Are you ready for your close-up? London Fashion gets straight to the detail.

Scaled-back. Streamlined. Slimmed down. However you want to look at it, London Fashion Week is getting more and more compact. But whatever that may say about the health of the event itself, from a writer’s perspective it’s largely a positive. There’s more time to breathe; more breaks from the constant cycle of snapping, uploading, and posting; and time, too, to consider the shows you’ve just seen – and to weigh their impact more carefully than you usually might.

Jamie Wei Huang Fall/Winter 2019 show in London. Photo by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION.

And on the face of Day 1’s shows, London’s designers seemed to be thinking differently too. Take Jamie Wei Huangwho brought her audience to the tiny riverside church of St. Mary-at-Lambeth, filling the space with a zig-zagging labyrinth of benches spaced so closely that there was barely space for the models to stomp through. But the convoluted route and close quarters allowed for the collection to be viewed in a far more intimate way – as a collection of impressions and details, instead of head-on total looks. Boots weighted down with blocky chrome heels; greatcoats in sleek black or brushed-wool plaids with staggered hems and doubled-up sleeves; fine lacings snaking across slouchy corduroy two-pieces and striped lurex shirts; zip details outlined with fuzzy contrast colour; unfinished cable knit sweaters splashed with noughts-and-crosses grids, and scattered with the designer’s initials. It was only when the models clattered down from the church’s mezzanine for the finale that you saw the bigger picture – a playful, cleverly-patchworked collection that converted the half-conscious cool of teenage uniforms into clothes any grown-up could covet.

ASAI Fall/Winter 2019 show in London. Photo by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION.

Downriver, at 180 Strand, Asai’s A Sai Ta was keeping things small-scale too. In his first outing post-Fashion East, the designer kept his much-hyped tie-dyed, second-skin tees to the fore, grounding a collection which celebrated subtly-worked textures and cuts. The showspace’s new layout brought the audience much closer to the action – and, as a result, elements which might have not have read from a distance were given the chance to shine. Sculpted overcoats and swaggering trousers in soft browns were daubed with hints of a metallic sheen, while neutral separates were sprigged with tone-on-tone leaf prints. And every exit came built up of quiet clashes – plaid coat with houndstooth lining over diagonal-banded separates over a thickly ruffled tee, for example, all in a blend of caramel, copper, and orange. Or an all-monochrome look that combined houndstooth, broken geometrics, and zebra stripes, topped off with melange-knit socks. These were clothes to be unravelled at leisure, not instantly consumed; clothes designed for the wearer’s pleasure, not for an audience.

Bora Aksu Fall/Winter 2019 show in London. Photo by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION.

Bora Aksuone of the longest-serving names on the day’s schedule, kept closely to his trademark frills and thrills. But even there, amidst all the demure softness and barely-there pastels, there were points of dissonance – from the gleam of iridescent metallics, giving his romantic frocks a slithery disco edge, to tailored jackets spliced with knitwear and tightly-cropped, subtly sculpted suits.

Backstage at the Kiko Kostadinov Fall/Winter 2019 show in London. Photos by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION.

At Covent Garden’s Swiss Church, later in the afternoon, Laura and Deanna Fanning also kept things tightly focused (at least when it came to the setting). Two rings of chairs, framed by giant orange boulders, provided the backdrop to their latest outing for Kiko KostadinovBut where their debut last season had been confidently, intricately restrained, this time out there was a far bolder approach on show. Hyper-contrast colours and materials – everything from nylon and lycra to velvet and tweed – accentuated surreal silhouettes, sending the viewer’s eye racing for a baseline amongst the flurries of stripes, jagged seams, and jutting 3D details.

ZILVER Fall/Winter 2019 presentation in London. Photos by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION.

For its second season, Pedro Lourenço’s eco-line Zilver stripped things back to bare bones. Staged in a near-empty Soho basement, models walked one by one towards a camera lens in streamlined denim, chopped-up leather, and pristine white poplin. The clothes were clear, and clean, with staccato graphic details and bursts of texture – but the message behind them was largely invisible. Those crisp jeans, with pristine white turn-ups? Cut from recycled denim and produced with reused water. The slimline puffer jackets? Recycled nylon, their padding made from plastic bottles. Of course, the collection’s appeal was far more immediate – but the point it made about the potential for sustainable design (an issue British fashion at large has yet to convincingly tackle) was arguably more compelling. 

Small shows, intimate settings, subtle details. But that didn’t mean London’s designers weren’t looking at the bigger picture. Asai’s show notes cited Isambard Brunel and August Sander, while Zilver’s spaceman-meets-shearling aesthetic referenced everything from cult photographer Karlheinz Weinberger to NASA uniforms. Aksu and the Fannings also looked to space, via cult Eighties sci-fi movie On the Silver Globe and pioneering cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, respectively. The common denominator, amidst all those rippling surfaces and playful textures and thoughtful details? A search, it seemed, for escape.