THE SPECIALISTS: How British Fashion Went Niche

 It’s just how evolution works. As a breed, humans started as self-sufficient all-rounders. But over the millennia we’ve developed into a rainbow – defined less by general knowledge and broad abilities, and more by our increasingly targeted skills. It’s a shift philosophers and economists have been tracking for centuries, predicting a fundamental shift in how we work and co-exist. In 2011, the Harvard Business Review dubbed it hyperspecialisation; in 2018, it’s increasingly looking like fashion’s future.

FAUSTINE STEINMETZ FW18 show in London. Photo by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION.

All across London’s schedule, highly individual designers were pursuing intensely individualistic paths. On Day One, for example, at Toogood’s East End presentation, it wasn’t simply about workwear; it was about the same type of workwear Faye Toogood’s been evolving for several seasons, evolved in the most targeted of ways. Garments were constructed, as ever, from felt and calico, and hand-painted with ochre or iron-tinged clay. Delineations from the label’s existing catalogue were carefully enumerated; a trouser transformed into dungarees, an overcoat reworked as a jacket, a long-sleeved winter version of the label’s signature t-shirt. There was no great revolution here – Toogood made that big leap when it first launched its slow, intensely considered vision – but each new step had a compelling logic all its own.

TOOGOOD FW18 presentation in London. Photo by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION.

At the other end of the week (and of the stylistic spectrum), Hannah Weiland’s faux-fur world continued to expand its boundaries. Right from the get-go, Shrimps forged a name in London’s busy fashion landscape thanks to its vividly coloured, sweet-natured outerwear; outsized, over-the-top coats and jackets that revelled in their synthetic appeal. For Fall 2018 Weiland went for all-out romance, steeping her textured garments in love-heart fuchsia and Valentine reds, and animating them with synthetic leather, embroidered tulle, and naive motif prints – and began to extend her off-key proportions into clash-patterned dresses and broad-legged trousers. 

HALPERN FW18 presentation in London. Photo by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION.

In fact, everywhere you looked people seemed to be honing their niche strengths – from Xiao Li’s innovative moulded silicone knits, extended into plump duvet outerwear that came scattered in whimsical retro prints, to Michael Halpern’s latest blast of no-holds-barred disco razzle-dazzle. In a Bloomsbury campus, palmer//harding (joint winners of last year’s Fashion Fund award) continued to explore new ways to configure the classic shirt – an exploration now in its sixth year, and showing no sign of losing its appeal thanks to the duo’s approach to volume and asymmetric cut. This season, fluidity dominated, with their consideredly-careless garments split and warped to maximise movement, its gentle colour palette executed in smooth poplins, lightweight gauzes, and textured jacquards.

XIAO LI FW18 show in London. Photo by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION.

But perhaps the most intriguing case study in this line-up of special interests was Faustine Steinmetz, whose fascination with denim has driven her to explore the fabric (and its broader cultural charge) in microscopic detail in previous seasons. This time out, denim jackets and shorts spliced with silk were transformed through felting into blurred memories of their original forms – a suggestive approach that Steinmetz repeated across printed silk scarves, textured knits, and pencil skirts. Teamed with relaxed trenchcoats and playful logo details, the result was one of the schedule’s most enticingly tactile collections. And just as London Fashion Week drew to a close, Steinmetz’s obsession was rewarded with her inclusion on the long list for this year’s LVMH prize.


See TOOGOOD's full FW18 collection here.

See SHRIMPS' full FW18 collection here.

See XIAO LI's full FW18 collection here.

See HALPERN's full FW18 collection here.

See FAUSTINE STEINMETZ's full FW18 collection here.