Brave, bizarre and boundary-breaking: London Fashion Week
Rikesh Chauhan heads to London's premier fashion event for a playful, powerful and poignant showcase of sartorial virtuosity
It’s quite hard not to get swept up in the pageantry of London Fashion Week, both literally and metaphorically speaking this time around. The outfits from the catwalk to the street were nothing short of eye-catching, but the real talking point was a certain Eunice, who stormed her way into the capital at exactly the same time as the fashion elite descended. For those unaware of the revised post-Pandemic format, London Fashion Week is now split between physical shows dotted around the city, and digital presentations accessible online. Combine this with coverage from Fashion Week’s Instagram, as well as from those in attendance, the best (and worst) collections were coming at you from all angles — when you weren’t being blown away of course.
Whilst London was certainly dull and dreary, some of this season’s showcases were defiant. Ozwald Boateng’s incredible presentation saw him return to London Fashion Week after twelve years, and he brought a few friends with him — Idris Elba, Nicholas Pinnock, Pa Salieu, Kojey Radical, Dizzee Rascal and the legendary Goldie. What a dinner party that would be. His Autumn/Winter collection celebrated the British Black experience, considerably fitting as Boateng was the only designer of colour on Savile Row for a significantly long period. Held at The Savoy, the collection expressed his heritage and cultural influence through beautiful silhouettes, striking colours and bags full of character(s). Another designer that has championed for equality and inclusivity since the launch of her eponymous label is Priya Ahluwalia. With an Indian-Nigerian heritage, Ahluwalia’s latest collection of beautiful men’s and womenswear not only drove home the storytelling inspired by her origins, but the Bollywood to Nollywood AW22 runway featured only models of colour.
Another brand that has made a significant impact considering their short history, Banshee of Savile Row launched in 2019 with the intention of bringing sartorial Savile Row know-how to the powerful female form. The brainchild of Ruby Slevin and Rocco Tullio, Banshee’s London Fashion Week debut — the first women’s tailoring house to showcase — was an absolute knockout. The next time you’re on the Row, you’ll certainly end up recognising a Banshee suit through their use of colour, cloths and exquisite silhouettes. From newcomers to stalwarts, the big players were out in full force once more, with RIXO and Roksanda getting the headlines as usual with their innovative and on-the-pulse offerings.
Paul Costelloe’s interpretation of a Golden Age in World History was a delight in lavish golds and Tudor reds. Vivienne Westwood duly delivered with a sustainable, ethical and environmentally-conscious collection, and every single ensemble in the Erdem offering was a showstopper. Think more haute couture than shiny tentacles. Yes, shiny tentacles were a thing and no, I can’t unsee it but I’m saving you from having to do so. Moving on. London-based Indian designer Kaushik Velendra chose The Langham as the stage for his Autumn/Winter collection, Dreams, which seemed quite apt. The decadent room allowed Velendra’s bedazzled shoulders, buttonless tailoring and lustre-fuelled shirts to truly shine, and long may that continue.
Whether it was the lack of a central point or the fact that collections were being split between physical and digital showcases, that the genuine fashion crowd quickly jettisoned out in time for Milan, or (and most likely) the unfortunate timing of Storms Eunice and Franklin, there wasn’t as much pomp and fanfare one would normally have experienced. The affair was altogether subdued, and bar the few exceptions mentioned, a lot of brands seemed to be making noise for the sake of making noise. I’m very aware that I’m going to use a cringeworthy, generational, and frankly outdated turn of phrase here, but I remember back in the day when fashion week runways were full of clothes and outfits that you couldn’t wait to get your hands on. They stood for something, and represented those that lived and breathed quality craftsmanship.
Even non-tailoring menswear had a brief stint in the sun through London Collections: Men, until the rebrand to ‘London Fashion Week with a little menswear here and there’ resulted in some of the biggest players to pull out. I’ve always found it quite bizarre that in the majority of these shows now, nothing seen could (or would) actually be worn by people. In the hope of carving out their own sense of individuality and edge, they end up almost alienating themselves from the real world, which — to me anyway — sort of defeats the purpose. What I’d love to see more of are the brands like Ahluwalia and Labrum, Ozwald Boateng and Banshee, that have pushed for visibility, equality and for their seat at the table. Brands that have broken glass ceiling after glass ceiling themselves because no one else would do it for them. They are visionaries that represent us, and will hopefully pave the way for future designers with something important to share.
As Foday Dumbuya, Labrum’s founder, poignantly stated on Instagram following the show, “last night was about lifting those who brave the tides, the winds and societal limitations to shape the complex, nuanced and often unresolved label, “immigrants”. I hope it acted as a reminder of the sheer strength of design, and creativity of the hands and minds of such groups.”