The fashion crowd always seems to let their hair down a little more when London Fashion Week rolls around. The frenetic, colorful, energized runways of LFW are always down for a little experimentation and a lot of escapism, namely expressed by some of the city’s top designers like Christopher Kane, Mary Katrantzou, and JW Anderson.
Anderson, in particular, held a special spot in our hearts on day one, when he finally dispensed with his customary crowded catwalk and complex clothes. Instead of being narrowly crammed into a walled-in corridor that served as a claustrophobic runway, Anderson’s set featured an open, circular seating arrangement that gave editors and attendees added breathing room.
While Anderson has long been one of London’s most challenging designers, he took a break from silhouettes that struggled against the female form and embraced sensual simplicity. His striped bustier tops, soft asymmetrical skirts, and drop-waist dresses were immediately accessible and easy to wear. They needed no deep mental digging to explain and required no difficulty to wear. The ease of this collection might be a departure for Anderson, but it is a welcome one.
Burberry’s “more honest, less polished” approach to the Fall/Winter 2017 season (it’s doing in-season shows now) resulted in the roaring comeback of the brand’s iconic tartan pattern. A recent collaboration with cult streetwear designer Gosha Rubchinskiy seemed to have ignited Christopher Bailey’s imagination as he looked to the possible upcycling of Burberry’s own signature. He found the right formula when combining highly wearable textured knits with streetwear, like baseball caps and ponchos. Although it was a significant departure from anything I’ve seen from Burberry in the past, I am smitten with the brand’s new bold-but-relaxed direction.
For many designers creating collections for Spring/Summer 2018, nostalgia held a magnetic draw. Mary Katrantzou, for instance, crafted a presentation centered on “idealized infancy” – bubble wrap, hot air balloons, and Lego building blocks all inspired her infectiously playful clothes. The cheerful atmosphere of her show was enhanced by vibrant digital prints, whimsical bubble-hemmed silhouettes, and parachute-vinyl athletic separates.
Children informed the Preen by Thornton Bregazzi runway as well, but it was the design couple’s own offspring who held their fascination. The husband-and-wife team imagined the world their two daughters were growing up into, specifically what femininity and feminism meant for an emerging generation, and how to imbue young women with the strength to forge their own sartorial values.
Roland Mouret returned to the London Fashion Week schedule, bringing with it a fresh change on the runway as well. For SS18, Mouret thought about the way women are changing the world, many embracing more modest silhouettes in reaction to the male gaze and millions marching to protest social and economic inequality. His clothes were flowing and ladylike, made with gorgeous woven textures, fringed hems, and asymmetrical details. The traditional bodycon Mouret silhouette is long gone, now replaced with clothes that are looser and more inviting – proof that the designer is paying attention to women’s evolving needs.
Versus Versace was the first of two major Italian labels showing at London instead of Milan, the second being Emporio Armani. It channeled the club kids of New York in the 90s, even going so far as to transform the show into a sort of nightclub. Mixed plaids, neons, and streetwear were the stuff of every Insta girl’s dreams – we’re already picturing Simi and Haze Khadra in nearly all of these looks, especially the mesh overlays, cropped sweatshirts, and printed minis.
In a textile league of their own, Peter Pilotto and Christopher de Vos are reliable sources of sartorial excellence every season. For Spring/Summer 2018, the duo delighted in color, opting for a deeply saturated palette of “acid pastels” influenced by a recent trip to Okinawa, Japan. What started off as gently striped, asymmetrically draped dresses and separates quickly gave way to a soporific mash-up of tropical prints and color-blocked surfaces – and the results were gorgeous.
Topping off the bill for the day was a hotly anticipated show by Emporio Armani, making a surprise appearance on the London Fashion Week catwalk. In keeping with the youthful, relaxed atmosphere of the city, Armani focused with precision on whimsical pop prints that made the audience smile. These cheerful clothes – depicting cartoon crabs, pastel plaids, and lightweight mesh paneling – were very likeable, but not instantly recognizable as originating from the sophisticated Italian luxury label.
Nomadic themes, brilliant color palettes, and longline silhouettes are Roksanda’s calling card, and each signature offered a steadfast foundation upon which to build new and surprising textures. Tinsel fringe was woven into sophisticated linen separates, bodices were pleated and gathered, and sleeves were generously cut and balloon-like. Every extraordinary detail floated with surprising ease down the runway on dresses, tunics, and loose trousers.
Meanwhile, Christopher Kane offered much in the way of subversive delight with a collection that combined banal domesticity with a frisson of fetishisim. As the delicious combination might suggest, there was lots of doily lace, prissy florals, and ruffles engineered with shocks of sheer paneling, surprising cut-outs, and bulky rubber textures. His vision of the domestic goddess and her uniform, undercut by the profane, is territory that fashion has explored before – but never quite at this level of wit and humor.
A thoroughly British display of brocade tea dresses and proper tweeds with portrait necklines at Erdem had a clear point of focus: the couture gowns made by royal couturier Norman Hartnell for young Queen Elizabeth II. Designer Erdem Moralıoğlu studied the historical archives and emerged with a cross-section of cultures as he reimagined the Queen’s relationship with jazz pianist Duke Ellington, who once met the Queen and wrote The Queen’s Suite as a result.
Therefore, the clothes – while royal in origin – were anything but stuffy. Instead, Erdem thought about the Queen letting loose at a jazz club in clothes redolent of the past, but suffused with modern elements like glitter collars, leather shorts, and platform heels.
Before everyone could board the plane for Milan, there was one more major pitstop to make on the final day of LFW. Tommy Hilfiger – who has been changing up show locations and themes ever since he decided to take on the “See Now, Buy Now” monolith – was the bookend to a week filled with energetic shows.
When I heard Hilfiger describe his Tommy x Gigi Hadid presentation as a “rock circus” a few days before the show, I thought he was being descriptive. Turns out, he was being literal. In an over-the-top display that featured live acrobats, a performance by The Chainsmokers, and more, the designer paid homage to his two great loves: rock music and fashion. The show also featured Gigi’s siblings, Bella and Anwar Hadid on the runway – this was a show-stopping moment for the social-media impressions alone.
However, the collection itself was indicative of some of fashion’s most systemic problems, namely its obsession with flashiness and celebrity worship rather than ingenuity, innovation, or creativity. Hoodies, jackets, jean shorts, plaid dusters – they are the stuff of every 20-something’s closet as is, but this time, they were decked out in the iconic Tommy Hilfiger logo.
With the industry in the grips of an existential crisis, one can’t help but see this as the bullseye on the target of banality. The spectacle of it all was immense, but what was the point when the clothes were less than the theatrics surrounding them? There’s already so much stuff in fashion, and this didn’t add to what’s already out there in any significant way. But it sure wasn’t boring to look at.