There’s much to say about the gangs of Milan’s heavyweights that have made the first two days of MFW (Gucci !!!  Prada !!!) such a treat for the eyes.  But as per usual, I like to take my good sweet time, mulling over shows and so I wanted to take the opportunity to applaud the younger all-girl designers of London, outfitting their own gangs last week during fashion week, on a much smaller, yet still compelling scale.  These are designers that create their own specific worlds, speaking to perhaps a girl of a certain Tumblr generation that unabashedly embraces all the kitsch aspects of ultra-feminine aesthetics.

First up is Mimi Wade, whose debut at Fashion East I was excited to see, having loved her Central Saint Martins BA collection.  Wade wisely stuck to the same path as her graduate collection to create more lace-ridden and leather-bound dresses, featuring hand-painted, spray-painted and screen-printed nods to Hollywood’s bad girls such as Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde or Marianne Faithfull in Girl on a Motorcycle.  She doesn’t stray from her favoured silhouettes of  paper-thin leather slip dresses, opera gloves and coats with fur collars – basically Madonna’s Material Girl ‘rich bitch’ look with a tougher attitude.  With the added aid of Sophie Halette French lace and furs from Hockley, Wade’s B-movie poster text and fictional femme fatales were definitely elevated.  Painted movie titles that read, “Devil Girl from Mars” and “Please Murder Me” are a wry take on female film roles, begotten on the casting couch.

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Clio Peppiatt has shifted slightly from her hyper-hyper illustrated lens as she takes us into her decidedly more sombre Motel Clio, with the kitsch dialled right down to focus on leather coats with fur collars, cashmere jumpers, slinky pyjama sets and bomber jackets.  Shadier characters from The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Shining and the latest season of American Horror Story informed the vibe of Peppiatt’s motel, but the clothes themselves are peppered with motifs that are infinitely more charming – horseshoes, matchsticks and arrowed hearts.   Even vaguely menacing slogans like “If Looks Could Kill” and “Do Not Disturb” are anchored with retro illustrations of well-heeled feet and giant polar bears.  The hotel boudoir theme carries on in eye masks and berets created by Francesco Ballestrazzi and bedroom bunny slippers courtesy of LA-based shoe label Streetzie’s.  Tatty Devine’s pearlescent bakelite-esque suitcases are a cute touch to Peppiatt’s setting.

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Another contemporary of Peppiatt, Phiney Pet has also taken a slightly different turn in her latest collection entitled “No Fixed Abode”.  Something bohemian and folkloric has been permeating a lot of the collections this season thus far but, designer Phiney Pettman’s signature illustrations and intuitive feel for the psychedelic gives a different spin to the usual tropes of the female gypsy wanderer.  Top of the Lake’s GJ, Gypsy Rose Lee and other early 20th century travelling performers and Roma-blooded families inspired this decidedly more grown up collection.  Flora, animals, astrology and a smattering of magic mushrooms make their way on to Pettman’s beautifully painted leather pieces as well as on to prints that resemble 1960s counterculture art.  This travelling family came complete with two adorable siblings in Pettman’s first stab at childrenswear, which of course could be scaled up for adults.

It’s interesting that both Pettman and Peppiatt (yes even their surnames chime together) have gone for a more mature approach in their collections this season as their girly gangs are growing up as well.  Together with Wade, their clothes and the way they present them, stick in your mind with their visual monikers and cues.  Like little diary-esque notes and doodles scribbling their way across your brain.

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Transport at London Fashion Week kindly provided by Mercedes-Benz.

“In this section you will find silhouettes, which consist of a hand-tufted pair of jeans and a hand-tufted denim skirt. Tufting is a technique widely used in the making of rugs and other upholstery. To hand tuft enough material big enough to make a pair of jeans, can take a team of two people, almost four days to complete.”  This was Faustine Steinmetz’s voice speaking on her audio guide, which you could access through a specially created web-based e-ticket.  Steinmetz’s presentations have been bucking the way we view garments on models ever since she made her LFW debut in 2014.  With her latest A/W 16-7 presentation, she has quite possibly bested her previous ones, as she creates an experience that is worth taking the time to look, look harder and look again.  It’s why Steinmetz, along with two other young designers are rising above the industry’s chit-chat about fast speeds and broken systems, precisely because they’re doing things their own way.

Steinmetz once again collaborated with set designer Thomas Petherick to create giant enclosed white boxes, with the only view into them created by cut-outs on the front that wouldn’t reveal everything all at once.  Sometimes you’d have to crouch down to look inside the box.  Sometimes you’d have to go on your tip-toes to get a proper view.  The sight of editors stooping low and jumping to look into Steinmetz’s white boxes was fascinating.  Depending on what angle you looked and what height you’re at, you’d get a somewhat different view, with every glance filtered through these concealed white boxes.   With a glut of people trying to look at the exhibition simultaneously, there wasn’t enough space/time to experience it properly. But clicking back on the e-ticket, the presentation lived on through Steinmetz’s French-accented voice explaining about the origins and techniques of each piece.

Each box was given a monochromatic colour scheme – blue, orange, salmon pink, yellow and white, inspired by the German artist Franz Erhard Walther and his sculptures of wearable textiles. Likewise, Steinmetz’s pieces have a similarly sculptural quality with undulating waves of hand-tufted cotton in a pair of jeans that took almost a week to weave.  Adding organic cotton, metallic yarns and mohair into the mix, Steinmetz’s creations took on an even more tactile quality to them, especially when tied with tubular sponge-like belts that look like swim float aids.  There was also a more wearable quality to many of the pieces, particularly the ribbed cotton dresses, that shift in shape with threaded through rivets.

Even as we were peering in and eyeing each model as part of Steinmetz’s museum-esque installation environment, there was still that desire to wear what we were seeing.  It’s also an instance where the connection between fashion and art isn’t merely decorative but also conceptually sound. Steinmetz made us stop, wait and look – and by look, I mean REALLY look.  That felt like an accomplishment in the context of a season in flux.

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Claire Barrow was also on a similar path except there was more of a mocking tone in her own version of a museum. She called her collection the “Retro-Spective” in reference to the way we regurgitate and recycle the past, be it through Tumblr blogs or fashion collections. And so Barrow directly took on the task of cycling through decades – from Medieval robes to Edwardian blouses to 1980s anarchy. These periods are all hinted at but wind up looking uniquely like Barrow’s work because of her paintings and illustrations. It was another strong show of the hand, that isn’t going to get lost in the sea of banal rehashing of past decades.

Barrow also presented both models and mannequins like that of a theoretical museum which she called a “form of blatant narcissism” so that she pushes her own work to become “historical” in some way. The set-up even came with a merch shop selling canvas totes, postcards and tees. But nestled in amongst the dramatic painted canvas dresses given names like “The Woman I am Not”, there was also a knitwear collaboration with John Smedley as well as Victoriana shirts scrawled with Barrow’s emotive figure. These were the pieces that give credence to what could have been some painted frocks not meant for sale. There’s a brilliance to the way Barrow has been confronting the things that niggle at her about the industry and beyond that, the world at large – be it our digitally consumer lives or the way that nothing is truly original. Here, her museum served made us a) look at the past differently and b) think about the conversation between fashion and history and whether the comfort of nostalgia will ever truly be rejected.

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Phoebe English made us play a strange but thoughtful waiting game too. To mark her 10th collection, she presented ten looks reflecting the processes of her finely-tuned aesthetic. Each model takes a ticket from a number dispensing machine and then await their turn to be measured up, prodded at and ultimately scrutinized. It’s a crystallised summation of the amount of pointless waiting around there is in the fashion week show system be it waiting for the shows to start or waiting for casting directors to see you. But even as they wear bored and listless expressions on their faces, it becomes easier to see English’s signature hand-made textiles such as shredded sequins, knitted elastic and other disheveled silks.  With ten edited and ultimately stronger looks, you found you had the time to wait around.

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Transport during London Fashion Week has been kindly provided by Mercedes-Benz.  

My growing collection of Molly Goddard dresses hang proudly in my spare room, taking up a good amount of space.  But you want them to spread out, and you’re happy to have them engulf your room with their smocked and gathered deliciousness.  For most people, one of Goddard’s dresses would do them just nicely.  They might wear it out for years until the gathered fabric starts to unravel and the straps break and get mended again.  I can picture them tattered twenty years from now and I’d probably still find it unbearable to throw away.  And as I looked at my tulle-filled room, I was thinking maybe I’d hit a Molly wall – that I’d stop at three and wear them they get to that aforementioned state.

Then I entered Goddard’s presentation last night and I was instantly swept away under a spell of frothy pale colours, the recreation of a Parisian haute couture salon and a piano rendition of My Heart Will Go On.  Fellow journalists and editors caught me looking ridiculously enamoured because I was so visibly slayed by Goddard’s sheer amount of fabric yardage worked into this collection.  Suddenly the three existing Goddard pieces in my wardrobe weren’t enough.  There’s now a corduroy floral smock in mustard yellow.  There’s the unexpected use of rain mac nylon in a burnt orange smocked skirt.  And then there’s that candy floss pink tulle worked into a billowing dress with the most incredible off the shoulder undulating sleeves.

For Goddard, there wasn’t necessarily one particular reference but for me Cecil Beaton’s photograph of Charles James frocks in 1948 in shades of pale blue, sherbet yellow, candy pink and mint green definitely came to mind.  Especially in the grand setting of Tate Britain’s Duveen a Galleries.  It was the stylised backdrops of the 1966 yakuza film Tokyo Drifter though, that inspired the columns and almost surreal cotillion/prom set, where Goddard’s tried and trusted gang meandered from spot to spot.  They leant on one another, held each other’s hands and made you feel like you were in the prettiest conversation salon, where sisterly camaraderie should obviously be attired in these prim noir dresses as well as the array of pastels that look like they’ve been plucked from the brighter Turner paintings in the adjoining gallery.  I hesitate to use my favoured adjective ‘frou-frou’ because even though these girls moved in the same manner as models did at mid-20th-century haute couture salon shows, there’s still a tomboyish and awkward air about them that makes Goddard’s dresses appeal far beyond its apparent niche.  And whilst Goddard’s circle of friends, who feature in her presentations are ‘girls’, as someone who’s definitely the other side of thirty, this collection also manages to go that extra yard to seduce women of all ages.  I’m duly looking into the idea of building some sort of a Molly shed in my little patch of a garden to accommodate more of her frocks.

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Transport during London Fashion Week has been kindly provided by Mercedes-Benz.  

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This week in New York, I’ve been thinking about identities of designers and brands.  Whose identities are most pronounced?  Who has lost theirs?  Who is severely in need in one as they bounce from one thing to the other without consistency?  Sadly I feel there are a clutch of designers in New York, who answer in the affirmative to the latter two questions.  One that most certainly doesn’t though is Thom Browne.

I’ve spoken about Browne’s singularity as a designer before and that even though his shows have an established ‘schtick’ about them with its elaborate set, slow-paced models and deliberated theatricality, it’s one that at the very least sticks to its guns, whether you love or hate it.  The identity is set and the way it evolves is through its theme – this time, it was an upper crust park in the 1930s on a foggy day, where the characters strolling about might have popped out of Evelyn Waugh or W. Somerset Maugham novel.  Their Steven Jones hats were men’s ties sculpted over the heads with suggestive curves, signalling the interplay between masculine and feminine that would see formal jackets trailing in the train of a gown.  Browne shows real experimentation here that is less about extreme silhouettes and costumed characters, but more about technical prowess.  Where strips of fabric appear to be ripped and stitched together to form pleats.  Or where one half of a jacket is hybridised with another.

If you readily associated the deconstructed with asymmetry, raw edges and haphazard layers, then think again as Browne’s method of deconstruction showed real precision and exacting standards.  See a grey pencil skirt embroidered with little pooches with the shoulders of a jacket worked in as front pockets and the sleeves then tie up to form a front ruched detailing.  Or a longer opera coat seamlessly coming together with a shorter blazer.  Or a pinafore dress that appears to be constructed out of a lavish velvet sleeved coat.  It’s basically a really really well-made version of how I used to wear cardigans as skirts or tie jackets around my chest in my bedroom because I thought I was being ‘avant garde’.  Even in the simpler pieces, there are clever pattern cutting details that wouldn’t intimidate the average Thom Browne customer, who might normally buy into a well-proportioned shirt or a close-fitting blazer, as seen in a matching grey jacket and skirt made out of sewn together arm pattern pieces that resemble pages in a book.   You unpicked all of that just by watching the show, without being distracted by the mise-en-scene.  If I had gone into the showroom to further unravel Browne’s technical detailing, this post might have rambled on a bit.  The point is, the focus is on the clothes.  And as Alex Fury has pointed out on the Independent, that’s not been the case this week in New York.  There are a slew of designers that I still haven’t had time to talk up from the week that have also made clothes their primary concern.  But for now, Browne’s perfectly sewn seams shine through.

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