What London Fashion Week proffered up two weeks ago wasn't just the normal strengths of print and colour play but truly a broad range of designers that went with their own flow and had conviction in that. Sure, the printists and texturists had a field day playing with surfaces but a breakout designer that shone amongst the pattern fest did it with a simple white shirt.
Well, actually seventeen mens and seventeen womens shirts to be exact. Palmer Harding may be a fresh name but Levi Palmer and Matthew Harding's combined experience in freelance work as well as their respective degrees in Central Saint Martins menswear BA and MA courses have created a steady footing for them to start their highly focused label. When I went to visit them out in the super outer regions of London (zone 6 anyone???), I found the level of focus to be scarily high for such young dudes. I had to applaud their pragmatism and sensible ways – they run their studio from Harding's family home (hence the non-E postcode), they've researched production options extensively so that they can take on orders (and I predict many will be buying into their core collection) and they have singularly honed in on what most consider to be a basic. Playing it safe or steady shouldered thinking? I'm going with the latter when you think of so many London young guns that have disappeared off the face of the earth leaving transient catwalk images from shows that probably burnt their budgets out.
Ultimately, what Palmer Harding are offering for S/S 12 is a desirable line of shirts, which have a stunning subtle point of difference that separates their shirts from the others. You could apply Magritte's words here and say "Ceci n'est pas une chemise blanche". Or you could go down the M&S route and go 'This isn't just ANY white shirt. This is a Palmer Harding white shirt." Inspired by photographer Ingar Krauss and 1930s couture detailing, Harding and Palmer employ various twists and turns to inject into the shirts, creating wafts of volume, draping, pleating and metal fixtures to form the right shape as well as subtly referencing to Harding's MA collection. This is all a far cry from the bulbous shapes that I road tested when I bought a piece from Harding's challenging collaboration with Topshop but I love that there are still lingering references from that collection. Mostly white, grey and a very very light shade of green are also used to prevent complete white-out, although you don't miss the absence of colour when there's so much detail to be discovered. The extra bonus is that none of these details feel superfluous or just present for decoration.
For me, there's a quiet strength in Palmer Harding's work that got me really excited when I saw it in person. I can't quite put my finger on it but their approach seemed really refreshing and you feel somewhat assured that their debut will be a success. Hope my enthusiasm hasn't jinxed anything. Paris will be the real indicator as Palmer Harding take their collection to market this week.