And Some More Colour. Colville SS21

Colville is a quiet, yet steady player. Its founders Molly Molloy and Lucinda Chambers are industry veterans, but they keep their label – consciously or not – under the radar, as a sort of niche place for the insiders. Besides the designers’ obvious flair for color and print, the more vibrant the better, the unifying principles at Colville, it seems to me, are comfort and joy. As women, Molloy and Chambers know those two things are interlinked; you’ll see a preponderance of upcycled trainers and track pants in these look book pictures. But their dresses, too, have a sensuous ease, tied effortlessly with ribbon at the waist or at the nape of the neck above an exposed upper back. Those shawls, locally sourced and dyed by the Tzotzil ethnic group in the Chiapas region of Mexico, are the collection’s hero pieces: they would wake up any outfit, or home. A jacket pieced from a patchwork of traditional Indian bedspreads is similarly colorful, with the feel of a keepsake or heirloom. The pandemic might have made their work more challenging, with Chambers in London and Molloy in Milan, but their spring-summer 2021 line-up shows no signs. Where other brands are shrinking or outright collapsing, Colville is expanding. “There is a kind of level playing field, where if you’ve got a strong story to tell, you get a voice. And that’s a wonderful thing,” Chambers reflected. “It doesn’t matter how much money you have to chuck at it anymore, you can’t buy your way out of this. It has to be about what you’re making and the love you’re putting into it.” That’s the thing you want to hear and read!

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Paint The World. Christopher Kane SS21

Similar to Victoria Beckham this season, Christopher Kane took the “less is more” path: less clothes and less looks result in a well-edited, meaningful line-up of truly intriguing garments. In Kane’s case, however, it’s been reverting to painting with multicolored glitter as he did as a kid that’s got him back to who he is. His flagship in Mount Street was turned into an exhibition space on the day of the collection’s presentation, filled with easels and canvases and imagined portraits of girls that he’d made obsessively during lockdown. Grouped around on mannequins were vibrant prints that made the jump from pictures to coats, dresses, shirts and t-shirts. Everything is painted – an idea that parallels with Katharina Grosse’s artistic practice, where she’s painting the world around her. “I haven’t painted for 14 years,” he said. “You know, in (the pace of) business, it’s chronic. At the beginning of lockdown, it took me a good month to say, I can’t sit here watching TV all day. I needed to do something. So I went out in the garden and just started painting, not caring whether what I was doing was crap or not. And then I started enjoying myself.” He made paintings of “brats – the girls I love, who’ve always inspired me,” gouaches of his nieces Bonnie and Tippi, and a more abstract impression in sage green sparkles of his sister Tammy. The idiosyncratic technique goes straight back to when he started making drawings in glitter pen of his mum at home in Newarthill, outside Glasgow, at the age of 14. Christine Kane encouraged both Christopher and Tammy, her youngest children, to be as creative as they liked at home. Instead of getting mad at them when their hours of painting and gluing on the sitting-room floor ended up ruining her best carpet, she just removed the carpet and let them get on with it. Going back to that feeling of making for making’s sake, without the pressure of thinking he was designing for any prescriptive outcome, was freeing. He began forming abstract shapes: “circles, voids, mouths” from whirling layers of acrylic paint and glitter. “Then I came up with a process of combing the paint. And then adding stripes. They became like my mindscapes.” In the end, having thought at first they didn’t want to make anything at all, Kane and his sister began transferring some of the work onto duchesse satin, Tyvek, and cotton, and a small summer collection began to take shape. Out of the big pause came something humming with energy, revealing a side to Christopher Kane’s creativity he might never have had time to rediscover and which he’d probably never have shared. As one of the restarts of the season, it felt intensely personal – something speculative, self-reliant, and not meant for endless reproduction. And most of all: “from now on,” said his sister, “we’re streamlining, editing before we decide to put something out into the world.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

A Classic Romance. Erdem SS21

In Erdem‘s world, nothing has changed – at least, at a first glance. Here, women are still dressing up and wear magnificent dresses that have a romantic, elegant side. But the period of confinement did have an impact on Erdem Moralioglu. It reads like a mad experiment: Erdem Moralioglu in his London house for four months, with denied access to the museums and libraries that oxygenate his storyteller mind, and throw in a Susan Sontag novel. “It begins with three people dancing on the lip of a volcano,” the designer said of the collection he authored and drew in quarantine. Inspired by The Volcano Lover, Sontag’s portrait of the 18th-century beauty Emma Hamilton, who married a volcanologist obsessed with Grecian vases and had a passionate love affair with Lord Nelson, this was how Moralioglu coped with everything that happened this spring. “There was something about this odd time that we’re living in, and the idea that there is something so much bigger than all of us that controls everything,” Moralioglu said, drawing a parallel between crises past and present. “It’s beauty in a time that’s very ugly, and the idea of creating something decadent with an underbelly of something poor.” He expressed that sentiment in a meeting between formal and informal: a trans-historical voyage that referenced Grecian nymph shift dresses through the lens of the puff-sleeved empire silhouette, a sprinkling of Nelsonian regalia, and a cameo by Susan Sontag’s post-modern cardigan. Many of his embroidered muslin and organza dresses and 18th-century floral jacquard numbers were treated with crinkling effects to evoke a sense of “poor,” which means something quite different in Moralioglu’s dainty world than it does to the rest of us. But within the folds of those fabrics, there was a feeling of resourcefulness, which illustrated the idea of beauty in a time of uncertainty. Some pieces looked as if they’d been spliced with other pieces, Nelson’s admiral jackets and grosgrain regalia had a scent of thriftiness about them, and opera coats seemed to morph into khaki utility-wear. Then, a sturdy denim bottom popped up, posing as a chic pencil skirt. But still, Erdem is all about eveningwear. “I get asked the same question: Are women’s tastes and wants changing now, given the situation? On the contrary, we have a customer who’s still buying special pieces. It’s the want for something you can wear in five and 10 years. As I enter my 15th year doing this, the most thrilling thing is seeing someone wearing your work from 10 years ago. I’ve always been obsessed with permanence,” Moralioglu asserted. “When it feels like the end of the world, doesn’t someone need a pink moiré hand-embroidered gown?

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Less Is More. Victoria Beckham SS21

The good thing about lockdown’s effect on fashion this season is that some designers did their best (or were forced) to focus on the essentials. Less new clothes results in less looks, and less looks means smaller collections. And we really don’t need stuff that is just “out there”, without a bigger reason behind it. Victoria Beckham‘s spring-summer 2021 line-up, which is just 20 looks, not a regular 40-50, might be one of her strongest in a while. “I found the whole thing liberating. Everything changed this season and it reminds me why I fell in love with the industry in the first place, all those years ago when I used to do smaller presentations and narrate through them,” Beckham said. “We weren’t in a position to have 10 fashion stories and narrow it down to one or two. We had to be very focused and strategic. I’ve really enjoyed coming to work. So much. That sense of freedom is what my business needs right now.” If recent Victoria Beckham collections were all about business-ready elevation, here she loosens up the silhouette and offers clothes that are easy, versatile and comfortable. Floor-length jersey dresses caressed the body rather than constricted it. She loosened the waists of maxidresses and allowed them to drop. Her 1970s tailoring felt more lenient in form, and she described the season’s super-flared trouser, split at the back, as “puddling on the floor.” Cutouts felt sensual rather than strict. And the colour palette? It’s delightful – just look at the first look’s clash of burgundy, pea-green and classic beige. “I can honestly say there’s genuinely nothing I won’t wear here, and that’s not always the case with a runway collection,” she admitted. “Sometimes you do create a silhouette for the runway.” As for the post-lockdown fashion landscape, Beckham said this collection was ultimately about sensing the winds of change: what women will want to wear on the other side. “In lockdown, I was wearing a lot of denim, a lot of t-shirts, shirts,” she said, name-checking components that all appeared in her new season proposal. “I was not doing an elasticated waist and leggings.” Less is more – and can be oh so stylish.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

J’Ouvert. Maximilian Davis SS21

Maximilian Davis – remember this name, as I’m sure it’s going to be big in the next couple of seasons. Fashion East’s newcomer, Davis has stepped onto Lulu Kennedy’s platform with the confidence and energy of someone who’s certain that the time is right for what he has to say. “Black people must be in charge of their narrative. I see them in such a regal way. I do elegant clothing and tailoring. I want to take people out of the idea of wearing streetwear because that’s not how I see them,” he told Vogue on a Zoom call. “That’s a message I want to put across, and that’s what I want to stick with for the duration of my career.” It’s uncommon, to say the least of it, to see a young designer with the forethought to articulate such a long-term purpose. He spelled out why. “Race has been such an issue for years, but I feel that only now are people wanting to learn more about it and are willing to support different races and try to make this world a better place. And I think now is the time to share my vision, to help support and educate people.” His debut collection, entitled “J’ouvert“, is an ambitious mission to bring sophisticated modern fashion to the fore, while simultaneously uplifting the history of Trinidadian Carnival that is intrinsic to his identity. “My grandmother passed away this year,” he explained. “She came to England from Trinidad and became a nurse. We went there every year. For me as a child, I saw Carnival as one big celebration, but I wanted to look more into the reason we were celebrating. I discovered that in Trinidad enslaved people were set free in 1834, but before that, they had performed for their slave masters. Carnival came out of their liberation. I wanted to put that imagery into my tailoring, comparing 19th-century history with the cutout garments that are worn at Carnival today.” Look one, a jacket that fuses a white frock coat and waistcoat worn over a miniskirt with a slashed waist, crisply encapsulates exactly that. Further on, halter-neck tops echo “aristocrat’s cravats” – an idea brought into the present from his research about Jean-Baptiste Belley, a Black Caribbean activist who was involved with the French Revolution. The aim and the energy, he laughed, overtook him as he made slashed calfskin dresses, an elegant black crepe fishtail gown, and a hip-slung knee-length skirt, decorated with goose biot feathers. He worked on menswear: harlequin prints and a tuxedo that honors his father. “My Dad wears suits every day. When he went to Trinidad, he had these suits that were oversized, loose, and easy. I think there’s a place for tailoring for men that is relaxed, refined but easy to wear.” All this was achieved “mostly in my bedroom, in lockdown,” Davis concluded. But he hasn’t been alone. The launch of Maximilian has been backed up by photographer Rafael Pavarotti, the super-stylist Ibrahim Kamara, and film director Akinola Davies, with music by Suutoo. Against the background of Black Lives Matter, this dauntless new British cohort of talent is making sure that progress in fashion is ever-expandingly real. As for me, he Davis can land at Mugler right away.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Colour Pop. Molly Goddard SS21

Molly Goddard‘s spring-summer 2021 collection is pure joy. Although in the very beginning of the works on the collection, the London-based designer wanted to keep everything in white as a response to the current circumstances, she observed as things slowly started to reopen and totally changed her mind. Her signature, ruffled, full-skirted dresses come in vivid greens, the checkerboard sweaters go neon, and explosive tulle gowns shock with the deepest of reds. A minimalist gesture of colour hits through joyous, maximalist shapes – that’s how you can sum up this delightful collection. But the designer has a grounded approach. Goddard’s taffeta and tulle clothes tend to have a dry hand and a utilitarian aesthetic that works for day. Her new pretty A-line anorak dress was a great example. And if there were ever a season to collaborate with Uggs, this moment is surely it. The colorful shaggy slides and comfy platforms were primed for a life working from home. Also in keeping with the times was Goddard’s decision to make many of her statement-making dresses available in white. For fashion-forward young brides shopping in the era of the socially distanced wedding, that’s the right decision.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Refinement. Richard Malone SS21

Who would have ever known, that during confinement, when our clothes were all about lazy-wear, one could come up with such beautiful refinement? Richard Malone, the Irish designer, brought back elegance to London Fashion Week, done in his signature, sustainable way. It was those months which became the genesis for the spring-summer 2021 collection, a period when, even without a team or regular resources at his disposal, he had the luxury of time: the opportunity to rifle through deadstock materials and hand-dye them in his bathtub, or tie them with twine and run them through his washing machine to achieve the right crinkled effect. “Because my language is very much making, perhaps lockdown wasn’t so bad for me,” he noted. “I could just do whatever I wanted in my studio. It was a distraction.” DIY as it was, the luxurious feeling that Malone came up with is just so refreshing: velvets dramatically draped into floor-sweeping Grecian numbers; discarded theater curtains cut into body-con glamour or gathered around padded bustles. “They’re fabrics that lend themselves to lounging—the velour is like Juicy Couture tracksuit material,” he smiles. “It’s comfortable; it’s loungewear.” He was clearly going for a sense of comfort in the armor of sutured breastplates and the padding of cushioned hips. “It wasn’t intentional but I was trying everything on as I designed it and I suppose it was in response to the moment,” he reflects (Malone has always worked as his own fit model in the formative stages of his collections). “I hadn’t worn shoes for three months. Everything, the very idea of clothes, felt abstract.” The abundant historical allusions, too, were instinctual rather than referential. Without access to research libraries, “I was reliant on the guise of memory,” he says. “And I read a lot of books about time: Iain Reid, Doireann Ní Ghríofa, Ali Smith… I was interested in the idea of how all these different time periods can somehow exist at once.” Cropped and gathered matador boleros, their shoulders warped into shrugs, evolved from the idea that “everything’s sort of fucked, so you shrug and you move on” rather than the usual archival imagery; corseted lace-up backs from the simple fact that Malone was having to somehow strap himself into the more elaborate numbers. Sometimes, the simplicity of an accident brings the most spectacular effects.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Blooming. Chopova Lowena SS21

Seeing all the favourite, relatively small, unique brands in the London Fashion Week digital schedule this season is truly heart-warming. And with less pressure of being noticed in the presentations and showrooms marathons the editors and buyers usually have, look-books seem to let that tension off. I’m following Chopova Lowena since its start about two years ago, and I must say I’m impressed how this label evolves with such confidence and thought, simultaneously staying true to its style. Emma Chopova and Laura Lowena took a gathering of their collaborators and interns outside their studio in the postindustrial docks area of Deptford to shoot their spring-summer 2021 look book. “We did it ourselves on our iPhones,” they said, on a Zoom call with Vogue as they shared the pictures. “Everyone we collaborated with is in the look book, except for a Bulgarian woman, who we found on Facebook, who made loom-beaded pieces for us.” So here are their friends, standing on concrete and cobblestones under an overpass, with a washed-up wooden riverboat in one direction, a red commuter train shooting overhead, and the vivid green shoots of untended nature springing up beneath their feet. As a glimpse of a little-seen corner of the Thames shore, the backdrop is a perfect metaphor for the designers’ youthful energy – their uplifting knack of finding beauty and romance in overlooked places, and their ingeniously pragmatic ways of re-crafting fragments of the past into ideas that young women find irresistibly wearable. Some of the Chopova Lowena girl gang pictured are Faye, a painter who contributed designs for their burgeoning line of printed jeans; Jewel, a makeup artist; Ami, who made prints based on cut-up Bulgarian postcards of dogs, roses, and Easter eggs for T-shirts; and jewelry designer Georgia, who made charms. The label is focused on building up signatures, like their accordion-pleated kilts suspended on steel climbing hooks clipped to leather belts, and developing their penchant for dresses in checks and tartans made from deadstock fabrics. All of this continues with even more exuberance and multiple-check action here. Explaining the narratives of how they source and make in Bulgaria, which is Chopova’s family home, is also important to the designers. There are lots more vintage materials from her home country in this collection. “My mum helped me clean and recondition antique wall hangings. People traditionally used to hang them in their kitchens over stoves or above their sofas or beds,” Chopova relates. Bulgarian people are willing to part with them, she says, because they don’t use them anymore. “The fabrics have a lot of baggage. They remind them of communism and folklore, which don’t have favorable connotations.” Look 1, a lovely white drop-waisted linen dress with two deep flounces, is remade from kitchen hangings embroidered with line drawings of folk tales. There’s a top made from lace doilies too. The designers now feel they want to deepen the connection with tradition and with showing the authenticity of how their things are made and by whom. “I think in the pandemic, everyone in fashion has been thinking, What is our brand’s purpose in all of this?” They learned how much their audience likes seeing stuff being made when they ran a video of artisans in Turkey marbling white denim for their new line of jeans. In tough times, their priority is to keep supporting the Bulgarian women who work on the clothes – those with the skills to produce, for instance, the deep accordion pleats that are “made with the one remaining mold in the factory, which was always used to pleat traditional costumes.” Amazing.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Force of Nature. Burberry SS21

As far as I didn’t entirely get Riccardo Tisci‘s Burberry, his spring-summer 2021 virtual fashion-show-slash-performance was gripping. As far as humor goes, it doesn’t get much darker than “a love story between a mermaid and a shark.” It was Riccardo Tisci’s loaded reference for his post-lockdown collection. A metaphor for the events of the past seven months, it reflects the loneliness and thirst for freedom we all experienced in quarantine. But in his under-the-sea analogy – a theme that pervaded both garments and graphics – Tisci’s shark (a career trademark we remember from Givenchy) represented something more menacing than mere loneliness. In that sense, it was an accurate depiction of how many of us felt in lockdown: part zen and at one with nature, part terrified out of our minds. For the show, the designer took his models – and muses, like Mariacarla Boscono and Lea T – to a deep, British forest. Under the canopy of nature, every feeling that had washed over the designer during lockdown was released in an ominous performance created by the artist duo Anne Imhof and Elizabeth Douglas, who sang at the live-streamed event. Staged sans audience, the tactile performance that ensued could easily make you forget we were in the middle of a pandemic. Cameras captured models getting dressed inside claustrophobic boxes before they could escape and embrace the freedom of the forest. It all felt very liberating until groups of men in black suits and sunglasses popped up behind them. They followed the models to a clearing where white-clad performers engaged in a ritualistic dance macabre amidst billows of orange smoke that had young commenters on the streaming service Twitch, which hosted the show, rife with quips. Looking at the collection, it was just the right balance of street and fashion. The prints were finally as good as the ones Tisci spoiled as back at the French maison. Summing up, it was a very good collection, edited down (no 150+ looks, thankfully) and desirable. “Being scared made me realize how lucky I am to do this job,” Tisci said. “I want to be more creative. I want to give the best of myself. In the beginning, you want to get to a level you want to get to. When you get there, you’re working towards stabilization. But this was a wake-up call: let’s do our best.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.