Preparing a collection for a runway show is challenging at the best of times, but the events of last week made the task increasingly complicated for the city’s design talents as they navigated preparations for London Fashion Week during a period of national mourning.
Parties and dinners were, rightly, canceled and a handful of designers – among them big names Burberry and Raf Simons – postponed or pulled their shows. For smaller brands, which depend on the event for new business and could not afford to lose the money they had invested, the message was clear: keep calm and carry on. Albeit with party playlists scrapped in favor of more sober soundtracks and Queen tributes woven into their shows.
Among those who remained, the creativity shown was indisputable. From the return of big names such as Christopher Kane and JW Anderson, to outstanding shows from Central St Martins graduates Richard Quinn and Simone Rocha and the debuts of new talents such as Chopova Lowena and Dilara Findikoglu, it was clear that London is a major incubator for progressive, living and experimental design. The nation may be facing some dark days, but the London Fashion scene is emerging full of light and life.
Royal runway tributes
Many who stuck to their schedule despite the news showed respect on the runway. LFW was halted by the most dismal of approaches. Daniel W. Fletcher opened the week with a minute’s silence, a charcoal British wool suit and black armband, while Richard Quinn provided an explosive finish, having put together a 23-look Victorian mourning-inspired sequence from scratch in 12 days . Minor nods came from JW Anderson, who made a black t-shirt that read “Her Majesty The Queen, 1926-2022, thank you”, and Halpern, whose first look, a billowing satin cape worn with a headscarf inspired by Her Majesty, was passed in silence. Dilara Findikoglu created a Union Jack corset dress with hair crown, while SS Daley started her show with a group of black-clad models holding candles. “It struck me that the figurehead of the older generations, my grandparents’ generation, was gone,” says Daley. “It’s a scary idea to see the people in this life who have been constant disappear.”
Sex and satin
For those not interested in cargo or flashing spaces, the ’90s revival has so far borne limited fruit. But the London shows this weekend revealed an altogether more sophisticated Sex and the City era: the floor-length satin coat. Spearheading the trend was London label 16Arlington, which offered a summer wardrobe of crystal-encrusted minis and snakeskin, layered under sharp-shouldered, floor-skimming satin coats in dusty rose, ivory and the palest of cornflower blues. “For me it was interesting to explore what we like to call after dark wear in a way that felt different from previous seasons,” says brand founder Marco Capaldo, who dedicated the collection to his late partner and co-founder Federica ‘Kikka’ Cavenati, who died suddenly in 2021. “I took inspiration from the way Kikka used tailoring, somehow taking something masculine and transforming it with a very feminine energy.” SS Daley did more wintry iterations in velvet with satin layers, while Simone Rocha gave a sportier look, with voluminous (and genderless) satin bomber jackets as part of her debut menswear offering.
Disco ball dressing
Party wear remains front and center post-pandemic, and for summer ’23, high-gloss silver is set to dominate the dance floor. Albanian designer Nensi Dojaka, winner of the 2021 LVMH Prize for Young Designers, added super-shiny silver sequins to her line of gorgeous lightweight lingerie-inspired LBDs. “It adds a festive vibe to the signature pieces and is quite a new perspective,” says Dojaka, who did full sequin mini dresses, plus date-ready silver sequin straps paired with wide-leg jeans. “I think the world now needs a more positive tone and something fun and simple.” JW Anderson certainly agreed, serving playful silver minis with bulbous peplums, shimmering silver suits and a giant orb-like mirror dress that would make a grand entrance on the dance floor. Huishan Zhang offered elegant looks, with unlined semi-translucent pale pink and peach gowns strewn with lines of iridescent sequins that flashed like binary code. “I’m fascinated by how modern the iridescent sequins appear,” Zhang said, “and the way they change under the light, almost looking digital.”
Goes in for the kilt
Versatile, flattering and enjoying a renaissance – the humble kilt has been given the stamp of fashion. One of the most anticipated debuts this LFW came from the Anglo-Bulgarian design duo behind Chopova Lowena. They have built a cult following since meeting at Central St Martins, and are best known for bringing kilts back to high style. “A great kilt is all about the details,” says Chopova. For SS23, they transformed the Scottish staple into paneled minis, attached to thick red leather belts and knee-length in tapestry. Outside, the street style set wore theirs with pride, each looking unique. “There are so many ways to wear them depending on your mood or style: over dresses, pants, under a big sweater or all dressed up,” says Lowena. Poster Girl made teeny versions for the party tribe, Daniel W. Fletcher’s were cream and navy blue and were worn with cummerbunds and trousers, while 16Arlington’s satin, microskirts came heavily pleated. “There is something very classic and thoughtful about the perfectly fitted pleated skirt,” says designer Marco Capaldo. “Any woman can wear them, any shape, any size. It’s all about attitude.”
Rev your engines, because motocross jackets are poised to take over the leather blazer in 2023. Inspired by the petrol-stained streets around his Shoreditch studio, London stalwart David Koma went heavy on race-track-ready leathers, the best of which came with iridescent acrylic decorative inserts or other in the form of glittering fish hooks. “Motocross jackets are timeless and fantastic for creating a strong and powerful silhouette,” he says. “It’s definitely becoming a Koma staple outerwear.” KNWLS kept its vintage style and stomach, while Yuhan Wang offered a feminine twist with a cropped black motorcycle painted with the floral marks she’s become known for. Her collection was inspired by women pilots – mainly Lee Ya-Ching, the first Chinese woman to be awarded a civil aviation license in China, Hazel Ying Lee, who flew for the Women Airforce Service Pilots in WW2 and Amelia Ear – hart, the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic – and thus came her floral biker jacket with a matching floral leather aviator’s bonnet.
Collarbone brushing ear candy
Bye-bye big hoops, there’s a new accessory in town: dangling earrings so long they brush your collarbones. At Mithridate, by Chinese designer Demon Zhang, they came shaped like Jimsonweed flowers, with strands of crystal cascading down the chest. “Each pair takes two skilled craftsmen three days to construct,” says Zhang. “Opinion is always important.” It was a similar story at Halpern, where strings of diamonds were long enough to reach the necklines of dresses, and at Nensi Dojaka where chains reaching the collarbone were decorated with pearls. “The drops are long and thin, and have a completely different feel than hoops,” says Andrew Bunney who created Dojaka’s. “They generate quite a bit of drama when worn as they swing and dance around the face and neck.” For a similar but less extreme version, look to Erdem who created beautiful droppers that went with every color – from tangerine dresses to shredded floral trenches.
On the F’raden
Famous faces flew in to make their mark on the city’s show circuit. American model Emily Ratajkowski was the highest profile on the catwalks this year, storming Nancy Dojaka’s show in a sheer burgundy dress and taking to JW Anderson’s Soho arcade runway in flared jeans. At the latter, she was joined by Ella Emhoff, stepdaughter of US Vice President Kamala Harris, and Romeo Beckham’s ex-girlfriend Mia Regan. Jourdan Dunn made an impressive commitment to empowering independent brands, showing up dressed head to toe in their creations. And Richard Quinn’s F’row packed the most colorful punch, as Bridgerton’s Nicola Coughlan joined singer Griff, UK Drag Race Star Bimini Bon Boulash and activist Munroe Bergdorf.
The three new designers who stood out:
Jawara Alleyne @jawaraalleyne
After showing three seasons with talent incubator Fashion East, Alleyne, from Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, got her last hurray. The man known for dressing Rihanna like a spliff for Dazed magazine showed more of his signature draped, shredded and safety-pinned garments and offered sleeveless knitwear and pleated shorts for the boys. Going solo, the future looks bright.
Dilara Findikoglu @dilarafindikoglu
She comes with the approval of Bella Hadid, and at her LFW debut, Turkish-British designer Findikoglu showed why. Her level of garment construction matched (and in some places surpassed) other names on the schedule. Think gothic brides, tight corsets and Alexander McQueen-esque details. Her scarlet graduation gown was a highlight of the season.
Masha Popova @mashapopovap
Electric shade, butterfly bralettes put Ukrainian designer Popova on the map, but for her first Fashion Week show, she did well to prove her potential. Aside from the tops that Dua Lipa loves, she played with the use of tie-dye denim this season, creating cinched waist dresses and neck ties. Coming to a red carpet near you.