Dichotomies Of A Dancer. Erdem AW21

Erdem Moralioglu delivered a mesmerising collection. He is at heart a dramatist, forever living for theatrical moments. Conceived in the realm of ballet, his Erdem autumn-winter 2021 collection freeze-framed a dancer’s wardrobe between the stages of rehearsal and performance. “When I was working at the Royal Opera House, that was the moment I found so exciting: the dancers shifting around, criss-crossing, half-dressed in what they wear during the day and half-dressed in their costumes,” he said on a video call with Vogue, recalling Corybantic Games, the ballet he created costumes for in 2018. Incidentally, the contrast between a ballerina’s everyday dancewear and her ornate costumes served as a rather poetic illustration of our impending transition from domestic dressing to dressing up. The exquisiteness of feather-embroidered 1940s jackets, Swan Lake headpieces and plumed skirts, giant opera gowns daubed in night-time florals, and jewel-encrusted shirts came as no surprise. The gray ribbed knitwear fashioned into dramatic skirts that moved like pleats, into softly cinching cummerbunds, and body-conscious tops that had the elegance of eveningwear but the tactility of the comfort-wear of lockdown. With similar duality, he elevated ballet slippers onto stilted platforms that gave his silhouette an air of fetish. Perhaps that feeling was spurred by the narrative that underpinned his story: the relationship between Rudolf Nureyev and prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn, whose on- and off-stage wardrobe also informed proceedings. “The contrasts, the dichotomies of a dancer… that Hitchcockian self-possession and drive for perfection,” Moralioglu paused. “I find the psychology of it interesting.” Perfecting a look – a sculpted sleeve, a nipped-in waist, a little plumed hat, a pair of neat red slippers – seems shocking in our home-bound reality. It was pleasant to be reminded of that feeling.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

In Folklore We Trust. Chopova Lowena AW21

In London, the new-gen designers thrive. Emma Chopova and Laura Lowena, the design duo behind Chopova Lowena, have always fused traditional folklore with sportswear, and this season they keep on building their style vocabulary. For autumn/winter 2021, they put emphasis on the ‘uniform’. “We were looking at the tension and strictness of school uniforms, but then the freedom of the vigour, colour and nature of horse jockeys and their riding attire,” they say of the brand’s most “challenging” collection yet. The designers traditionally use deadstock material sourced from Bulgaria, and this season they’ve added in some new fabrics and techniques. “We’ve used an appliqué, which is more like the horse jockey shirts… graphic shapes.” Buttons, meanwhile, were sourced from the biggest English button factory remaining in Nottingham. Having sewn about “70 per cent of the collection”, while adapting to “making linings and patterns”, the pair is making resilience and adaptability a cornerstone of their rising, sustainability-forward brand. Also, love the voluminous, patchworked dresses with ruffled sleeves!

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

The Darker Side. Simone Rocha AW21

Simone Rocha‘s autumn-winter 2021 collection is brilliant – and it took us to the darker side of the designer’s off-kilter, romantic universe. Amidst the frenzy of the upcoming H&M collaboration (one of the best in years coming from the high street giant), the designer appears to have doubled down on the codes upon which she established her brand, with the themes that defined her early collections re-explored and elevated anew. Her debut collection, inspired by teenage rebellion and tucking tracksuits under her school uniform to go and smoke cigarettes in the alley near her house, set a blueprint for her world which has been expressly reasserted this season. Over a decade later and biker jackets and leathers appeared for the first time on her runway, in a manner that beautifully reflected the subversive femininity so key to her work; a distended, oversized knit worn with heavy brogues and satchel directly evocative of times spent in alleys. “I really wanted this collection to have a lot of clarity, a lot of identity,” she told Vogue. “To look at the codes which felt very me.” She continued: “I was working my femininity into a harder, more protective shell; working with fragile fabric which would explode out of it.” So, from beneath cropped leathers bloomed layers of tulle; pretty dresses harnessed to the body; heavy patent bovver boots laced with pearls. Some exceptionally fabricated 3D satin roses managed to maintain a somewhat imposing presence and, rendered in a waxed cotton khaki jacket, appeared almost utilitarian. “The petal of the roses and the spike of the thorn,” is how she described it – a sentiment which might sound trite were it not so expertly executed. “We all feel very kind of internal at the moment; I wanted to look after that fragility, but give it a harder shell. I like how, at the beginning of the collection things appear tight and closed, but throughout the collection, the woman blooms open until the leathers are just strapped on. The shell breaks down, but the tulle keeps its strength.” There’s melancholy, yet there’s plenty of hope – a cocktail of feelings we all might going through now, and Rocha captured that just perfectly with her pack of goddesses and fairies. It’s no revelation that Simone Rocha’s accessories are a standout. But this season they make you drool: porcelain cameos turned into earrings; crumpled leather rose bags; a new floral iteration of her classic chandelier earrings; thick-soled shoes with scalloped platforms. Love, love, love!

“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Cravings. Khaite AW21

Although it’s officially London Fashion Week, some brands from New York are showing just now. Cate Holstein‘s Khaite for autumn-winter 2021 was meant to be a love letter to long-gone, gritty New York of the 1970s – think Taxi Driver and Klute as a visual reference. The open-back dresses were clear nods to Jane Fonda’s character’s wardrobe in the latter. The collection was unveiled “phygitally”: last night, with the Manhattan skyline in the background, Holstein brought a small group of editors, buyers, and friends to Skyline Drive-In for what was likely their only “real” event of the season. Seated in intage cars, the projector rolled cheeky ’80s “advertisements” for Khaite products, a faux black-and-white movie trailer, and finally, the main event: a short film starring Paloma Elsesser, Soo Joo Park, Akon Adichol, Lulu Tenney, Tess McMillan, and several other models. The production might have stumbled on an actual plot (some of the most memorable scenes: Elsesser opening a Khaite tote full of graffiti bottles; others are stuffing cash into their thigh-high boots; a few girls smoke outside a bodega), and although it was visually satisfying, I just couldn’t find the balance between the film part and the clothes part (the hard-to-achieve golden ratio for any  ‘fashion-film’). The clothes hardly related to the mood of the film, while the uncharismatic look-book made them go even more plain. According to Holstein, the clothes borrowed less from the ’70s and ’80s and more from the 1920s: lace negligees, narrow jersey columns, giant faux fur chubbies. “I’ve always loved that Café Society moment in New York, but I was thinking more about how the ’20s were a response to the 1918 flu,” Holstein told Vogue. Holstein isn’t the only designer predicting a similar shift this year. “It wasn’t just about being comfortable, but about feeling comforted,” she added. “I think we will still want to be treated gently.” This was not a literal ‘roaring ’20s collection’ – it was rather reverential to Khaite itself. Holstein doesn’t do mood boards or themes; she insists every collection is simply a reflection of what she’s craving. Maybe keeping it that way, image-wise, would work better for the collection in overall? The “cravings list” includes plush cashmere knits, boxy leather jackets, sharp tailoring, and romantic cotton dresses. Newness comes in the items she’s personally missing, like the down puffers, which were the collection’s big surprise. She bought her first puffer last year and likely saw an opportunity for a better, ultra-luxe version. Her glossy red and black coats were extra-stuffed and coated in lacquered leather; a cropped camel version came in 100% cashmere. In other words: definitely not coats for graffitiing or smashing windows, but for chic, socially-distanced walks.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

All About The Silhouette. Roksanda AW21

Roksanda is another London-based brand that I haven’t mentioned for a while on my site. This might be the biggest advantage of slower, extended fashion months – going through more shows, without a bigger rush. The autumn-winter 2021 collection coming from Roksanda Ilincic is fabulous. The new season offering was presented today in two formats: a look-book and video. Nothing shocking here, as it’s the new showing standard in COVID times. But the video part was especially done well, and it elevated the garments in a beautiful, considered way. Listening to Vanessa Redgrave softly recite William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73 is without a doubt the most soothing thing you’ll hear today. Watch her gaze out the window of her daughter Joely Richardson’s countryside home as her granddaughter Daisy Bevan brings the family’s winter garden back to life via voluminous ruffle and bow-adorned gowns in shades of honeycomb, vermillion, meadow blush, sienna and celadon, and you’ll start plotting your escape from the city. In a short yet wonderfully transportive insight into the lives of three generations of incredible women, Roksanda communicates fashion’s inextricable link to familial bonds in all their fragility, strength and tenderness. The new season pieces are all about entrance-making silhouettes, which are not only bold, but comfortable – not your usual pairing. Intricate pintucks help to create dramatic volume on dresses that cocoon their wearers, while tailoring – a big focus for the brand this season – is made as impactful as the dresses via bold colour blocking and modular sleeves that can be worn open, draped or closed. Additionally, Ilincic’s sensual illustrations worked as subtle, well-balanced prints that contributed to this very personal collection.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.