In a double celebration (commemorating 500 years since the publication of Thomas More’s Utopia and the ongoing London Fashion Week), Somerset House has been transformed into a cornucopia of fashion offerings with a design twist for the International Fashion Showcase. 

Organised by the British Council in partnership with a number of embassies from around the world, the event gives emerging designers the opportunity to showcase their work on an international stage. The Portuguese offering in particular caught our eye, for its innovative use of material and space. 

Brutalist architecture and the work of American artist Tony Smith were clear influences for set designer Miguel Bento, his monolithic cork structures seeming futuristic and strangely primal all at once, weaving across the room to showcase the fashion designs of Estelita Mendonça, HIBU, UNT, KLAR and Pedro Neto (as curated by Miguel Flor). 

‘We wanted to give the spectator a different view on conventional cork,’ explains Bento, ‘to take it away from the wine bottles and the tree as soft organic material and present it as if we had cut it from blocks of solid material, like marble or stone and put it together like a jigsaw puzzle, creating a big architectural sculpture piece that you could walk through.’

The vast amounts of cork were provided by Amorim Cork, another proud Portuguese brand. The eco-friendly material was important as a material, but also on a symbolic level – the theme of the IFS being ‘Utopia’ after all. 

‘Our approach [to 'Utopia'] is in the material itself,’ says Bento. ‘Most of the energy used to produce it is taken from the waste collected at factories; the actual cork dust is wiped from the floors and used to power the steamers which clean the cork before it can be used, so in fact there is no waste.’