far as the look of fashion, because that’s not what they’re about, but their concern with the materials that go into their clothes, and the lives of the people who produce them, made me walk away from each of their presentations feeling like every item they showed had earned its keep in this world. Raeburn showed fantastic outerwear not only inspired by, but remade from, old ceremonial military uniforms; for her collection, McCoach dialed up the knitters of Sanquhar and put in time in a Scottish kilt factory of very longstanding. In each case, I was struck by the designer’s commitment to “heritage” not as an idea, but as a principle. Clothes at that price point can be made locally, in some cases by hand, and in limited batches. But for designers such as McCoach and Raeburn to maintain the integrity of their brands, they need to resist the temptation to play the same fashion game as everyone else. They’re up to something different. And anyway, pace Burberry, the game is changing. I finished up the London collections excited by the notion of a whole bunch of new rules.
Photo: Alessandro Garofalo / Indigital.tv
Luke Leitch, Vogue.com Contributor
Hallo, dear colleagues. Right at the top, Sally characterized the response of New York’s designers to the Burberry-catalyzed buy-now-wear-now earthquake to come as “hand-wringing”—and noted that here in London she’d detected not a whiff of it. I guess the reason is only Burberry has the bucks and the vertical integration to make a go of it in this town. Topshop could too—but remember, it kind of already does. Because despite its stalwart and visionary support for Fashion East and London Fashion Week in general, Topshop is a fast-fashion company—albeit an enlightened one.
In his marvelously dark 1919 poem “The Second Coming,” Yeats wrote, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” The so-called “Fashion System” seems poised to enter a period of anarchy as the not-fit-for-purpose rhythm of shows falls partially apart—and there is most definitely anarchy ahead. I’ve heard that certain Italian factories have had to cancel August holidays to meet a buy-now-wear-now deadline in September—unthinkable! I’ve heard rumblings that the menswear and womenswear schedules could be combined into one—heresy! (But a very good idea, nonetheless.) And I’ve wondered, if a buy-now-wear-now show is basically just an advertising campaign dressed up as an old-school fashion show, why hold them during Fashion Week at all? Why not find a day where nobody else has a show to maximize the hashtags? Anarchy!
One reason that Sally failed to detect any hand-wringing here is, I’d venture, that of the four show capitals, London has the least to lose and the most to gain from the changes ahead. What’s driven the disruption that Burberry is so proactively responding to is the Internet-driven acceleration of the speed of communication, which has radically shorted the lifespan of consumer desire. Big companies such as Burberry absolutely need to adapt—because otherwise they will wither—and Godspeed to them. But as Sarah knows so well—because she has been so closely involved in mentoring many of its leading lights—London’s chief currency is creativity.
Change creates opportunity, and this town is bursting at its seams with designers for whom a transformed fashion landscape can only be more potentially fertile than the old one. All they need to do is work out how best to grow in it. Fashion is change you can wear: the cyclical commodification of wearable aesthetic novelty through the power of hype and consensus, and occasionally real artistry too. True creativity will find a way to flourish. That’s why London feels so chilled about change. Because if it freaks you out, you’re old, done, yesterday. And London isn’t.
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