LONDON — London Fashion Week is still going ahead despite the national mourning over Queen Elizabeth II, who died on September 8 at the age of 96.
The shock caused by her death has led to many designers canceling or rescheduling their shows, including Burberry, Raf Simons and Roksanda.
“We ask that designers respect the mood of the nation and the period of national mourning by considering the timing of their image release,” said a statement from the British Fashion Council, which has approved the continuation of shows and presentations.
Before the Queen’s death, this was set to be one of London’s most vibrant seasons yet with big names returning to stage shows. While many of these have postponed their shows, London is still doing what it does best: producing a number of young, up-and-coming designers worth noting.
Here, WWD highlights four promising newcomers making their London Fashion Week debut.
Canadian-Chinese designer Susan Fang, who was shortlisted in the 2019 edition of the LVMH Prize, achieved enviable success in China during the pandemic.
She took home top prizes at the inaugural Yu Awards and Lane Crawford’s Creative Callout and unlocked collaborations with Zara and smartphone maker Oppo. She has also appeared in Piaget’s global campaign alongside Wendy Yu, and staged dreamy fashion shows during Shanghai Fashion Week that prompted influencer Susie Bubbe to praise her from the other side of Eurasia.
Now, as China tightens its COVID-19 rules, the Central Saint Martins alumna, known for cute beaded bags and candy floss-like dresses, is looking to make it big on the global stage.
“For the past two years, we have focused a lot on China because many of our international retailers had to close their brick-and-mortar stores during lockdowns. But in China, all the stores were booming, and because they weren’t going overseas, we got a lot of orders. Not just from accessories; our clothes now take up 70 percent of sales, previously it was the other way around, she said.
With her London Fashion Week debut, Fang hopes international buyers, who would come to Shanghai to see her shows before the pandemic, will place orders again.
On Tuesday, she will take over the Marshall Street swimming pool in central London to present the Spring 2023 collection at 1pm
“This new collection really embraces love and peace. There are many feelings of limitation and anger. I hope this strong feeling can be used for love and that sometimes it is much more difficult to let go of our aggression and seek harmony in upsetting times, said Fang.
Models will walk on pontoons, surrounded by giant inflated flower bomb installations covered in water marble patterns Fang and her mother developed together in Shanghai, where she was stuck for more than two and a half years. Thanks to her Canadian passport, she was able to return this summer after the two-month blockade in Shanghai to prepare for the show.
The collection will feature new looks in psychedelic marble prints, which she whittled down from over hundreds she made to a dozen, and a range of 3D-printed bags, which have already gone viral on social media after influencer Vanessa Hong wore one during New York Fashion Week.
Fang said the 3D bags are less time-consuming and labor-intensive compared to the beaded ones, although some of them come with intricate floral decorations and a glowing gradient color, both difficult to achieve with 3D printers, it allowed her team to focus on more artisan products for the runway, and her rapidly growing private clientele.
Buyers rarely touch these pieces because of high prices, but Fang said special orders have been coming in from all over the world since launching her own e-commerce site right after the start of COVID-19.
This new source of income secured her business and gave her first-hand insight into her community.
“You know from the address that the customer has a large income. What they want to order is very different from what the stores order. They would choose the transparent dresses with pearls, or all hand embroidered dresses.
– We have become very fast [on fulfilling these orders] because the team has been there for a long time. We will send it out within two weeks and it will reach them in three weeks,” she added.
The designer plans to stay in London until November. After that, she plans to reunite with her family in China and celebrate her birthday there.
London-based Irish designer Sinéad O’Dwyer has already carved out a niche in popular culture. Her delicate and subversive take on the body and sex has been worn by the likes of Lara Stone, Paloma Elsesser, Björk, Arca and Precious Lee, as well as being featured on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” winner Aquaria on season 10 of the reality competition show.
The stakes are high for O’Dwyer as she makes her runway debut at London Fashion Week. She has been a champion of body diversity by clearly presenting her collections on all types, and she does so unabashedly without sticking to any industry trends.
She dedicates her physical show to her mother, who is a cellist. “I’m hugely inspired by classical musicians this season,” said O’Dwyer, adding that she even “took inspiration from a photo of myself as a young teenager. I also played the cello and have been reflecting on that time period by look closely at the silhouette I wore in the photographs along with orchestral garments.”
She will include music from Cosha, an Irish singer-songwriter; Irish-raised artist Omar O’Reilly, who goes by the alias Witch Trials, and her mother, Adele O’Dwyer.
O’Dwyer’s designs do not shy away from a multitude of colors; she has always preferred pastels and strong light shades. This season, she introduces two naturally colored shades – one in stone-lilac and the other in a blue-grey.
“We worked with natural color specialist Cavan McPherson,” she said, explaining that she uses new combinations such as black and red; brown and blue, and purple with red.
She found a mill in Italy to source all organic cotton, cotton-silk blend and linen fabrics. The brand uses natural fibers for all tailoring and shirting; Econyl for swimwear. For the first time, she is introducing knitwear made from mohair, knitwear and cotton, also sourced from Italy.
Although O’Dwyer has found her footing with the popular girls on social media, her ambitions are to be more “visible as a brand, to gain a new audience, buyers, and have an opportunity to show our clothes on many different bodies in motion.”
The most rewarding part of planning a show for O’Dwyer has been working with her fit model, Jade, who she gives “incredible energy and insight into what she likes to wear and how things feel. She makes everything come alive.”
Fashion designer Harikrishnan Keezhathil Surendran Pillai, who goes by the name Harri with his menswear namesake, is still a little nervous about his London Fashion Week solo debut on Friday afternoon at the Newgen presentation space at the Old Selfridges Hotel.
Since presenting his work at the London College of Fashion MA Fashion graduation show in 2019, he has gone on a rollercoaster ride to get to where he is today.
He was forced to leave the UK and return to India after graduation. He worked in retail for a year to support himself during the pandemic, while applying for the Exceptional Fashion Talent Visa, now rebranded as part of the UK Global Talent Visa. Last September he finally moved back to London and started working on a new collection from his one-bed flat in Woolwich, London.
Meanwhile, his signature inflatable latex pants and pearl strips, which quickly went viral on social media after the graduate show, continue to appear on fashion magazine covers. Through the APOC store, an online marketplace that connects new talent directly with consumers, he was also able to sell a significant amount of his designs on a made-to-order basis, which did well enough to encourage him to conceive a new collection.
“I thought I’d never sell those rubber pants, but yeah, people love it.” said the designer during a Zoom call.
He admitted he was shocked it was shortlisted for the British Fashion Council’s talent support program Newgen.
“I never thought I would get it. I just brought a very experimental graduate collection, which was not a commercial collection. Yes, there was a commercial side to it. But I never got the time to dive in and do it properly, he said.
Harri revealed that the initial idea for his collection was how he envisioned his pug Kai, named after favorite bodybuilder Kai Greene, seeing the world around him. And then he extended that thought to how people will perceive each other.
For the presentation, the designer, who competed as a professional bodybuilder in the past, works with French artist Pierre-Alexandre Fillaire and British latex manufacturer Supatex on a performance that best exemplifies the drastic contrast in body proportions his designs bring out.
“This time we’re exploring performance mainly because we’re trying to see how a performer will react to my structure and the world I’m creating,” he added.
He has also prepared some more market-friendly items in the line sheet, such as printed and textured shirts and pants that carry elements of his visual identity.
“I want to offer a more accessible reinterpretation, not only from a financial point of view. I don’t think many would be brave enough, myself included, to wear my pants. But they still appreciate the craftsmanship and the pictures, he said.
London-based designer Abigail Ajobi started her luxury streetwear label at the height of lockdown after graduating from the London College of Fashion and previously studying at Central Saint Martins.
Ajobi debuted at London Fashion Week last February with a collection based on young love, specifically the story of her parents. Her second presentation is a sequel to that.
“It is inspired by the love story of my parents, a young couple from two different worlds who met on a flight between Lagos and London,” Ajobi said.
This is Ajobi’s love letter to her parents. “My biggest example of love has been from my parents,” she said, adding that “making not one but two consecutive collections about them is my way of thanking them for teaching me to love.”
For her new collection, she scanned through family photo albums to find fabric samples and colors reminiscent of the era. Ajobi wants to celebrate her cultural identity in a modern way by infusing her own “urban London culture” with one of her parents.
She sampled shades of rich blues and greens from the photographs and has used a love letter written by her father to her mother as a print which has been reproduced on Nigerian denim. The second print she used was a portrait of her parents decorated with passport stamps, which she called the international love print.
A majority of Ajobi’s fabrics are sourced from Nigeria including leather. She uses deadstock fabrics on limited quantities of her pieces to give them an individuality.
Sustainability for the young designer goes beyond being green – she donates a percentage of profits to a charity related to the collection. This season, she has chosen the Nigerian-based charity Keeping It Real Foundation, which works to support the lives of “vulnerable children, youth, the disabled, prison inmates, women and communities”.
She is bringing her collection to Lagos Fashion Week in October. Ajobi’s autumn 2022 collection is now stocked at Selfridges with the support of Stavros Karelis, founder of Machine-A, and Bosse Myhr, director of womenswear and menswear at the luxury department store.