A London Trinity: The Staying Power of London's Legends

This season, London’s schedule is packed (as it always is) with the youngest, the brightest, and the shinily newest. So much so, in fact, that you’d be forgiven for thinking the city’s old guard had disappeared. The bulk of the calendar is occupied by labels barely into their teens, with only a handful of names – Preen, Roland Mouret, Hussein Chalayan, Amanda Wakeley – past the twenty-year hurdle. Go past the thirty-year mark, and there’s barely a handful; Jasper Conran, Paul Costelloe, Zandra Rhodes. But yesterday, in the space of a single afternoon, audiences had the chance to witness the work of three women who between them have notched up almost a century on the catwalk.

Margaret Howell Fall/Winter 2019 show in London. Photo by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION.

For Margaret Howell, it all started in 1970 when she picked up a men’s shirt in a jumble sale and used it as inspiration to begin making her own. 49 years on, she chose a shirt to open her Winter 2019 show; one of the clean-cut, unflusteredly perfect white shirts that have defined her aesthetic for decades. Almost two-thirds of the collection was built around shirts, actually, in quiet shades of white, navy, rose, mustard, and toffee-brown. There was the same consistency when it came to trousers; high-cuffed, mid-calf cuts in white, khaki, and green for both men and women. The net result, even by Howell’s standards, was compellingly disciplined – allowing the show’s few off-kilter moments, from oversized shearlings and diamond-panelled knits to blown-up foliage prints and diagonal-striped ties, to shine.

Vivienne Westwood at her Fall/Winter 2019 show in London. Photo by Alessandro Garofalo for NOWFASHION.

Vivienne Westwood made her first foray into fashion at around the same time Howell was starting out. While Howell was crafting papier-mâché necklaces, though, Westwood was tearing up the rulebook at the legendary Kings Road boutique she co-founded with Malcolm McLaren – a space which catapulted everything from rockabilly wear to fetish gear into the mainstream. The common ground they share, though, is a passion for craftsmanship and heritage. But where Howell pours that passion into her quietly excellent clothing, Westwood uses it to provoke a larger debate about how 21st century fashion is produced, and consumed. This time out, she draped the nave of a Westminster church with anti-corporate slogans, and raised her runway to create a (literal) platform for a group of activists that included actors Camilla Rutherford and Rose McGowan, models Sara Stockbridge and Emma Breschi, author Fred Harrison, and Greenpeace UK director John Sauven. The focus, logically enough, was on questioning fashion’s status quo rather than selling product – although there were plenty of her signature classics on show amongst the playing-card placards and paper crowns. But that’s Westwood’s point; buy what you love, but buy with care.

Pam Hogg at her Fall/Winter 2019 show in London. Photo: Courtesy of PR.

Across a volatile half-century, both Westwood and Howell have enjoyed remarkably long, remarkably successful careers. Pam Hogg, by contrast, arrived with a bang at the dawn of the Eighties, just as London’s fashion scene was arguably hitting its high point – and left fashion behind for music equally abruptly, just a decade later. But in recent years she’s staged a surprisingly consistent comeback, sticking firmly to the body-conscious glam-rock aesthetic that’s won her fans across the generations. Like Howell, Hogg’s background is in fine art, and her work has moved increasingly towards the realm of art project, with theatrical presentations (like this season’s ‘Venus in Phurs’ show) that are as much about indulging her own creativity as they are about selling clothes. Led out by a whip-cracking, bikini-and-boots clad Alice Dellal, the collection romped its way through a broad lexicon of fetish; thigh boots and Night Porter caps, spikes and babydoll tutus, leather daddies and dominatrixes. It was a boisterous, bracingly cheeky tribute to the British art of slap-and-tickle. And the clothes themselves – still largely made by Hogg herself – were rendered with the same sense of conviction and passion that Westwood and Howell share. 

Three very different women, three very different visions. But London’s schedule would be considerably poorer without them.