Fashion month has been and gone and I have plenty to say on the collections (skip to end if you want an explanation on the scant blogging) but first up, a time-sensitive call to go and discover, admire and enthuse in a gathering of fashion talent that is collectively standing for SOMETHING other than just more “stuff”.

Sarah Mower needs no introduction as an inimitable fashion writer as well but her work as a tireless champion of young fashion designers, and particularly for British talent is something that perhaps goes unnoticed in the public sphere.  Her nurturing of talent through one-to-one mentoring, studio visits and business and media introductions in addition to her work as a journalist has seen countless designers rise through the ranks to LFW’s headlining fashion fore.

Through Instagram though, Mower has found a new outlet for her passion for talent-spotting. Her hashtag #SarahsList was born out of a positive fightback against the post-Trump, post-Brexit political climate.  At a time when you might think creativity could be stifled or impeded, Mower’s discoveries demonstrate a young fashion designer landscape that has all the motivation to find alternative ways of doing things.  “I got really down about the political situation and so I thought, what could I do.  Perhaps the one thing I can personally do is to shine a light on fashion talent that are being threatened by Brexit and by Trump and to hopefully get them hired and commissioned by bigger companies.”  To captivate her audience, the accompanying captions for her #SarahsList discoveries on Instagram are lengthy, opinionated and tell a compelling story.

So much so that they caught the attention of Liberty, who then offered to make #SarahsList a shoppable reality, bringing the wares of these fashion fledglings to the 1st floor of the department store.  They’re names that I incidentally have a lot of love for too and ones that I’ve either written about myself or look forward to discovering more of.  And so in a challenging retail environment, where stores aren’t necessarily going all out to take risks and where budgets for young designers have seen shrinkages, Liberty continues its founder’s tradition of seeking out the idiosyncratic and the beautiful to present a new generation of arts and craftivists in fashion.

Looking beyond the immediate razz-ma-tazz the pieces for sale and cannily, Mower has chosen a group of designers that represent not just a an exuberant and celebratory aesthetic but something conscious (without the weight of labelling oneself as “sustainable”), something that contributes in their own little ways a ray of positivity in and industry dogged by cynical ambitions.  Richard Quinn made his LFW debut in the central atrium of Liberty with a continuation of his magnified floral prints blown up to smother the body and so appropriately a collation of special pieces are available as part of the #SarahsList pop-up.  In addition to running his label, Quinn has also just opened his RQ open-access print studio in Peckham that has already become a valuable resource for students and young designers looking to get garments printed.  It’s an ambitious venture to run on top of his own label and I’ll hopefully be checking it out soon to see the print studio at work first hand.  Craft is also apparent in the work of the Georgian jewellery designer Sopho Gongliashvili – the one non-London exception to this group who uses traditional Georgian artisans to create beautiful enamelled accessories.

Kitty Garrett at #SarahsList

Sopho Gongliashvili at #SarahsList

Marta Jakubowski at #SarahsList

Designers such as the young American Conner Ives, who is still studying for his BA at Central Saint Martins makes his retail debut with a collection of special edition shirts made up of vintage scarves and donated Liberty fabrics.. Similarly newly graduated Kitty Garratt, also from Central Saint Martins, took second hand shoes (peer into the painted shoes and you’ll find high street relics like Faith!) and painted them with Charleston-esque freehand brushstrokes.. Upcyling is nothing new of course but in the hands of Ives and Garratt, the proposition is less about a pragmatic approach towards tackling waste but more of a celebratory repurposing of the old.

#SarahsList also hosts designers that have consciousness of sourcing.  Look at Richard Malone’s beautiful AW17-8 collection that features naturally dyed fabrics woven by a community-supporting organization of women weavers in Tamil Nadu in southern India, with the proceeds earned enabling their children to go to school.  Malone’s work doesn’t need that explanatory tag to entice the eye though.  Likewise, there’s an honesty in Sam McCoach’s Le Kilt, which I’ve long been a fan of, with her collection of kilts and knitwear made by small family-run enterprises in the UK.  Fellow N15 resident, Marta Jakubowski also gets the Mower seal of approval with her leftfield approach towards deconstructed tailoring and clubwear-inspired formalwear.

Richard Malone at #SarahsList

All this bigging up of young designers though made me think of a conversation strand brought up at a panel I was a part of recently, chaired by Jefferson Hack as part of Dazed and Huawei’s Secret Lectures.  Olya Kuryshchuk, founder and editor-in-chief of Granary 1 talked about the responsibility we had as media professionals, who actively promote young talent.  In an increasingly difficult fashion system that can be unforgiving for young fashion designers, how do we balance promoting and writing about their work, whilst being mindful of the precariousness of operating as a start-up business.  To that, Mower has the final say that few could argue with and also gives indication on how #SarahsList could possibly spur the fashion system in new directions.

“Does everything have to be large-scale, and everywhere to be valid? I think the opposite values – small-scale, hand-made, consciously produced and NOT everywhere are exactly the ones which people are instinctively drawn to now.  The system at large is dysfunctional, as is widely admitted. I agree it is irresponsible to stand by and wave on more and more people to face exactly the same problems – and the education system is a fault too, in not arming their students with the facts.  The people I mentally put on #SarahsList are the ones I see who have the seeds of new ways of doing things. I think they have a hell of a lot to teach the corporate world – not the other way around. That’s why I have this vision that#SarahsList could become a vehicle for discussing and magnifying the strengths which are already there – and for spreading information and exchanges which are both idealistic and concrete.”

Word.  Preach.  Hurrah.

#SarahsList on the 1st floor of Liberty in London for the forthcoming month

Obviously I couldn’t help but get in on the #SarahsList action…

Richard Quinn “toe” velvet socks from #SarahsList worn with old Jil Sander shirt and H&M’s Design Award Richard Quinn dress (the collection launched last week and pleasingly sold out immediately!)

Conner Ives shirt from #SarahsList worn with Ambush jeans and Nike trainers

On a side note, I too have to spur myself on in an announcement about the blog…

I realise blogging frequency has slowed to a trickle here because I’m in the process of a relaunch (she says with a booming voice).  Actually that word sounds too offish.  It’s more of a rejig – one which means I’ll hopefully still be rambling on about fash-un in that long super-forever-scrollin’ way I favour.  I’m loathe hauling Nico out as an excuse but if truth be told, juggling baby, with jobs that pay the bills and writing for the luff luff luff of it here has been nigh on impossible.  There’s light in sight though.  Nico will be starting nursery soon.  That’s precisely thirty hours extra in the week not spent Dettol wiping after Nico.  Here’s hoping they will be spent productively.

I’m loathe to use buzzwords.  Especially ones preceded by a hash sign #.  “Woke” is one of those dreaded words, not so much because of its meaning and intentions but more to do with the general implications of its usage.  Its very grammatical structure implies that somehow the people that aren’t crowing about their “wokeness” online are asleep, drugged by political and social lethargy.  And where it is used as a hashtag, one’s very acknowledgement of “wokeness” seems to dent the noble cause they purport to protest and fight for.

However, it is a useful bit of vernacular when looking at a new generation of designers, graduating from their embattled MA courses, from which they emerge into the world, saddled with an increased amount of debt and most probably riddled with uncertainty as to whether they can make it in an ever-tough industry.  Being “woke” is what will differentiate these designers from the ones that simply want to make pretty clothes.  In fact, aesthetically pleasing things may not be enough to entice a younger generation of consumers who prioritise experiences over stuff.

And so on the day the extraordinary election in the UK played out, 48 MA students from the Royal College of Art under the tutelage of Zowie Broach made their debut through a combination of performance, choreography and installation, in a stand-out graduate show that utilised both a traditional catwalk show structure as well as that of an art gallery.  “It is fitting that the show takes place at the very moment when the UK decides on its future Government,” said Broach in the introductory notes.  “Since the UK voted to leave the EU last June, students have been asking urgent questions about owning their own culture that haven’t been asked for generations.  They have been pushed to ask deeper questions about fashion within the current political climate and its power to effect change in this unsettling landscape.”

From the overtly political to personal identity issues to the questioning of gender archetypes and materials, this cohort of students had idealised ideas in spades.  And they ranged in their final resolution of commercial viability, from clothes you could see making their way onto a shop rail to more visually surreal results.  That’s how the show seemed to oscillate from the down-to-earth to the fantastical.  Zahra Hosseini kicked proceedings off with a sobering display of the Muslim call to prayer.  A leather-trimmed black chador robe, unfolded to form a prayer mat, like an origami fortune teller.  Downstairs in the basement Hosseini’s Iranian compatriot Maryam Navasaz also drew from her Islamic identity, with her exaggerated head pieces sitting zen in a verdant courtyard garden.  At a time when feelings of fear and anxiety have sadly once again been stoked up around extreme Islam, both Hosseini and Navasaz felt pertinent in their objectives.

Zahra Hosseini, Womenswear


Maryam Navasaz, Womenswear Millinery


More topical moments came when Bianca Saunders’ black men wandered out in clothes that sought to define “contemporary black masculinity”.  Bathed in a pink light, one central figure in a do-rag and little else was lifted up by the others like a baptism of sorts.  The references to Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight were deliberate and were instantly felt.  Saunders hopes to start her own label soon.  Another voice that adds yet another dimension to black masculinity is certainly more than welcome.  Ellie Rousseau’s rave-inspired oversized knits and Manchester-proud garb came trooping out with signage that was bound to get an election night crowd going.  “Corbyn In, Tories Out”, “Save our Future” and “Peace for MCR” were met with vehement cheers.   Another menswear knitwear designer, Jennifer Koch chose to address her own personal gripes about Chinese identity with a blinged out sportswear collection, doused in fortune cookies and lucky red packets.  As a mother of a biracial “hafu”, the statement “You look more Asian today” was bound to resonate.

Bianca Saunders, Menswear


Ellie Rousseau, Menswear Knitwear


Jennifer Koch, Menswear Knitwear


Designers that chose to confront the real and the mundane also found their calling in knitwear (a particular strong suit of the RCA MA graduates).  Alison Hope Murray exploited the stretchy property of her monochromatic knits to express a state of extreme comfort – so much so that one model can feel comfortable in her own topless skin.  Pippa Harries‘ knitwear was more rigorous with its nods to traditional silhouettes but in peeling back a pair of checked trousers with ciggy in mouth and a leek in hand, it revealed a facet of odd domesticity that was intriguing.

Alison Hope Murray, Womenswear Knitwear


Pippa Harries, Womenswear Knitwear


When things took a more fantastical turn, they still held true to that personal quest for answers to questions consistently asked in culture at large.  Alternative ideas of female empowerment – another misused buzzword – were explored by Fabian Kis Juhasz, and his cartoonish horror film archetypes with daggers in their feet and blood drenched tulle.  Women as maximal flora/fauna was expressed in Rose Frances Danford-Phillips‘ joyous explosion of nature-driven embroidery and feathers.  And to flip that gender exploration, Sophie Condron‘s pastel-kitsch installation of pink satin, rhinestones and nan’s house soft furnishings, transposed onto her menswear collection made for heady viewing.

Fabian Kis-Juhhasz, Womenswear


Rose Frances Danford-Philips, Womenswear Knitwear


Sophie Condren, Menswear


Confronting a rocky future ahead hasn’t killed these designers’ ability to dream big.  There were a few that unashamedly tapped into the aesthetics of the futuristic convincingly.  Aubrey Wang is hoping to set up a collective of engineers, artists and tech heads – an ambition, which was reflected in her retro sci-fi cast of characters, welding giant mobiles and encased in Mars Attacks glass bubbles.  Han Kim pieced together plastic feathers of candy stripes and polka dots in a CMYK colour palette, in complex bird-like configurations on the body.  And Colin Horgan‘s woman stood on the precipice of danger, in draped bands of holographic and black patent, that elongate the body into female figures of strength such as Lightning from my own Saturday night childhood TV staple, Gladiators and Nina Williams from the video game Tekken.  For me, they were all a welcome dismissal of a pervasive minimalism that has dominated fashion MA shows of recent years.

Aubrey Wang, Womenswear


Han Kim, Womenswear


Colin Horgan, Womenswear


The most memorable of RCA grads have often surprised with their interpretation of materials or garment categories.  Their millinery pathway once again excelled with Jing Tan‘s surreal presentation of strange fruit and flower bouquet heads atop conservative looking suited men.  We got to experience the top of the world with Ting Ting Zhang‘s physical iCloud of computer-programmed knitted hats, which utilises the same technology as Nike’s FlyKnit.  She plans to set up her own label to bring her headfuls of knitted data to the world.  Why?  “Because they are slogans, they are full of spirits, they are forever on the top. And of course, they are indeed cute!”  Quite.

Jing Tan, Menswear Millinery


Tingting Zhang, Womenswear Millinery


In between the two runway shows, we were invited to explore the installations that also yielded new exploration into the possibilities of materials on the body.  Take Abbie Stirrup’s “tailored gunge”, which had models dripping in moulded neon silicone and realtime applied gunge.  Stirrup is proposing the idea that these second skins could perhaps enrich us spiritually or even one day nourish us physically.  It’s not too far off the mark if vitamin drip bags take on a wearable form.  Louis Anderson-Bythell seems set to open up a materials lab with his collection of self-shrinking, elastomer garments, moulded and cast into clothing that appears to be alive.  His work points to the fact that true exploration of the technologically new in mainstream fashion is still largely absent.  “Fashion is always quick to adopt an image, slower to adopt any new mechanism. Maybe this will change.”

Abbie Stirrup, Womenswear


Louis Patric Alderson-Bythell, Womenswear


Finally, you have Kira Goodey‘s intricate shoes that range from more ready-to-wear friendly leather specimens to a full-on slashed PVC bodysuit, printed with a blur of Into the Void-esque neon lights from her recent travels to Tokyo.  She like all her contemporaries, is hopeful for change.  “We are on the brink of a paradigm shift in terms of the way fashion is designed, manufactured and sold – one that will usurp the ready-to-wear mass produced culture currently in place.  This movement will be much more grassroots and empowering to smaller manufacturers.”

Collectively, this was a graduate showcase that left you with a sense of optimism for fashion’s future – woke and ready to wake this industry up with their ideas.  On Alison Hope Murray’s own website, her personal summary of the RCA show says it best.  “Just because we can’t buy a house. Doesn’t mean we won’t work something else out for ourselves.  Stay tuned, we’ll probably Facebook Live the whole thing.”  

Kira Goodey, Footwear

“I don’t like the word cruise,” declared Miuccia Prada after well, what was in fact, Prada’s first cruise show.  That sounds like a deliberately contrary thing to say when venturing into but I think what Miuccia really meant was that she these clothes that form a pre collection in between the two main ready to wear seasons aren’t just for the jet set cruising folk.  They’re clothes that spend the bulk of the year on a shop floor, hence why they’re given this mini schedule of experiential shows.

But even as Prada felt the commercial need to join the other biggie houses in showing their resort collection, they were never going to do so in a far-flung location.  Another reason why the word “cruise” feels inappropriate.  Instead we went to the historical heart of Prada.  Moments away from their 150+ year old historical store in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, is the Osservatorio, a new addition to the Fondazione Prada, which will play host to photography exhibitions.  You clamber up and industrial staircase and find yourself in what feels like a secret of a space, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the iron framed cupola of the Galleria.   For this particular showset, OMA/AMO deliberately designed a contrast between the grandiose curves of the central dome, conceived by Giuseppe Mengoni in the 19th century, with a surreal mirrored set and pink satin linear seating, flanked by photographic screens.  Miuccia was fixated on the transparency of this setting – the view of the cupola seen from the Osservatorio, the panes of glass that loom over the resplendent shopping arcade and the flood of light coming into the space itself.  It certainly felt wildly different to the Prada shows of norm, held in their headquarters in a windowless space.

The Osservatorio also happens to be a lot smaller than the normal Prada show space.  All the better to appreciate Prada’s first standalone resort outing.  The transparency in the venue prompted a delicate spread of Japanese organza-esque fabric worked into frothy lingerie layers, echoing the pastel hued cakes and confectionary of the Prada-owned iconic cafe Passticeria Marchesi 1824 downstairs, where we had lunch beforehand.  Those ultra feminine underpinnings were contrasted with puffed up sportswear, like an off-the-shoulder tracksuit jacket with billowing sleeves, worn with knee high striped socks and chunky trainers.  I love that there’s a hint of late Victoriana worked into the track tops.

“I wanted something contemporary – somehow sporty – and then for it to metamorphose into elegance and then vice versa,” said Miuccia.  “I really had in mind what this place means in history and the beauty and charm of that period.  There was a sensuality as well as an eccentricity.”  And so the girls with their single feather headbands, girlish plaits and layers that flickered from club sportif to Belle Epoque promenade walked to a similarly juxtaposed soundtrack, where Johann Strauss’ The Blue Danube, sampled by Malcom McLaren on a mash-up house track on his album Waltz Darling.

There was also an unabashed transparency about the way some of Prada’s greatest hits were recycled and remixed.  Miuccia talked about her love of see-through fabrics in the 90s and add to that, you can tick off familiar Prada territory such as knee-high socks, techy nylons, diamanté and feather trims.  But the most notable Prada archive resurrection was a repeat collaboration with the artist James Jean, who was responsible for the fluid Art Nouveau-ish lines of fairies and blossoms in the S/S 2008 collection.  His signature florid lines this time featured illustrations of a reworking of the Prada logo and rampant pink bunnies.  This time round, Jean’s illustrations were sensual rather than whimsical.  There are many Prada collections that have been seared into my memory but that I particularly remember the frenzy of love for this one.  It’s been a whole decade since that S/S08 collection and thus there’s enough distance for Miuccia to dip into her archives, reviving an artistic collaboration for a new generation of customers.  No doubt, those illustrated bunny bags will fly.  For the Prada faithful such as myself, that of course wasn’t the only cause for celebration in this collection.  Much like the rows of mini fruit tarts and iced mini treats at Marchesi, you’re tempted to say, “One of everything, please!”

>> How to alleviate the tiresome feeling of waddling around town with what feels like a 3 kilo bag of rice strapped to your belly?  By doing the conga with a human sized dinosaur mascot and Bryan Boy, which got the bump jiggling along too.  And as I hit my final days of being quite uncomfortably pregnant, I thought I’d look back to more jovial times when me, bump and Rexy were havin’ it large at the Coach House flagship store opening in London’s Regent Street back in November.

As this belatedly posted set of photographs attest, touring new stores – more often than not a solemn activity, peppered with facts about marble finishings and architecture waffle – can indeed be fun.  That is the key word of course that has underpinned Stuart Vevers’ turnaround of the brand, particularly in the runway Coach 1941 collections.  But even as T-rexes and stegosauruses waggle their leather puzzle piece tails about and kitschy Brit-themed badges that peppered a special capsule collection of accessories and varsity jackets (scoured from eBay by Vevers’ team apparently), there’s heft to back up the frivolity.  At the Craftsmanship Bar, there’s a wall of emojis to choose from to monogram Coach classics, in addition to the normal initial stamping.  Downstairs, there’s now a Made-to-Order service where a bespoke Rogue bag can be created in over one million possible colour combinations.  And throughout the store, Coach’s hometown of New York is evident in black steel fixtures, mahogany wood and a central mechanised conveyor belt that actually moves – a symbol of the chugging along of Coach’s upward trajectory.  Even Bryan and I play acting with a baseball glove and ball bears some significance, as they’re pertinent reminders of the glove-tanned leather that the founder of Coach was inspired to create because of the well-worn patina and buttery feel of a pitcher’s glove.

For Vevers, London is a chance to come home and officiate Regent Street with a proper retail incarnation of what he has achieved at Coach.  It’s a concept that has rolled out in New York and is likely to do so in the future in other cities.  The word “House” as opposed to “Maison” is fitting for a store that sits on what a street that straddles between contemporary, high street and designer.

A giant Rexy near the entrance is there to invite gawkers in for a gander and a feel of what are in essence, comparatively accessible products.  Incidentally, did you know Rexy’s a “she”?  According to Vevers, “she’s” not strictly speaking part of Coach’s 75 year history but has become an apt character and mascot, representing the sort of japes that now goes down in Coach design team.  Nope it’s not that dignified or necessarily “luxurious” to be hugging a lycra-clad female dressed up as a T-Rex.  But it is a laugh – and nestled in amongst all that leather and shearling – it’s providing a formula that’s working for Coach’s newfound customer base.

 

This post is part of an on-going social media partnership with Coach