Hits and Misses: A (Complete) Recap of London Fashion Week

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With international flights touching down in London after a packed week of shows at New York Fashion Week, jet-lagged fashion insiders made their way through gloomy streets, anticipating a fresh round of presentations that might pull them out of the winter doldrums. Of the four major fashion capitals, London is known as the most creative and experimental outlet for designers. Fresh ideas might go elsewhere to die, but in London, they are rewarded, celebrated, and embraced.

For that reason, you’ll find Queen Elizabeth II sitting front-row this season at Richard Quinn’s presentation, with the royal figurehead paying homage to his thrilling designs by presenting him with the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design. Over at Mulberry, designer Johnny Coca considered how to fuse Britain’s past and present with a collection themed Beyond Heritage that was made available for purchase immediately following the show.

Quintessential British motifs (like Wedgewood-esque prints, exaggerated hats designed by Noel Stewart, posh linen suits, and elegant ruffled dresses) were combined with a British country-garden set. Coca quipped about the wearability of his collection after the show, remarking candidly that he hoped it might catch the eye of Meghan Markle’s future wedding guests – the hats in particular are sure to make a splash on that storied day.

Burberry was the big ticket in town as Christopher Bailey’s final show demanded the patronage of the who’s who in fashion. It may have been heavy-handed when it came to streetwear, but Bailey’s rainbow-themed collection ended his 17-year tenure on an optimistic note. It is hard to overstate how integral Bailey was to the revival of the brand and with his emotional tribute – which paid homage to ‘90s British youth culture and revisited some of his best designs – his chapter closed on a high note.

Burberry Spring/Summer 2018
Photo: Courtesy of Imaxtree

While Jonathan Anderson’s work at Loewe has been a season-after-season triumph, his creations for his namesake label have been less accessible and more challenging, often seeming to struggle against the female form rather than flatter it. Yet, they command notice because of their sheer refusal to conform to expectations. His daring designs have earned a legitimate fan base among fashion lovers who don’t mind a little risk-taking.

When Anderson is good, he’s really good – especially when it comes to dresses, which he renders in strange and alluring shapes through a variety of textile manipulations. Whether he’s rolling up hems, scrunching up silhouettes, tying knots around skirts, or belting down bodices, his results are always left of center. Fall/Winter 2018 proved his strengths, where commercial viability was actually at the forefront. His dresses were quite wearable. We’d even go so far as to say the lines between what he’s doing at Loewe and what he’s doing at JW Anderson are becoming blurred.

JW Anderson Fall/Winter 2018
Photo: Courtesy of Imaxtree

Speaking of blurring lines, Temperley London managed a rather adept homage to the Special Air Service cadets without sacrificing an inch of its fashion fantasy outlook. The past few seasons, the brand has been doing really colorful, eye-catching embroidery work that has elevated the clothes to new heights. For Fall/Winter 2018, military jumpsuits were emblazoned with stitchwork and patches, while flight suits came in khaki colors.

The show then exploded with glitter, which snaked its way through the collection on breezy dresses, while otherworldly cosmic prints offered a different kind of visual stimulation. Of the many storylines that gave way to collections, Preen by Thornton Bregazzi had the best for Fall/Winter 2018. After discovering the matriarchal society known as haenyeo – or sea women – at National Maritime Museum in London, Thea Bregazzi and Justin Thornton became enraptured by the way the female divers of Jeju, South Korea individuated their diving suits with scraps of fabric, colorful vests, and other feminine elements.

The scuba-diving motif was obvious from the outset, but like the haenyeo, it was the details that amplified each look. They employed neoprene material, shaggy fur for “seaweed” footwear, and netting and hoods that resembled swimming caps to bring an aquatic essence to the clothes. However, their asymmetrical dresses – both of the floral variety and versions done in ruched fabrics and primary colors – were thoroughly terrestrial.

Preen by Thornton Bregazzi Fall/Winter 2018
Photo: Courtesy of Imaxtree

The dark glamour and chic elegance of Roland Mouret’s Fall/Winter 2018 collection ranked high on our list of favorite shows for many reasons, but one model moment in particular sticks out. Mouret, who has been flattering the female form for two decades, has also been working to provide women with strong, protective elements as of late. Therefore, his excellent outerwear has been a boon.

One third of the way through the show, Grace Bol appeared on the catwalk in a (literally) shining example of his outerwear acumen, looking every inch like royalty. We broke out in goosebumps as she took her regal turn down the runway – that look is guaranteed to sell-out. And so will Mouret’s thoughtfully structured jacquard dresses imbued with ample flounce by way of creative draping, louche suits that feel very of-the-moment, and shaggy fur toppers that are the very definition of must-have.

Photo: Courtesy of Imaxtree

Meanwhile, outside of the shows at London Fashion Week, protests raged from a variety of activist sectors. Body-image advocates gathered to call for size diversity on the runway, while the anti-fur crowd attempted to signal-boost their message by disrupting proceedings. Mary Katrantzou’s presentation was interrupted by one anti-fur protester, who screamed at the audience, “Shame on you. Shame on all of you!” Unfortunately, the protester failed to realize that Katrantzou’s show was entirely fur-free. However, it wasn’t absent good design. In fact, it was overflowing with an inventory of cool ideas.

Her looks paid homage to different eras of interior design – modernism and Bauhaus in particular – by literally emblazoning looks with words like “Weimar” (the birthplace of Bauhaus) and phrases like “work of art”. Most of it was less literal and more metaphorical, using tapestry fabrics and curvilinear shapes to mimic the design ethos of different eras. Pointillism, drapery, brocade, lampshades, and carpet were also displayed on a variety of show-stopping dresses, proving her knack for trompe l’oeil once again. Design addicts are going to have a lot of fun with this collection.

Mary Katrantzou Fall/Winter 2018
Photo: Courtesy of Imaxtree

Tramp, a private members-only club that still clings to the halcyon days of hedonism, is a favorite afterparty spot for celebrities like Rihanna, Drake, and Ashley Graham. However, back in the 1970s, it’s where you would see Mick Jagger, Michael Caine, and Steve McQueen partying the night away – almost like an across-the-pond Studio 54 with a more relaxed dress code.

For Fall/Winter 2018, Peter Pilotto and Christopher de Vos attempted to capture the mood of Tramp’s golden years with a high dose of glamorous textiles, louche silhouettes, and multicolored furs. The engine of this prismatic collection was the duo’s gorgeous bespoke fabrications, which had a slight Asian feel, especially when rendered in brocade. For the audience, who were seated on colorful stools inside of Tramp’s wood-paneled basement, the ghosts of the past were brought shimmering to life.

Like Pilotto and de Vos, Roksanda Ilincic is known for her magnetic use of color, which she has often deployed in deeply saturated tones and geometric color-blocking. That’s why it is surprising that she opted for a palette of predominant neutrals for Fall/Winter 2018, with a few enticing shades of merlot, tangerine, and lemon towards the end. Her volumes were big but structured, especially in the case of molded blazers and ruffled accents that held their shape as if by magic.

Ilincic smartly juxtaposed her architectural silhouettes against soft, slinky silks that breezed down the runway as printed frocks or hidden beneath cozy wool blankets. This was one collection for which it was hard to play favorites – everything was gorgeous.

Roksanda Fall/Winter 2018
Photo: Courtesy of Imaxtree

Over at the National Portrait Gallery, Erdem’s artful influence was really allowed to shine. As both a student and professor of fashion history, Erdem Moralioglu is one designer who refuses to divorce his work from a healthy origin story. In fact, he has delivered some of the most thought-provoking collections at London Fashion Week – from works inspired by “prairie madness” that affected isolated women in America’s Midwest during the early 20th century to a collection based off recovered clothing and accessories from a sunken ship.

We remember them all well, not only because his designs are memorable, but because their backstory also introduced us to so many riveting characters. This time around, it’s Adele Astaire – the elder sister of Fred Astaire – who informed his presentation. As the queen of vaudeville, she had a penchant for flamboyant dress and possessed a charismatic personality that masked her private pain after her husband died at a young age.

Moralioglu became taken with Astaire’s story, translating it into a collection of inky-black velvet dresses, polka dotted mesh masks, brocade suits, and flashy sequined dresses. It was par for the course, but the velvet elements felt a little dated – we’ve seen them before.

Erdem Fall/Winter 2018
Photo: Courtesy of Imaxtree

Christopher Kane finished out the week with a collection that failed to support his thesis. Kane and his sister Tammy were attempting to empower female sexuality with a kinky collection of leather and lace, but the timing couldn’t have been more off. Right now, women are reclaiming their voices in society, speaking openly about rampant harassment, sharing their stories, suing their abusers, and gaining strength as a unified front.

At the same time, the advertising and marketing worlds are finding that sex no longer sells – after decades of saturation, it’s all become a bunch of background noise. Objectification is so passé. For that reason, super slinky and suggestive clothing feel… unwelcome. Elsewhere at London Fashion Week, designers were smartly delivering protective layers, dense fabrics, and easeful silhouettes. Kane knows how to work those angles as well as anyone, but this time around, he didn’t. Instead, he focused on provocation.

The molded jackets and trenches that opened the show were brilliant – more of that, please – but they were upstaged by sheer-lace boudoir frocks and shiny see-through dresses. In somber tones of black, the collection felt almost macaber, but a variety of wonderfully bulky knits saved the day. Ironically, a sweatshirt emblazoned with the words “More Joy” seemed to point directly at the collection’s lack thereof.

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