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.

Beautiful. Simone Rocha SS21

Simone Rocha‘s beautiful spring-summer 2021 line-up was actually this first collection that truly made me gasp this season. It’s amazing how this independent designer builds her visual language with every season, making clothes so distinct and consistent, yet never boring or monotonous. As many labels, Rocha didn’t have a fashion show, but a presentation in a London gallery for a few editors. And while other collections this season might have a problem of being ‘on their own’ – no runway, no fabulous show venue – Simone’s clothes are so good and considered that they do the talking. Still, she loves a real show. “I’m not going to lie: I’ll be the first to say I love runway shows,” Rocha told Vogue. “Now that the pace of shows has been stripped away, I wanted to find a space to represent that. It’s important to me to find a way to physically share the collection, just for the silhouette, texture, and weight of it. Clothes are made of cloth, and emotions, and they come to life on a body.” Those garments check all the boxes. “Sobering and exploding, pragmatic and foreboding,” were key words Rocha said she’d scribbled in her notebook at the start of it. She’d also pulled up Richard Prince’s erotic Bettie Kline images and paintings of Nell Gwyn, mistress of Charles II, with her celebrated jewel-bedecked bosom on display. Close up, the layers held little messages: on tulle veiling, patterns of castles; in the broderie anglaise, the label’s monograms. “Castles in faraway places,” she laughed. “I think that’s the escapism we’re all craving.” And everywhere, there were the pearls which are now her signature, as headdresses, breast outliners, and scaled up in 3D to form a bag. Some of the models held a few of these bags, and the overall feeling of it was sort of magical, out-of-this-world. This might be the wardrobe for a modern-day Venus – take that white, caped gown or all the layered outfits that simply stun with all the details. I will say it once again: beautiful!

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.

Walk That Walk. Eckhaus Latta SS21

I loved Eckhaus Latta‘s spring-summer 2021 collection for its honesty and rawness. Walking became, thanks to COVID, pretty much everyone’s primary outdoor activity these days. As a parallel to that, the show celebrated this fact. It was staged outdoors, underneath a section of New York’s FDR Drive where a long, straight jogging path provided a runway, and with a bare minimum of fuss: hair au naturel, model-applied makeup, no soundtrack, just an abbreviated collection and the train rumbling by now and then. “We wanted it to feel, like, no spectacle,Mike Eckhaus explained after the show. “Like the models could just be going out for a walk with their friends.” The clothes matched that easygoing manner. There were stylish sweats, of course, but also baggy jeans and knit suiting and gingham tops with the airiness of wind-borne kites. The most fitted looks were knit and the most tailored were done of featherweight nylon, the material often patchworked together in tonal color blocks. These were casual items, but every garment seemed to have been hand-worked, and that gave this collection a bit of emotional undertow; in a socially distanced era, it felt as though Eckhaus and Zoe Latta were communicating touch through their clothes. That was true of the collection’s ornate crochets, but it was also true of the hand-dyed jeans and the burnout florals. Smart, authentic, durable clothes for the new reality.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.