LONDON — London Fashion Week kicked off with a tribute to Vivienne Westwood, one of fashion’s most important pioneers and not just from these shores. Everyone from Victoria Beckham to Helena Bonham Carter gathered at Southwark Cathedral to pay their respects to the queen of punk, Dame Vivienne, who died aged 81 last December. Her influence on fashion is so strong that often designers can’t help but smell Viv. what they do. The reference was entirely intentional when Marc Jacobs paid tribute to Westwood in New York earlier this month, and it was certainly present at the shows on the first two days of London Fashion Week.
Like Westwood, designer Harris Reid isn’t afraid to show off. To her credit, her fans have been able to follow her emotionally candid journey through social media. Actress Florence Pugh opened Reed’s last show by declaring: Reid gave us large portions of high-shine fabrics made for the stage, with some pieces made from repurposed theater curtains. In the spotlight, his tailored silhouettes, enhanced by Henry Moore-inspired black velvet collar sculptures, cast dramatic shadows in Tanks at Tate Modern. The ingenuity of theater costume design can be seen in Reed’s demi-couture. “We work within constraints and are able to invent a dream with the things we’re given,” he said. Nina Ricci, for whom Reed will show his first collection in Paris on March 3, will be on a bigger stage.
In a sign of the times, London’s up-and-coming designers are striving for true diversity, leaving behind the days when the iconic plus-size model grabbed the headlines. Sinead O’Dwyer doesn’t need to shout about design for everyone. He just does it. And by all he means a true breadth of body sizes and sexes; wheelchair users too. Her signature zig-zag net draped knits stretch easily over curves, but O’Dwyer also slowly explores tailoring, inspired by her school uniform days, with school ties then turned into necks. A very pregnant Tessa Curaghy and her visible nigra completed O’Dwyer’s convincingly inclusive casting.
Later pregnancy, both real and constructed, was the subject of Dimitra Petsa’s first London show for her Di Petsa brand. Her wet-look dresses drenched in sensuality have earned her a huge following on the internet. She celebrated her debut by performing poetry alongside her models. The squirming body movements and orgasmic cries were a bit of a distraction, but there was plenty of love in the house for Petza’s Gen-Z goddess gowns, covered in velvet and tulle, scented with burning sage and accessorized with pomegranate and shells.
At Fashion East, Karoline Vitto is also a leader in shape diversity, designing sizes 10 to 20 and doing so from the get-go. The Brazilian-born designer has adapted her barely-there dresses for autumn/winter, looking back at ’80s power dresses and giving it a Vitto twist with slinky metallic spines that snake up the sides of jackets and skirts, giving; flattering clothes. The shift in fashion’s oriental atmosphere from visual maximalism to refined dressing is reflected in the delicately sculpted evening wear of Standing Ground designed by Michael Stewart. Dresses with discreet hip wraps, billowing satin minis and silk jersey column dresses with wavy bands at the hips showcased Stewart’s stealth power, made to order.
A newbie to the fashion eastern crowd was Estonian-born Johanna Parv, who brought something oddly unique: forward-thinking clothing for those who regularly cycle London’s cycle lanes. You don’t expect to see graduate designers thinking about functionality. The results were garments like a coat that can be pulled over a backpack or a skirt that can be pulled up at speed.
The start of London Fashion Week also saw the return of Huishan Zhang as outbound travel from China returns. Her typically feminine femininity took a more somber and demure turn with Hitchcock’s heroines dressed in deceptive fabrics such as denim, made with lush velvet and sharp slits. Elsewhere, Edward Crutchley tried to build a collection around the heady scents of orris and oud, playing with light and dark with his streetwear mixed with quirks like a black leather cod piece.
But perhaps the biggest takeaway from London’s first two days was the emphasis on sustainability that Westwood emphasized decades ago. Eastern fashion alum Ancuta Sarca builds her brand with Y2K clogs and square-toe heels that are visibly named after her, but anchored by retooled Nike laces in her literally inline boot hybrids. Matty Bovan, whose homemade collage creations have often taken up the width of the runway, chose to bring things back, well, relatively. Picking up the presentation format for the first time, you can see the intricate work that went into designing Bovan’s hand-drawn, hand-touched ensembles. Westwood’s DNA is strong in Bovan, but he has his own particular knack for marrying chaos with charm, which served him well with a briefer showcase.
As one of the few Americans living in London, Conner Ives is sure to banish the word “dead” from his vernacular. Especially since talk of sustainability inevitably weighs down the garment in question. “We really need to try to bring back happiness, joy and fun.” he said backstage. For the turmoil of the 2000s, Ives took another look at archetypes and characters. Kate Moss at Glasto. Coyote Ugly’s bartender girl. Mrs. Robinson. And American socialites who formed “The Shiny Set,” a term coined by Nicholas Coleridge, former head of Condé Nast Britain, to describe the couture clientele. Ives is ambitious in her scope, even as she works within the constraints of used textiles. With a heavy dose of irony, Ives seamlessly delivers sustainability, exemplifying Westwood’s “buy well, choose well, make it last” mantra in action.