London Fashion Week has seen politics play out on its catwalks in the past few seasons, but the fraught realities of Brexit have created a somber atmosphere at the Fall/Winter 2020 shows. No matter how loud the protests or how anti-establishment the designs, the bad guys still won.
Though the mood was mollified, the clothes seemed rather optimistic in the face of geopolitical issues. Many designers investigated the multifaceted British identity – from Roland Mouret’s subtle punk tribute to 1980s enfant terrible Judy Blame and Roksanda’s poetic romance to Victoria Beckham’s “stiff upper lip” interpretation of British sartorial traditions. Additionally, there were vivid prints at Richard Quinn and ruffles galore at Preen by Thornton Bregazzi. Sloganizing and statement-making was replaced with clothes that possessed a quieter power.
Victoria Beckham made her name as a fashion designer with a figure-hugging silhouette, but moved away from it in recent years to craft wearable separates that appeal to working women – at the sacrifice of recognizability. The body-conscious dresses that were initially her bread and butter could be spotted as a Victoria Beckham design from meters away. However, with a new way forward, her identity is less clear.
Fall/Winter 2020 was filled with terrific pieces – spliced plaid dresses, ruched frocks with massive poet’s sleeves, knitwear punctuated with cut-outs, and felted wool outerwear – but if you saw them on the street, you’d be hard-pressed to identify their origins. However, that clasping hands belt was so cool that word-of-mouth alone will make it the Victoria Beckham accessory to have next season – and everyone will know who it’s by.
Identifiability has never been a problem for Preen by Thornton Bregazzi. Its DNA is strong and consistent, mostly because designers Justin Thornton and Thea Bregazzi have never met an asymmetrical line they didn’t like. Collaged fabrics upholstered at the seams with yards of ruffles have created a Preen frock that’s easy to spot, and even easier to fall in love with. For Fall/Winter 2020, the husband-wife design duo were inspired by costuming from 1970s cult classic horror Don’t Look Now, worn by the film’s stars, Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie.
Sutherland’s crisp suits in particular were reflected in the collection’s plaid layers, which were spliced with ruffles and tabs, giving the illusion that there were more layers than there really were. Foiled elements also appeared in the collection and were repeated throughout the clothes, the beauty looks, and even the nail art. Bonded suede and leather outerwear, cool thigh-high boots with duckbill uppers, and pixelated printed tees lent the ruffle-madness some youthful appeal. Meanwhile, we could have done without the look that mixed polka dots, camo, and argyle together. Taken separately, they were fine, but together they were a bit hard on the eyes.
One of the elements of Roland Mouret’s story we love is that he had no idea what he was doing when he first started out. He didn’t go to design school. He didn’t know how to cut a pattern, put in a zipper, or make a sleeve. But his lack of formal training also allowed him to see things differently, which is why he exhibits savant-levels of ingenuity when it comes to draping and the way fabric falls on the body. His collections, even when heavily layered, have a pervasive sense of lightness to them because of his organic, intuitive approach to design.
The same applies to his Fall/Winter 2020 collection, which uses heavy fabrics in surprisingly effervescent ways. Outwear came with cape backs and bib fronts, adding more dimensionality and movement to the surface. He employed gauzy draping on dresses, which was especially fetching in shimmering Lurex – even the bubblegum-pink suit worn by model Alanna Arrington looked featherweight thanks to its roomy cut. Mouret’s clothes are the kind that look great on the runway and on the hanger, which is why their retail appeal remains high long after the show. Wearability is key to his house, and Fall/Winter 2020 demonstrates why leading with intuition is always a design plus.
Meanwhile, designer Roksanda Ilinčić was back on firm footing with one of her best collections to date, proving why the likes of Cate Blanchett, Billy Porter, and Vanessa Redgrave were seated front-row. Roksanda’s métier is color and silhouette, and this season saw the best of both worlds.
There were oxblood-leather tracksuits, double bishop-sleeved tunics, multicolored patchwork knits, two-tone opera capes, and velvet maxi skirts in the mix, but a feeling of romance permeated every look. They are the kind of clothes you can’t help but immediately picture yourself wearing. Intelligently crafted and really beautiful collections are few and far between these days, which is why Roksanda received instant praise across the fashion spectrum. Well-earned.
At the outset, we talked about optimism that pervaded the runways, even if malaise had overtaken the mood of the city. At JW Anderson, optimism was very much on the talented young designer’s mind. His mesmerizing show was filled with odd touches of shredded celluloid, tiered tinsel fringe, bulbous bubble hems, and massive silhouettes that made some of the models look a bit like two kids stacked inside a trench coat trying to smuggle their way into an R-rate movie.
However odd it looked, it was equally compelling, bringing a sense of newness and experimentation to LFW. This was a rare case of weird ideas culminating in something really, really good. With a dearth of innovation in fashion nowadays, this Fall/Winter 2020 collection arrived as a breath of fresh air.
Burberry went down the nostalgic route. Inspired by memories of when he was first starting out as a young designer, Riccardo Tisci’s work for the British heritage house showed us his roots and how far he has come. There were elements from his time in India, where he learned the tremendous value of meditation. These appeared as madras prints that channeled the spirit of the signature Burberry check. Naturally, as the category that made Tisci famous as a designer, streetwear was a significant part of the collection, but it was the genteel Brit stuff that made us sit up and take notice.
The trench coat with huge shaggy sleeves that opened the show, the dazzling jet-black sequined trousers that melted into matching booties, the chic riding trousers, and a stunning line-up of tailored suits felt like the clothes we really want to wear right now. Lately, fashion has taken a turn away from streetwear and towards the finer things. One critic even took a scan of the footwear front-row at fashion week and went viral for pointing out that there was hardly a sneaker in sight. While Tisci will never stray far from his streetwear origins, the refinement of his other work is looking mighty convincing for Fall/Winter 2020.