London is falling back into focusing on the talents the last three years have created, and that’s not such a bad thing. Every now and then there’ll be a moment of talent creation so powerful it fuels us for years, and we’re in that phase again.
In my years at the London shows I can’t recall a situation like that of Riccardo Tisci joining Burberry: a massive international establishment designer moving to town for a fashion British institution. We’ve had our share of illustrious guests on the schedule over the years, but nothing like this. Tisci’s first show for Burberry felt ground-breaking in so many ways, not just because it was a moment, but because the way in which the Italian designer approached it was so decidedly un-London.
We’re used to the emerging designers, the small shows in oddly lit venues. You’ve got Erdem, Mary Katrantzou, Simone Rocha, and Christopher Kane in all their new establishment glory, putting on tailor-made experiences in quintessentially British galleries and such, but nothing like Tisci’s enormous meticulously designed space in Battersea and a Burberry collection that encompassed virtually every market and approach in high fashion. That sense of breadth is associated with Italy: your Armanis and Zegnas with their diffusion lines, market segmentation, and strict (and stark) dress codes for everything from staff to chairs. But it’s good for London Fashion Week, which thrives on the contrasts that make both the giants and the newcomers stand out.
Right now, London is falling back into focusing on the talents the last three years have created, and that’s not such a bad thing. Every now and then there’ll be a moment of talent creation so powerful it fuels us for years, and now we’re in that phase again: Michael Halpern, Matty Bovan, Molly Goddard, Richard Quinn and, at the London men’s shows, Charles Jeffrey are all on their way to new establishment territory, hoping to build companies with independent two-digit million turnovers like Erdem’s, or gain the backing of LVMH or Kering like JW Anderson and Christopher Kane, respectively. Both Halpern and Quinn focused on moving it on, as it were, even if they were fundamentally reluctant to do so.
“When will you move on from sequins?” people ask Halpern, who’s built a business on disco embroidery. “I’m never gonna stop using sequins,” he told me. “I don’t understand why people keep asking me that because you look at other brands, who have had a go-to fabrication forever and nobody asks them, ‘When are you going to move on from crepe?’”
Sure enough he opened with a series of sequinned looks, but having established his view on the matter once and for all, Halpern felt comfortable to explore shiny territory beyond the borders of sequins, in multi-colored multi-check ottoman, in organza interweaves with satin thread and screen printed, and pleated organza foiled in gold.
Quinn opened his show – which followed up last season’s royal attendance with a room full of students as a way of protesting the government’s cuts to arts education – with the masks and florals we associate with him, but the familiar soon transcended into a refined, dainty and at times still dark take on the codes of haute couture. “It was print-heavy before. Now we’re trying to bring in different textiles like embroideries, and different shapes. It’s more of an amalgamation of a full world rather than just a single print-print-print-print-print. It’s more about separates. It’s pushing it forward in a way,” he told me.
“You have to do what you want. Sometimes when you get too pressured to move on it doesn’t work. You should take the DNA of what you’re trying to create and move that forward rather than your identity as a designer. Maybe there’s something in this collection that’s really successful, and then you focus on that rather than doing a mind map,” Quinn said.
For Mary Katrantzou and Victoria Beckham, who were both celebrating the 10th anniversaries of the brands, it was more a question of looking back in order to move things on. Katrantzou showed an impressive collection cleverly based on the idea of collecting, a theme she used to reference her own archives in new looks in a way that never felt like Mary’s Greatest Hits. It was as emotional as Beckham’s Dover Street bonanza, which saw her ease into an amplified sense of eveningwear – which felt new – while paying homage to the power-tailoring and architecturally constructed dresses that took her from WAG to riches. Sorry, couldn’t help myself.
“There’s no particular season that has inspired the collection. What we realized looking back on the last 10 years is that we’ve established some really strong codes. So, what you see in the collection is masculine/feminine, celebration of the female form, color; strong codes,” Beckham told me.
“But definitely not a retrospective.” For Tisci, who had a century of Burberry codes to draw on, it was more about establishing an aesthetic he thought sufficiently reflected contemporary British society. So, he ticked all the boxes of what that might be, from ladies to rudeboys. “I was obsessed with all the things that England has got. You’ve got the Queen and punk, the skinheads, the Victorians, the freaks,” he said. “I was the first one to bring streetwear into fashion,” Tisci noted, referring to Givenchy.
“Now I think fashion has gone too street. You can dress the mother, dress the daughter. Why have just one entity when you can propose for every age, every culture; different lifestyles?” At London Fashion Week, there’s certainly something for everyone.
This article was first published on Vogue.co.uk