In an impassioned speech at the opening of London Fashion Week, model Adwoa Aboah – the British Fashion Council’s newly appointed Positive Fashion Ambassador – set the tone (and threw down the gauntlet) for the week. ‘As a model and a woman, I want to challenge each and every one of you to think about what your role is within this industry and what you are going to do to help change the system that has allowed such rampant abuse of power and fear to take advantage of so many who have not had a voice.’
Talking in the wake of #MeToo and the storm of allegations of sexual abuse made against male fashion photographers, she also spoke about the fight for more diversity on the runways of ‘race, all body types, religion, sexuality and gender identification’ and how the BFC’s Models First initiative has been put in place to establish best practice for the industry. By the close of the week, that other burning subject, sustainability – how the industry must produce more consciously – had also been tackled with the launch of an educational initiative set up by Kering, the luxury goods group, in conjunction with the London College of Fashion and the BFC.
All this against a backdrop of vocal anti-fur protestors, who banged drums all week long and chanted ‘Shame on London Fashion Week.’*
So how did the designers showing their collections last week respond? Answering the call for diversity – which was more prominent everywhere, thankfully – Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida, the Portuguese London-based couple behind the label Marques’Almeida, showed their street-cool collection in an underground tunnel on a gang of real women – big- bottomed, ample-breasted, short, tall, wide and narrow, black, brown and white. Calling it their ‘joyful responsibility to make fashion inclusive, diverse and relevant for girls and women’, it made you wish other designers would take a more believable approach to casting. We have Roland Mouret to thank for older model representation – never have his wiggle dresses looked so appealing or his new trouser suits in pale pink so relatable as here, with more mature models representing the women who buy his elegant clothes. Shout outs for diversity also for Osman, Ashish and Molly Goddard, who presented her stay-out-all- night party dresses on revellers (real body types mixed in with the likes of Edie Campbell) who had found themselves at the end of the night in a hotel’s industrial kitchen. Cue a skinhead model dressed in a huge pink frock knocking back champagne as a redhead in body-con green stirred a soup on the hob, while a street-cast model glided by in shocking orange tulle.
So, what was the trend message from London’s autumn/winter collections? In the wake of Time’s Up, many designers talked up female empowerment. This took myriad forms – power silhouettes (see Gareth Pugh’s gigantic shoulders), sensational glamour (Halpern’s sequin jumpsuits), rule-breaking creativity (Matty Bovan’s spliced knits and balloon headgear) and black – the colour of the week (a week that saw another blackout on the BAFTA red carpet). There were literal interpretations of female solidarity, like at Preen, where Thea Bregazzi and Justin Thornton had been inspired by the Haenyeo, a matriarchal society of Korean deep-sea divers, who customise their scuba gear with layers of lace, shells and fishnet. (‘We looked at these incredibly strong women who hunt all day while their men look after their children,’ they said, adding, ‘We don’t think men are doing a good job of looking after the world.’) And there was SEX! Provocateur Christopher Kane tackled it head on, using the weirdly beautiful pencil illustrations from the 1972 manual The Joy Of Sex to heat his powerful appreciation of black leather tailoring, red lace and clinking diamanté dresses. We can forgive his ‘ugly shoe fetish’ – his words – because his cool- youth customer will love those man- repelling, bejewelled, heeled Crocs.
What about wardrobe solutions? JW Anderson had been looking for new ways to change the system, so he showed his excellent men’s and women’s collections – full of modern city combat gear – together on the runway ‘because women buy men’s and vice versa’, he said. ‘I really wanted to clear out and find what’s next; what’s next is what’s modern,’ he added of launching a democratic photography competition – open to all – in which the winner gets to shoot his next campaign. Equally great wardrobing came from women designers who juggle the hair- raising running of global fashion businesses with family life. Simone Rocha turned up the volume on oh-so-delicate texture with opulent dresses that have never looked more lovely alongside her new trouser suits – ‘with a tomboy Victoriana feel’ and trousers that came with bows at the knee, which looked subversively cool and kinky. Roksanda Ilincic also re ned her signature silhouette with powerful drenches of colour – camel, ochre, blue, claret, yellow, pink – wow! ‘I’m a designer who cares about women, I want to protect and shelter her,’ she said of the luxuriant blankets thrown around the models’ shoulders. And Erdem – widely tipped to be designing Meghan’s wedding dress – was keeping schtum backstage after his epic show at the National Portrait Gallery, the ideal backdrop for his regal collection based on Fred Astaire’s ‘more talented’ sister who came to live in England. Think neat tweed jackets (Balmoral), falling-off-the-shoulder sweaters (Princess Margaret) and breathtaking shimmer dresses – perfect for La Markle’s reception look.
Overall, the driving message was one of positivity – from the hottest green shoot of avant-garde design at Central Saint Martins’ graduation show (note the name: Liam Johnson) to the establishment: Christopher Bailey, the man who has steered Burberry for the last 17 years, delivered his grand finale for the house. Celebrating company heritage checks and logos with his latest street-cool vibe– baseball caps, slogan sweats, the chunkiest of fleeces, tracksuits and mega- quilted rainbow parkas – a nod to his support of gay pride and LGBTQ+ rights. Now, if only the BAFTA Best Actress Frances McDormand would wear this to the Oscars, it really would show her ‘problem with compliance’ on the red carpet blackout. And finally, to top it all off, we saw the Queen – yes, really! Her Majesty handed London’s rising boy wonder Richard Quinn the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design at his incredible show where every model wore head-to-toe blooms – wild, crazy, ingenious flower prints. It was the moment of the week: victorious, happy and glorious, just like British fashion.