LC:M has been and gone in a flurry of essential pieces, “wardrobes” for reality and perhaps a dose of predictability that seems vital in order for businesses to kick on. There was one big exception though. At Fashion East’s Menswear Installations, which was previously a house of cacophony where four or five designers converge to bring madness to the method, Lulu Kennedy and her team have edited it down to two strong voices. They couldn’t have been more of a contrast to one another but they both sung from the same hymn sheet that preaches out why London’s is still the epicentre of creativity in fashion. I came out buzzing with excitement and optimism because in a nutshell, they had collectively summed up the state of fashion at present and where it should be going if we’re to have an industry that isn’t devoid of feeling and inclusivity.
Charles Jeffrey, a Central Saint Martins MA graduate from this year took over the ground floor of the ICA with a replica of his club night Loverboy, a dress-up-or-you’re-not-coming-in residency at Vogue Fabrics in Dalston, which has been dubbed the successor to the Boombox and Ponystep nights of the early noughties. Jeffrey actually used the door takings of Loverboy to partially fund his MA course – just another pertinent reminder that fashion is increasingly in danger of slipping solely into the hands of the privileged.
A throng of Loverboy regulars, ready for Instagram or Instax, waved their hands like they just didn’t care in a combination of their own charity shop or DIY ensembles mixed in with Jeffrey’s own customised denim, tailoring made in conjunction with Savile Row Chittleborough & Morgan and spliced up Aran knits by fellow CSM grad Joshie Beatty. What Charles Jeffrey is communicating here is the fighting spirit of a group effort, that is saying no to formalised product, seasons or structure. He’ll chuck paint Jackson Pollock style directly on the models. He’ll screen test his tribe with Andy Warhol-esque Factory videos. He’ll break up a chandelier and fashion it into a necklace. And yet at the same time, Jeffrey knows what goes into the cut of a well constructed coat. Loverboy goers throng about in amongst flower petals and broken glass and with every thrust of a limb, don’t-give-a-fuck scream and sellotaped seam, there’s desire to retain what London has always so successfully spawned – a club kid scene that elevates fashion to some non-formulaic heights. Your entry into Jeffrey’s Loverboy world isn’t compromised by race, sexuality, wealth or social standing – just let your unbounded creativity do the talking.
Upstairs in the ICA you couldn’t get more of a contrasting foil to Jeffrey’s antics. If Jeffrey thrilled you, then Grace Wales Bonner floored you. As I was leaving, I passed my boyfriend Steve, who had emerged entranced for forty-five minutes in Bonner’s universe. Bonner has had an unprecedented rise since her award-winning CSM BA collection ‘Afrique’ in 2014. She debuted her second collection ‘Ebonics’ with Fashion East in January and has also taken part in V&A’s Fashion in Motion programme usually reserved for designers who have built up at least a decade’s worth of collections. That’s just one indication of how deeply impressive Bonner’s work is, with deep being the operative word. Few designers at such a young age pair academia and design in the same way that Bonner does nor use fashion to further a conversation about identity, race and culture as she has done. Conner’s fixation with investigating black culture in fashion isn’t a gimmick but rather, she’s seeking to refute stereotypes and create a dialogue between clothes, wearer and onlooker that seeks to go far beyond whatever race you happen to be. Hip hop swagger and heavy-handed streetwear or sportswear have no place in Bonner’s world where she explores a gracefulness that borders on being regal.
Precisely why her S/S 16 collection is based on Malik Ambar, a 16th century slave in Ethiopia who becomes a ruler in Western India with an independent army. That journey is a beautiful one as we wafted from room to room observing tranquil gestures and an abstracted sartorial take on Ambar’s life. Our idea of African diaspora is altered as we observe this man of ease in battered silks, sun-bleached checks and wide linen trousers segueing into crushed velvet ensembles, encrusted with Swarovski and shells and nehru collar-ed shirts. With Bonner’s clothes, the context is just as important as the construction and whilst that may not be a set-up that is sustainable, for now, Bonner is free to create candidly, trickling down her ideas to further the conversation at large not just with her collections but with projects like her Everythings for Real zine published by Ditto Press. When fashion is powerful like that, it needs to be free to grow and develop at its own pace and the industry will do well to support this visionary.