The strongest outings from London Fashion Week came from younger designers, established and rising. The city is best known, perhaps, for its fashion schools and education – and its place as an incubator of talent is undisputed.
One of the most exciting designers around now is Molly Goddard, who is brilliantly and jubilantly considering and renaming femininity for the everyday. Her calling card is tulle, and it's no small feat how she's managed to give a fabric associated with poofy frou frou a casual and contemporary charm.
This season, Goddard smartly expanded her collection beyond tulle signatures and onto more conventional day-wear styles albeit with a distinct hand. The check poplins, for one, were very cute and had the cosy and welcoming feeling of Goddard’s designs. It made me think of her earlier collections, shown and presented as a gathering of sorts of friends. That sort of personality still came through in the more conventional catwalk format Goddard opted for this season – which was a strong relief. In the path of expansion and growth, there is the risk of losing the original appeal, but there's no such problem here.
The rest of the collection used print motifs of flowers and polka dots, combining them at times to create some very vibrant dresses. These were adorned with tiered ruffles, which I felt were a fitting and apt evolution from her tiered tulle confections. They had a strong feminine slant but never looked absurdly decorative or costumey. The best of these ruffles came as solid-colored wide A-line dresses, an off-the-body silhouette that the brand is now making its own. It was modern, certainly easier to wear than tulle, and very chic. Goddard is a real joy to watch, and her brand of feminine exuberance is enchanting.
It's hard to believe, but Mary Katrantzou the brand celebrated its 10th anniversary with this Spring/Summer collection. The decade since has seen the designer grow from an up and coming queen of prints to an established presence on the London Fashion circuit.
This collection was a meta spin on the word ‘collection’ itself – a collection about collectors. The obsessive and the dedicated. Postage stamps, jigsaw puzzles, flowers, seashells, art, butterflies, keychains, the like. That last one was a personal story to Katrantzou, who referenced her own grandfather's collection of key fobs by creating gowns adorned and decorated with precisely that. There was plenty of wit and charm to go around, with a pair of jewellery dresses apparently nicknamed ‘Harry’ and ‘Winston’; beautiful and sensuous evening wear modeled after the glamorous and iconic shapes of perfume bottles like Guerlain’s Shalimar. Which, coincidentally, was a witty nod back at the opening look of her London Fashion Week runway debut in the Fall/Winter 2009 season. What once was a simpler short dress has now become a dazzling evening gown – an apt metaphor for Katrantzou’s own growth.
Lots of fun, and beautiful pieces all around. What really shone in this collection was the level of craft and taste. It's hard to make a dress of linked embroidered facsimile stamps look, well, not like a joke. But Katrantzou did it with special aplomb, cutting her pieces with straightforward and modern silhouettes. The tightly chained jigsaw puzzle dresses rang of André Courrèges’ futuristic chainmail haute couture, while blow up jackets with plastic-ensconced coral and flowers had an avant-garde quirk. I loved it all, and power to Katrantzou’s unique brand of characterful, high-craft maximalism. Smart collectors will surely buy this to own, for the future, ‘early work’ by Mary Katrantzou.
Without Queen Elizabeth at this season’s show, Richard Quinn’s sophomore runway outing on the London schedule had a solid feel undisturbed by extreme celebrity presence. Though only recently shot to meteoric fame and acclaim, Quinn’s collection had the sure-handed smarts of a designer much older and experienced.
That came first as two opening looks in full black: what?! Quinn, who in his last collection showed a vibrant explosion and mix of print and color, surely elicited shock. But no worries, these looks were made in velvet, taffeta, and tulle. Ah, there's the old-world glamor we fell in love with.
The color palette opened up, and quickly it became business as usual. Quinn has a remarkable talent for taking gaudy prints that look straight up from the 80s and making them contemporary and relevant. It helps that his cut and textural embellishments evoke an old-Hollywood type of glamour. A coat, for instance, was beautifully shaped to the contours of the female body, hourglass and all, and made out of (by my count) a minimum of 6 different animal prints. In theory, it's absurd – but on the runway it made you think of the enviable big-hair bravado of silver screen divas.
A second power move came in terrific evening looks that demonstrated Quinn’s versatility and deftness as a designer. I liked one of the earlier dresses in pale blue silk, with delicate silver paisley embroidery and a feather-hemmed skirt. A 20s-shaped quasi-flapper dress too, with fine embroidery that enhanced the drop waist silhouette and proportion. And most importantly, a feather cocoon dress with an exaggerated couture bow on one shoulder – a real display of elegance and restraint from a designer better known for prints galore. There's definitely more to see, and Quinn's brand and work remain one to watch.
It feels unfair to include Jonathan Anderson when talking about a young London crop, but holy crap is the man amazing for his age (just 34!). His own brand's collections had been languishing for a few seasons – no doubt the toll of balancing this act and the larger Loewe one in Paris – but this Spring/Summer 2019 one was a return to form.
J.W Anderson clothes have always been a favorite of the art school crowd. That is, the young and bold. It's no surprise, because his clothes are often challenging, complex, and heavy in their exploration of craft. That also made it, at times, hard to buy and wear. The strongest runway statements had to be shaved down to something easier for the everyday woman. What Anderson has learned from his job with Loewe, I believe, is the skill to combine that sort of uncompromising vision with more accessible clothing – high craft and concept but make it wearable, y'know?
To wit, it was all here. The stripe dresses had great shapes and volumes, and the color-patched pyjama looks matched a crafts feel with simplicity. Anderson cited collage as an inspiration, and that honestly seems to have always been the J.W Anderson modus. Here, it combined prints, fabrics, textures, and silhouettes so freely you had to marvel the designer’s flexibility and versatility at dipping his hands in every pot and making great fashion out of it all. And, crucially, it looked promisingly sellable. Anderson, as it so happens, launched a capsule collection with Net-A-Porter. It included a lot of elevated basics, all extremely easy to wear, with just enough quirk to distinguish itself as coming from the J.W Anderson label. Commerce is not always a dirty word, and I appreciate Anderson’s respect for his customer by broadening the offering. By searching for this middle ground, he's married his own intellectual quirks with a wearable style – the surest kind of footing and way forward for one of British fashion’s recent success stories.