29 October 2018

New Perspectives on London Fashion

Compared to its counterparts in Paris, New York and Milan, London Fashion Week feels like the epicentre of young, cutting-edge design. Initiatives like NEWGEN and Fashion East nurture emerging talents, providing up and coming names with much needed support and mentoring, as well as the space to explore a more positively disruptive approach to fashion — the sort that LFW has become known for. This season’s crop of NEWGEN and Fashion East talents presented some of the most exciting SS19 collections of the season with many of them drawing on their childhood roots — from Vietnam, China, India to Yorkshire and Devon — to create a colourful, binary-free vision of the future. 

For SS19, designer A Sai Ta drew on his Vietnamese heritage by visiting the country his parents fled in 1979 — on account of the Vietnam War — for the first time. The trip inspired the former Yeezy and Saville Row designer to create something beautiful out of past conflict. The powerful Napalm Girl photograph by Nick Ut — and a quote by Kim Phuc, the girl in the photo: “Love is more powerful than any weapon” — formed the basis of the collection. Typically for ASAI — a label known for delivering high-end luxury pieces in fast-food takeaway boxes — opposites were deliberately clashed to inspire reflection on both Western and Eastern aesthetics. Military trench coats and bomber jackets were embroidered with symbols of transformation and change, such as butterflies and waves. Meanwhile, a colourful purse made out of nunchucks, symbolised Vietnam’s new prosperity, where riveted bullet holes puncturing an oily black PVC jacket alluded to the country’s war-torn past.


The Yorkshire-based designer showcased an explosive SS19 collection as a middle finger to 2018’s depressing political climate. “My response is to bang a drum, hard, for the idea of totally being yourself.” Inspired by a quote from his childhood hero, director Derek Jarman — “I’ve never believed in reality” — Bovan proposed his own kaleidoscopic alternative future with exaggerated silhouettes based on imaginary characters. The result: abstract art meets fashion. Hand-crocheted flowers were mixed with primitive screen-prints dried out in Bovan’s garden during the summer heat wave. Plastic was warped and heat wrapped to create trippy effects, and colour was layered on colour, with jewellery designed by Plum Bovan. Meanwhile, fabrics — velour, hessian, jersey and knit — were combined and overloaded onto one another. And if all that wasn’t enough, in a collaboration with Coach, Bovan created bumbags three to four times the size of the brand’s typical store range.


Traditional Indian dress, skateboarding and punk goth make up the eclectic design DNA of Supriya Lele’s latest collection. The West-Midlands raised designer employs her British-Asian heritage as a starting point for collections that weave Indian fabric into minimal athletic pieces, and transform traditional Madras check into neon. In her SS19 offering, a brightly embellished green sari burst out of a beige trench coat, alongside smart masculine tailoring, layered sorbet silk chiffon and deconstructed sari darting. Growing up, Lele was hyper-sensitive to her cultural difference. Now, she celebrates it with collections stocked at Opening Ceremony and Browns that are influenced by typical Indian street wear — dhoti linens mixed with nylon sportswear — and elevates it season after season to create a complete wardrobe that thankfully doesn’t come across as “too elegant or ladylike”.


For SS19 Charlotte Knowles asked, ‘“What is the future of femininity?” The answer: womenswear designed by women. Since graduating from Central Saint Martins in 2017, the designer has quickly built up a reputation for creating fierce fashion for femmes. For example, Knowles redesigned the classic push-up bra from a uniquely female perspective — undercutting women’s breasts rather than enhancing them with padding. The result is a powerful lingerie-focused label — removed from the male gaze — that plays with the way in which the body is revealed. “It’s about women indulging in their sexuality, for themselves, unashamedly,” says Knowles. Her latest collection — featuring a sea-lion printed dress, classic British prints, tie up fastenings, bikinis and swimwear — gives a fun nostalgic nod to Knowles’ family summers in Devon along the southern-English coast, shot through with a healthy dose of British rebellion.


Chinese designer Yuhan Wang explores traditional Asian femininity in relation to Western ideals and culture. Her SS19 collection brought to life the fluid brushstrokes and draping imagery of Qing Dynasty artist Gai Qi Hong Lou Meng, as well as XXL cartwheel-style hats from the British Regency period. “It’s about the relationship between dressing for oneself versus dressing for public view,” says Wang, who moved to London to study at CSM. “That’s how I feel right now. I’m discovering myself and sharing parts of my inner-self.” Wang’s collection featured sheer, chiffon tops partly exposing models’ chests, and dresses cut out at the hip and slashed around the legs, while scarf-glove hybrids, traditionally worn by royal Chinese subjects, ensured no one showed too much skin. Her intriguing, delicate collection was all the while set to an interesting choice of music — Nouvelle Vague’s cover of Too Drunk to Fuck — which left it up to the viewers to decide what type of woman this collection was for.