London Fashion Week Digital: A Sunday between post-apocalypse and innocence
Few videos better summed up the mood of London Fashion Week’s debut digital online season this weekend than designer Matthew Miller’s contribution's name - Post Apocalyptic Merchandise.
Devoid of any actual live runway shows, but crammed full of ideas and attitude, London Fashion Week on Sunday was centered around the themes of sustainability and inclusiveness that defines our current zeitgeist; along with a search for a more elegiac and innocent fashion. And also, the desire for survivability – given how many fledgling fashion houses are under threat.
Miller showed a collage of archive footage played over a dark industrial soundtrack to “give a snapshot of where we currently are as a species and reflect the tumultuous, uncertain times of today.” Retro exercise videos; robot factories and speeches by Colonel Gadhafi mashed up with fighter plane test runs, missiles and lots of young models – each of them wearing masks and t-shirts reading "The New Normal", "Armed Self Defense" and "New Future Systems".
Innocence was the leitmotif at Preen by Thornton Bregazzi’s, with a short video by Turkina Faso of a fresh-faced blonde dancing and running at sunset in a hilly urban park – attired in bright red, gathered and puckered gowns, holding frilly, sugar pink cocktails. The soundtrack was a mix of Gabriel Prokofiev and a department store elevator voice announcing that doors were opening, closing, going up, or down. Sewing a little confusion – the video was listed as Seasonless 2020.
Originally planned as a menswear season, as a result of the pandemic, the British Fashion Council changed the weekend to a gender-free moment; a purely online series of events, most of them pre-recorded videos. Though Sunday actually began with an interview with UK fashion’s most famous knight – Sir Paul Smith.
“I’ve actually been working all this period of lockdown. Lonely, but interesting as we have been so creative. When I started in fashion here it was about particular British fabrics – countryside dressing or City dress. Now, I think it has some sense of humor and a more lateral way of thinking about it,” said Smith, speaking in his Covent Garden office, in a conversation with Hu Bing, LFW China Ambassador.
“My first trip to Beijing was in the 1980s and my guide told me there was 12 million bicycles. Now there must be 200 million cars,” recalled Smith, who, when asked if he had a message for a Chinese audience, responded: “Individuality and having your own personality is such a lovely thing in this homogenous world. Like a hidden button or colorful lining in our jackets at Paul Smith.”
“I moved into this room 20 years ago. It was empty then and now is full of books and objects, many sent by fans from all around the world. So fantastic that I can sit at this table with all my assistant designers – and just share ideas immediately, a great color, or an image from an art book. Normally we have 180 people. Now, there is just me. So, starting work on an autumn winter 2020/21 collection is quite hard. I cannot show any of my ideas without scanning and emailing!” he moaned with a loud laugh.
“In London, we are blessed to have fantastic art schools and universities, and all this fantastic input from students from all round the world. Maybe the pandemic made us humbler, made for more comradery and keeping our feet on the ground. From a business point of view, it has been a disaster. All my shops are closed but I still have to pay rents and salary,” he concluded.
The city’s most famous fashion school – Central Saint Martins – showed over a score of MA students developing material at a distance in isolation, with lots of abstract shapes; vibrant sketching and scrapbook images. Not that many real clothes, but an explosive amount of fresh and arresting visions. To cite just three: Ile Guilmard cut out felt fencing jackets and masking tape leggings made in a tiny apartment; Jordan Deeby’s Survivalexert featured superbly gritty sketches and courtier’s jackets and Jacob Pulley riffed on the legendary Klaus Nomi – arguably the first great artist celebrity to be taken by AIDS.
America was the subject of one splendid presentation video. Natasha Zinko x DUO Ltd showed the Land of the Free nostalgically, handsome rockers driving across giant poppies fields near oil refineries in a bright red Cadillac convertible. Devoid of any sense of the lockdown, with lots of American flags on backs. Also workerist denim; Fender guitars and some brilliant retro patchwork check rockabilly jackets and micro-pistol print shirts. “The ultimate escape: a trip without a physical journey,” explained the designer. Sounds like the whole season.
A weekend marked by multiple discussions, such as Dylan Jones – GQ editor-in-chief and founder of the independent menswear season in London – talking with designer Christopher Raeburn, whose biggest complaint was about delivering spring collections before Christmas; then putting them on sale or even pulling them out of boutiques before the weather even gets warm.
“Fundamentally what we do as an industry doesn’t make sense. It’s obviously flawed,” lamented Raeburn, expressing a common view among designers.
An LFW marked by a yearning, one for more innocence, where writer and performance artist Tomfoolery narrated a newly work entitled What Are You Drawing, commissioned by Vogue Italia, whose latest edition is dedicated to children around the world.
Perhaps the most digitally "true" moment was hatter Stephen Jones’ mini video, Analogue Fairydust. One where he collaborated with fashion avatar Noonnoouri, who has over 200,000 Instagram followers, and has done ad campaigns previously with Marc Jacobs and Versace. This vegan fashion doll, who shuns fur, appeared in a great series of hats – from swirling spiral fantasies to cut out alpine caps to mini circus master toppers.
The previous evening, one of the most thought-provoking pieces was from Osman Yousefzada. It came in the shape of a video he shot in Bangladesh of garment worker women discussing their reactions to fast fashion items found in UK charity shops. All made in their country, but too expensive for them to ever wear. Taking the clothes “full circle back to where they were made, clothes these women were never allowed to try on… like a Marxist division of labor. So, I asked them to imagine who their customers were?” explained Osman in a video discussion of environmental activist and Green Carpet founder Livia Firth.
Charles Jeffrey’s contribution was a fundraiser for UK Black Pride. The designer staged a live party from where his Loverboy concept began. Named Solasta – meaning luminous or shining in Scottish – it was held in a basement in Dalston. A series of life performances and videos, all capturing Jeffrey’s DNA in graffiti neo-romanticism.
The prize for Sunday’s best video should go to the "Sustainable Headdress Collection" from Crown of Ruins. Shot with sensational, youthful abandon by Jiagi Bi and starring KAK – a swirling series of selfie images of models in nine hand-sewn hats perched outside the sunroof of a 4x4, cruising through an Asian metropolis (probably Shanghai) to the music of Slave to Your Lovingby Barrie Gledden.
It was left to Mulberry to finish off the season with a party entitled Mulberry’s My Local, an exclusive recording on IGTV, with the hashtag #TakeRootBranchOut. It turned out to be an exclusive performance featuring Låpsley, as part of their virtual My Local Series.
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