Working in fashion is no fairy tale — just ask the independent designers in London. They may give the city its reputation as a hub of fearless creativity, but in times of economic upheaval, it is tougher for smaller labels to stay afloat. Once-buzzy names like Christopher Kane and Halpern went out of business this year. And this fall, the fashion week schedule seemed much lighter than in seasons past.
Several rising stars chose not to show their collections, including Nensi Dojaka, S.S. Daley and, after a last-minute cancellation, Dilara Findikoglu. But there was still much to be excited about, with some of the most talked-about shows from newer members of the fashion vanguard on the schedule: the dreamy draping on gowns at Di Petsa and Standing Ground, and the collision of skater grunge and Cornish milkmaids at Chopova Lowena (the label behind the cult carabiner-pleated kilts that seem to be everywhere). And then there was Priya Ahluwalia, who presented sublime prints inspired by unsung heroes of color, past and present, which were based on reporting in The New York Times’s “Overlooked” series.
Plenty of members of the London fashion establishment were also on hand to deliver big moments. Jonathan Anderson came out to play with hoodies and shorts molded from clay, all hunched shoulders and rippled pockets that exaggerated the swagger of youth on the street. Roksanda, London’s queen of color, sent out airy gowns in lilac and lime inspired by monastery frescoes from her native Serbia.
Molly Goddard deconstructed undergarments to reveal the internal structures that hold them — and us — together, to charming effect. And Erdem’s collection, inspired by Deborah Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire, also touched on the idea of the undone. Specifically, the lived-in elegance of the English aristocracy was reflected in oversize coats made from spliced waxed Barbour jackets and Chatsworth house textiles, as well as cocktail dresses made from curtains that once belonged to Debo, one of the late, great chatelaines of Britain.
London may be down, but it is definitely not out. Here is what we saw — and heard — that turned our heads this week.
The Most Welcome Trend
London looks from Simone Rocha, JW Anderson, Chet Lo and 16Arlington.Credit…Photographs by Ben Broomfield (Simone Rocha); Jason Lloyd-Evans (JW Anderson); Charles McQuillan/BFC, via Getty Images (Chet Lo); Giovanni Giannoni/WWD, via Getty Images(16Arlington).
One figure stalked the London runways this season, and that was the scarlet woman. At 16Arlington, she wore feathery, skintight latex; at Chet Lo, in keeping with the designer’s signature knitting technique, she was cherry red and spiky to the touch. At JW Anderson, she was playful in crochet, and at Supriya Lele and Simone Rocha, she was elegant and ready for after-dark play. The designs were an antidote to all the quiet luxury chat of late. A good red dress will always turn heads. Bye-bye beige.
The Most Delicious Accessories
Ms. Rocha’s show at the English National Ballet studios was strewn with roses, including real stems sewn into the sheer paneling of her dresses, and flowers painted onto models’ faces and limbs. Satin hair bows and ribbon trails danced along the floor. On the models’ feet? Platform Crocs encrusted with chunky crystals and pearls that were inspired by the artist Cy Twombly’s plaster cakes. And the accompanying handbags the models carried looked good enough to eat.
The Most Affecting Tribute
Richard Quinn’s show was dedicated to his father, who died in June. Mr. Quinn is known for his showstopping gowns, and the workmanship this season, including the thousands of crystal droplets that hung like tears, and delicate mesh dresses with embroidered, boned skirts that looked like bird cages, was couture-level. When a weeping Mr. Quinn stepped out for the finale, his mother took him in her arms. The audience then joined her in giving the designer a standing ovation.
The Worst-Kept Secret
On Monday, after weeks of speculation, Chioma Nnadi was confirmed as the successor to Edward Enninful at British Vogue (where Mr. Enninful was editor in chief). Ms. Nnadi, 44, will become the first Black woman to lead the fashion title when she takes up the recast role of head of editorial content next month. Currently, she is the editor of the American Vogue website, and a longtime favorite of Anna Wintour. Her new gig will be a homecoming of sorts, as Ms. Nnadi is London-born.
The Trippiest Set
Matty Bovan knows how to turn heads. He delivered the set of the week when he had his front row guests come backstage for dinner while his models got runway ready. Amid a frenzy of hair and make-up touch-ups, guests ate lobster pot pie and drank Tanqueray cocktails in the crypt of St. Martin-in-the-Fields church, an arm’s reach from models, like Ashley Graham, who were wearing Mr. Bovan’s collaged amalgamations of fabric and form.
The Most Considered Prints
Foday Dumbuya, the founder of Labrum, is one to watch. Mr. Dumbuya, who won the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design this year, uses his label to tell stories about African art, fashion and history. This season, his eyes were on the Nomoli figurines of Sierra Leone and Liberia. They were printed on textured shorts suits and rain macs, as well as Samba sneakers and white rubber clogs, as part of a partnership with Adidas. He has just been nominated for the New Establishment men’s wear award, a new category at this year’s Fashion Awards. Watch this space.
The Silliest Drama
For his sophomore show for Burberry, Daniel Lee opted to paint the town blue. Specifically, the British fashion house took over the Bond Street tube station, where platform signs were replaced during fashion week to say “Burberry Street” — a move that baffled scores of tourists and foreigners, who missed their stops.
The Buzziest Exhibitions
Not one, but three new museum exhibitions devoted to fashion opened in London last weekend.
“Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto,” at the Victoria and Albert Museum, tracks how the woman called Coco became the architect of the modern woman’s wardrobe.
At Somerset House, “The Missing Thread: Untold Stories of Black British Fashion” tells the story of Black creativity from the 1970s to the present day that was misrepresented or excluded from the mainstream industry narrative, with a particular focus on the archive of Joe Casely-Hayford, who died in 2019.
And at the Design Museum, an ambitious new retrospective centers on pieces from the first collections of some of the city’s best-known designers who were supported by the British Fashion Council’s Newgen talent program. Or, in the case of Alexander McQueen, replicas: Following his 1993 show, the designer left garments, including a pair of his famous “bumster” pants, in garbage bags near a dumpster outside a nightclub because he didn’t want to pay the cloakroom charge. He only remembered the next morning. The clothes were never seen again.
Sarah Mower, the curator of the retrospective, which is called “Rebel: 30 Years of London Fashion,” said that she wanted it to be as much about the culture surrounding the clothes as the pieces in the show. Hence the exhibition is staged with areas dedicated to student design ateliers and grubby nightclub queues, as well as the backstage of a runway show. It is deeply nostalgic but also full of excitement for what might come next in the London fashion scene.