On Friday, when London Fashion Week had commenced, I went up to an eccentric looking man, who I believe is known as Mad Alan in Soho – heavily tattooed with a penchant for an embroidered vest – and asked him for a picture. He’s the sort of guy, who I knew would give my DLSR in one hand, iPhone in the other hand a withering look, as he asked where’s it going to go and I replied with a vaguely sheepish tone, “Instagram”. “I don’t do social media,” he said with disdain. “But you’re beautiful and you have a nice smile so why not.”
I’ve been thinking about that first day encounter with Mad Alan a lot. The fashion moments that have stuck over the last few days have mostly been ensconced in Soho. And they too have been representative of the sort of madcap characters that frequent or inhabit this storied part of town, which are also slowly giving way to hip restaurants with too many social media handles and establishments decked out with Farrow & Ball painted walls and marble surfaces. Mad Alan represents the Soho that I caught a backwards facing glimpse of in my early youth but also of a time that I never experienced myself, when Blitz kids would be falling out of places like Le Kilt and Billie’s and squatting in random abodes in Fitzrovia. Those are the collective memories (imagined or otherwise) of Soho that designers were tapping into, transporting us all away from the gentrified reality of Soho today.
On the first day of London Fashion Week, Ed Marler staged an off-schedule solo presentation in a courtyard right by Brewer Street, having just come out of the wing of Fashion East. Perhaps away from the pressure of being part of an esteemed collective, Marler could then shine because this was by far his most potent presentation yet. Entitled, “S.O.S.” Marler imagined it was the end of the world. But instead of bleak rags of dystopia, Marler imagined his characters in the glamped up gear of ruffled up gingham, girdle-like cycling shorts with bra cups as protective knee pads, beautifully patched up denim and crumpled up brocade. Add a sprinkling of tinsel on the edge of a beautiful red tweed jacket and a dusting of sequins and the end of the world doesn’t look so bad after all. The forlorn and world weary expressions on the models’ faces told another story. And it’s through a narrative driven presentation that Marler’s world could really be demonstrated properly. They’re not dressing up for the sake of just looking good but as a way of expressing their fightback against the world. It’s a heavily adorned mantle that they’ve taken on, in order to rebuff conformity.
Down the road on Oxford Street in 100 Club, an institution that was recently saved by Converse, Le Kilt (named after that aforementioned Blitz hang out) designer Samantha McCoach presented her ode to her personal heroine Shirley Manson. Stupid Girl worshippers all around the world can rejoice with this amped up collection of Linton tweed kilts as well as the introduction of a tailored two-piece suit and a mini skirt. The deep saturated make-up of Manson’s Garbage days, her slightly racy get-ups that were a reaction to grunge’s androgyny and of course her Scottish roots are blended into a collection that definitely sees McCoach shift our perceptions entirely of the wee twee kilt.
Thanks to Saturday traffic of London centre-bound revellers, I couldn’t make it in person to the Gareth Pugh show. That was the my one real regret of the week but then again, I can’t blame the hordes of people for being drawn into the vaguely bright, vaguely sleaze-driven lights of Soho. Pugh described the area as a “Disneyland” – a place for people to escape and be someone else. Or at least that’s the Soho that Pugh remembers, from his days of studying in the former Central Saint Martin’s Charing Cross campus. Or one that goes further back to Leigh Bowery, the legendary visionary, with whom Pugh was compared to consistently in the beginning of his career, when he sent out models engulfed in sculptural cubes and enlarged balls. Pugh was harking back to that heady club kid spirits with clothes that are now infinitely more refined – bias cut candy-striped gowns, sensual basques, flared trousers, coats with shaggy fur collars and dresses decorated both with real sequins and one penny coins made to look like pailettes, which also covered the runway. On the faces were latex masks painted to look like hyper drag Frank Sidebottom’s as the models’ true faces were never revealed. Masking up and dressing up to escape the doldrums of day to day life is something that naturally ingrained into Pugh’s design DNA but here, the statement was more overt. It’s a reflection on a deeper malaise that makes people write that slew of “I’m leaving London…” articles. As a Londoner, you can’t help but be drawn to that.
Photograph by Chloe le Drezen for Dazed Digital
Deep inside the NCP Carpark on Brewer Street, away from the hum drum of the newly improved designer showrooms and official BFC show space, Kim Trager and and Lowell Delaney of Trager Delaney had a secret room to themselves where they were giving private shows of a very different sort to the ones that you might find in the basements of nearby Green’s Court. To a soundtrack of George Michael’s Jesus to a Child, a dancer proceeded to give us an elegant pole dance. As the song progressed, one core piece from Trager Delaney’s now seasonless pared-back collections would come on – a silk shirt, a perfect pair of black trousers and a boxy leather jacket. It was a reverse strip tease that served to enhance the look of the clothes as opposed to gratifying us with sex. It was a typically witty and subtle way of introducing us to Trager Delaney’s new modus operandi as they also have plans to open up their own store within a concept shop called… erm… The Store, due to open late this year, early next year on Lexington Street.
Fashion East took over Greek Street with their own collective homage to the weirdos of Soho by temporarily coining it Freak Street. They took over various shops on this narrow street, which created a bit of a fashion carnival vibe as people passing by wondered what was going on inside. Fashion East is at its best when it doesn’t feel too precious or polished and Greek Street was the perfect venue for the occasion. I wrote about Jenna Young’s label This is Not a Uniform not too long ago and I’m happy that she has made a leap by joining the Fashion East line up. Young carries on being inspired by her Blackpool upbringing where uniforms did indeed rule the streets. She ups the ante though with hand beaded bandana fabric, rouleau string vests, smocked chambray and faggoting on a striped t-shirt. Sheer pinafore dresses and satin halternecks stand bored by a ping pong table with Little Mix on MTV in the background. This isn’t the uniform that we know but it’s one rooted in reality.
Across the road in the ornate rooms of the L’Escargot restaurant, another Fashion East newcomer Richard Malone also looked at his roots for inspiration, albeit in more abstract fashion. His mother’s Argos overalls and mini dresses reminiscent of aprons from old fashioned cook books. Artist Evelyn O’Connor’s strange plastic paraphernalia were dotted around the room, to represent ephemera of the mundane. Malone’s collection was a push and pull of contrasts between found dead stock fabric from a factory in Tottenham made up into couture-raquel frocks with frilled hemlines. Dusky pink nylon, made up into carefully constructed windbreakers, were yet another jarring textile thrown into the mix. The unremarkable elevated is a well established approach but Malone’s way of articulating his anti-gloss attitude felt new. Then oddness of it all made you think.
Finally Caitlin Price presented her pared back take on raver’s gear, pitting the casual against the dressy with the use of silk taffeta and polyester. Price’s references stem from a rave culture that also has largely died a death in London. And it’s the London of yesteryear that is proving to be a fervent source of inspiration for the designers that have truly taken to LFW’s new abode.
Transport for London Fashion Week provided by Mercedes Benz