From Darkness to Light in Post-Elizabethan London

LONDON — The Queen’s funeral on Monday put London Fashion Week on pause for a day. But key shows on either side of the stoppage, from Simone Rocha to Richard Quinn, grappled with the progression from darkness to light.

Rocha was thinking about taking flight with new energy after a heavy pandemic. In the grand hall of the Old Bailey, she staged an uplifting show with aerated silhouettes of bomber jackets, forward-motion petticoat skirts and trousers harnessed with parachuting straps that shifted the volumes. “This sense of urgency and strength felt like the right step forward,” she said. “There’s this lightness that felt like shedding a skin.”

Her menswear debut also pushed things into a new realm. The designer didn’t just dabble in token men’s looks but threw herself into the task of outfitting her homme in shrunken tailoring, utilitarian vests and tiered tulle veils that weren’t so much about mourning as a hark back to the early days of her brand, as if to say, look how far she’s come!

If Rocha aimed to uplift then Erdem Moralıoğlu struck a more sombre note with an outing that was genuinely moving, perhaps because it took place outside the British Museum at dusk on the eve of the Queen’s funeral and you could see the darkening skies full of helicopters as they broke into light rain. After opening with a black veiled embroidered suit that the Queen might well have worn during the early years of her reign, Moralıoğlu delved deep into the process of restoration. There were Dutch florals rendered on a beautiful printed fringe coat, exposed seams and raw edges, organza flapper dress sheaths mirroring dust sheets over artworks. “There was something quite wonderful about things coming apart and putting it together again,” the designer said. As Moriaglu’s three last looks passed by —  veiled chiaroscuro corset dresses and a New Look-esque jacket and skirt — it was hard not to think about our new post-Elizabethan age and the changes that we’ll see.

At Richard Quinn, from a dark parade of mourning looks — flocked, feathered and rendered in lace and lurex — came life and colour.  If his first passage, cloaked the body in all shades of noir, the second engulfed its top half, creating distorted high-shouldered sculptures that were often intricately embroidered and camped up in oversized polka dots and Quinn’s signature florals. A ball of CCTV cameras and televisions playing old footage of the Queen, Britain’s first televised monarch, celebrated her love of colour.

Also opting to celebrate the Queen, rather than mourn her, was Michael Halpern who opened his show with a cloak of periwinkle blue inspired by an ensemble the Queen wore to the opera in 1957. “This country has given me my career, friendship and a life and I just wanted to thank this country and her,” said Halpern, who was also celebrating his new British citizenship. He turned to memories of his daring mother in leopard print, looking out of place in upstate New York and breaking out into celebratory sequins and rainbow ruffles.

16 Arlington still had tears to shed over the passing of the partywear label’s co-founder Kikka Cavenati earlier this year, and despite the tide of support for Marco Capaldo’s forget-me-not-hued crystal minidresses, icy satin tailoring and python-printed ensembles, it was difficult to look past the raft of Miuccia Prada-isms in show.

Christopher Kane returned to the catwalk after a two-and-a-half-year pandemic pause, and it was great to see his sense of twisted biology back on the runway, though the Camden Roundhouse a strange place to show his body forensics. Satin gowns were draped with diagrams of muscles and exo-skeletal plastic body cages were worked in with Kane tropes like pastel transparencies and pansy floral prints. “You’re either gonna love or hate it,” said Kane of his aesthetic but there’s no denying his ownership of a specific genre of brutal beauty, contrasting hard with soft and splicing up the body in unexpected ways.

Body-mapping is alive and well with London’s latest crop of designers, especially Nensi Dojaka, who is leading the charge as she firms up her pulley suspended lingerie dressing.  It’s all about the fit for Dojaka’s minis and slips, often embellished with outlines of hearts on the hips and flowers at the chest. This time she ventured into high-octane eveningwear with sinuous gowns. This felt like new ground, but as Dojaka copycats proliferate, you wonder how she can also stay one step ahead. Of course, the party doesn’t stop for the likes of David Koma, who draws bodylines with sharp, diagonally cut skirts and extreme pieces like one-legged jumpsuits, this time with aquatic references and oil-spill textures.

London’s next generation are baring flesh on their own terms, conscious of body-inclusivity and a more spiritual mindset. Sinead O’Dwyer’s debut showcased her signature technique of creating a web out of shirred satin bands and fully fashioned knit strips. They stretch over bodies of all shapes and abilities, with two models in wheelchairs drawing attention to ablism. Also see: Dimitra Petsa aka DiPetsa’s wetlook aesthetic, which promote ideals of spiritual healing, as well as hugging bodies for all stages of womanhood.

Yuhan Wang soared to great heights with a collection inspired by female aviators, but it was her newfound sensuality that impressed. Cottagecore florals need not be twee when paired with sheer milkmaid attire and strategically placed cut-outs.

To bring us down to earth, Rejina Pyo took us to the 28th floor of a new-ish East London office block for her BeReal mode of earthy dressing that women crave in hot weather, with crinkle-textured dresses in muted shades of lime and terracotta and soft tailoring. EFTYCHIA also provided a dose of pragmatism with her well-cut jackets, smart denim and satin separates. Our work patterns post-pandemic have shifted and so too have our wardrobes.

The final day of London Fashion Week brought optimism aplenty, providing light at the end of what has been a dark tunnel. Susan Fang has lived in China, Canada and the UK and her experience of these different environments means she quite simply wants to spread values of love and peace in her diaphanous frothy creations of printed gauze, all handcrafted to the extreme.  Inside Soho’s art deco Marshall Street swimming pool, inflatable “peace bombs” printed with marble patterns that her mother created formed the perfect backdrop to Fang’s textiles magic, which she terms “air prints” and “air flowers”.

If Fang’s creations erred towards the unapologetically sweet, then Chet Lo brought the spice with an outing (his first post-Fashion East solo show) that featured his signature spiky “durian” knitwear.  Referencing his Hong Kong roots by way of childhood temple visits, Lo rendered his own take on spirituality with vivid colours and ornament, scented with incense. But pushing his aesthetic beyond nightclubs, Lo also added optical printed jersey and screen printed denim to broaden his offering. Transparent gowns adorned with 3D lotus flowers were fit for the Chinese goddess Guanyin. After the recent death of textiles titan Issey Miyake, it’s fascinating to see a new generation in London manipulating fabric with soul and spirit. Some of the models carried knit-covered balloons, as if aiming to lift us up and away.



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