There was a time when I could juggle seeing both on and off schedule shows at London Fashion Week and for me, there shouldn't really be a precedent between one over the other as there is a vitality in London's off-schedule that eventually does feed into London's on-schedule. Still, I'll give it a bash even if it does mean I turn up to shows looking like a rabid, sweaty mess. Seeing as I can't feign nonchalence, I prefer a trickle of sweat, rubbish hair and creased clothes. Last Sepember, on the first day of London Fashion Week, I was doing a particularly sweaty back-n-forth marathon between Someset House and Freemason's Hall to try and see the Merit Award and Ones to Watch shows organised by Vauxhall Fashion Scout.
I quite literally scrambled to get backstage at the S/S 12 Ones to Watch show as I couldn't stay for the whole thing just so I could make a mental note of what was going on. Phoebe English was one of the four participants of the show, with whom I definitely hovered around the most. English's name is hard to forget. From her BA collection to her MA, both completed at Central Saint Martins, her work was something that I was eager to see how it would progress. From the dark and hair-driven knitwear of her MA collection, she turned to an unexpected use of smocking. In fact, she coaxed something quite beautiful and delicate out of what was essentially reams and reams of heavy calico had smocked and pleated up into a bulky surface texture.
There was a stripped back simplicity to focusing on this one texture which she treated in multiple ways by methods of bleaching, wire brush fraying, dyeing and by contrasting with latex where necessary. This singularity has now earned her a key stockist in the form of Dover Street Market as well as Vauxhall Fashion Scout's Merit Award for A/W12-3. Despite my hounding her backstage back in September during a very chaotic show run-up, Phoebe very kindly let me into her studio to find out more about her S/S 12 collection. She came up with this particular type of smocking so that it was deliberately heavy and sombre as a base material but in the process, she also found ways to create lightness and delicacy with this abundance of calico. The beauty of the pieces is in the overall effect of them standing away from the body as well as up close when you see the rows of hand stitching and the threads that dangle freely from the tops, skirts and dresses. Phoebe's method of cutting into this dense smocking means that the edges of the pieces are left unfinished but don't seem contrived in the way that raw edges can be in clothing. She also cuts little slashes into the smocking to create movement in the piece and to lessen the rigidity. I especially love all the detailing that can be seen inside the piece – the choice of wooden hook and eyes, the binding and all the little stitches – they contribute to the feeling that Phoebe's pieces from this collection could have been made yesterday or hundred years ago. The comparisons to Gareth Pugh (formed on the basis of her MA collection as well as her having interned with Pugh) seems unfounded when you look at this collection closely, which shows an obsession with detailing and minutae that is feminine in an esoteric way. It's definitely a collection to linger over rather than one that hits you with instant gratification in a second.
To land Dover Street Market after just one season is a great achievement and thanks to Vauxhall Fashion Scout, her solo show in February could potentially lead to more stockists. Still, in this early stage, Phoebe can afford to really explore who she is as a designer and that'll be an interesting ride, should she make the leap from off to on schedule.