BETTING ON THE NEW: London Fashion Looks Ahead

In 1944, the writer and historian Bernard Rudofsky staged a groundbreaking show at MoMA in New York, asking an unexpected question: ‘Are Clothes Modern?’ Beneath the flip title, Rudofsky had a serious point; shouldn’t the clothes we wear be relevant and appropriate to the lives we lead, and the times we live in? And, if that’s the case, why did the smartly-dressed men of his day have to walk around in suits weighted down with over twenty pockets and seventy buttons? And why were supposedly liberated postwar women as constrained by corsets as their distant ancestors?

It’s been hard to avoid thinking of Rudofsky over the past five days in London, as designer after designer showed collections full of clothes designed for an alt-world; a world where women live in cocktail dresses by day and ballgowns by night (shown to an audience of fashionable women dressed, not in ballgowns or cocktail dresses, but in oversized sweaters, slouchy trousers, and skirts.) The whole point of fashion, once upon a time, was to be shockingly, flagrantly, differently new – whether it’s Chanel’s liberating knitted suits, or Issey Miyake’s radical Pleats Please and A-POC concepts, or the hardcore/normcore separates that Vetements specialise in, merging high-fashion and easy-to-wear into a single entity. And, of course, those forward leaps can’t happen all the time. But now, more than ever, cities are looking ahead, trying to identify the new names that will shape our collective fashion futures. In Paris, beyond Vetements, there’s Jacquemus and Koché; in Milan, the graphic exuberance of Massimo Giorgetti; in New York, the raw energy of Vaquera and Eckhaus Latta. So where does that leave London, the city that was once an international go-to for next-generation thinking? In the hands of Michael Halpern’s glitter-glam? Or Dilara Findikoglu's high-occult cosplay? Or somewhere entirely different?


Photo by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION

On Day 1, the schedule opened with Paula Knorr, a two-year old label whose founder is one of the new generation of RCA talents. Her approach (using stretch velvets and lamés in rich bronze and berry shades, to give laid-back sweatshirts and leggings an unexpected disco twist) looked back to Eighties names like Norma Kamali and Donna Karan in its balance of ease and glamour. But Knorr’s concentration on movement, everywhere from deconstructed shirting to billowing photo-print dresses to high-gloss ruffle-edge trousers, felt fresh and confident – particularly in the context of the kinds of garments being shown elsewhere.

At the other end of the week, Faustine Steinmetz made a striking catwalk debut with a collection that wore its roots on its sleeve. In fact, it put them on the press release; a neatly arranged menu of archetypes, from Burberry trenches and Fendi handbags to anonymously ubiquitous staples like t-shirts and jeans. Acknowledging those touch points made sense, when you consider that Steinmetz’s language is based on reconstruction; it allowed the eye the focus on the intriguing experiments she’d been conducting with surface and process, from jackets daubed with silicone paint to jeans whose fabric had been coaxed apart so tenderly and intricately that they were pushed to the point of evaporation. It was an entirely different approach to Knorr’s – one that suggested that all the archetypes we need are already in existence, and that newness lies in the way we revise and reinvent these archetypes to keep them alive.


Photo by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION

That tug of war between memory and modernism was very much in Levi Palmer and Matthew Harding’s minds also. Showing in a space that was once home to the Central School of Art and Design (an institute that trained design icons like Terence Conran, Eric Gill and David Hicks), the duo stayed true to the principle they started their label with five years ago – that of riffing on the classic shirt. This time out, their innovative cutting and draping foregrounded those shirts, layered across the body to create fluid shapes in painterly combinations of caramel, coral, baby blue, and striped white. There were, inevitably, echoes of Galliano romance and Westwood distortions in the collection’s silhouettes and palettes. But in that, palmer//harding echoed the same sentiments as Steinmetz and Knorr: London’s newness, now, speaks loudest when it draws on its past.