London Fashion Week S/S 2023 is a season like no other. Arriving in a period of national mourning after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, designers have had to grapple with the unique challenges of presenting their collections against an unprecedented moment in modern British history. As such, the British Fashion Council cancelled and postponed all events outside of the core number of runway shows and presentations – parties, launches, and the like – while attempting to reschedule those designers set to show on Monday, which was a day of pause in light of the Queen’s funeral and coinciding public holiday.
Nonetheless, the show has gone on, with designers citing the Queen’s own steadfast resolve as inspiration for a celebration of London’s diversity of creative talent (particularly those emerging into the spotlight as brands and businesses). Indeed, the Queen attended London Fashion Week in 2018, presenting Richard Quinn with the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design, which has been presented to rising fashion talent in the time since.
Here, in an ongoing report, Wallpaper* reports from a historical London Fashion Week, as it happens.
The best of London Fashion Week S/S 2023
Sunday 19 September
Christopher Kane’s S/S 2023 collection was held in the vast circular hall of Camden’s Roundhouse, marking the designer’s much-awaited return to the London Fashion Week runway. If not a greatest hits, exactly, Kane was certainly revisiting old fixations – swathes of wipe-clean clear plastic encased dresses, sharply sliced panels of lace, dizzy floral prints and shimmering crystals all provided reminiscences of the designer’s previous work. This season, Kane refracted these through an exploration of the body – not just the exterior, but its interior, too, laying illustrations of body parts sliced in half (the muscle and bone of a leg, for example) across slip and sheath dresses, or crafting bustier tops in clear plastic which recalled the shape of the rib cage. It resulted in a collection both unsettling and seductive, ‘a celebration of the beauty and complexity of the human body’, made to ‘empower and thrill’.
There was undeniable emotional weight to Erdem Moralioglu’s latest collection, which was presented on the eve of the Queen’s funeral on the covered colonnade that runs along the British Museum’s grand exterior. ‘Grief is the price we pay for love’, began the collection’s notes, a quote from the late monarch on the interplay of mourning and memory. Aptly, the show began with a model in a delicate black veil and black suit beneath, intricately embroidered with flowers, a motif that continued throughout. Moralioglu said the collection was about the restoration of art – another form of remembrance – intrigued by the ‘forensic passion’ of such work, which he noted could take up to 20 years to complete for just a single piece of artwork (he observed the process himself, behind the scenes at the British Museum, Tate, the V&A and the National Gallery). Here, that intricacy figured in the rich embroidery, embellishment and etched prints that spanned the collection, while silhouettes lingered between past and present – like masterpieces restored, memories observed in new light.
Though men have been adopting various pieces from Simone Rocha’s womenswear collections into their own wardrobes since the brand’s inception, S/S 2023 saw the introduction of menswear proper, a departure for the label that had been announced earlier in the week. Presented in the grand surrounds of London’s Old Bailey, the city’s Central Criminal Court, these menswear looks – centring on riffs on the bomber jacket and parachute-strap fastenings – arrived as part of wider collection that the designer said was about ‘harnesssing a feeling’, an exploration ‘fragility, remorse, anger and nature’. The relative toughness of the menswear pieces infiltrated the women’s collection too, with vast bomber jackets worn beneath bouncing tulle veils, harness straps across romantic frilled dresses and skirts, and pailette flowers reimagined in mourner’s black. It spoke to the Irish designer’s unique command of juxtaposition – between fragility and strength, romance and melancholy – for a collection which captured a feeling of barely restrained emotion. As Rocha herself took to the runway for her finale bow, she held back tears.
South Korean designer Rejina Pyo is attuned to spaces that make for a memorable fashion show – on one previous occasion, models walked poolside at Zaha Hadid’s monumental London Aquatics Centre (replete with Olympic divers in action). This season, it was to new heights as Pyo held her S/S 2023 show on the 28th floor of Hylo, a recently opened east London skyscraper. The building’s corporate air – and magnificent views of the city beyond – set the stage for a collection that the designer said was about ‘love and work’ (originally derived from a quote by Leo Tolstoy, ‘one can live magnificently in this world if one knows how to work and how to love’). In practice, this meant a continuation of Pyo’s broad approach, catering to the various necessities and whims of a contemporary woman’s wardrobe – from outsized tailoring and elegant trench coats to deconstructed denim, diaphanous strappy dresses, and whimsical macramé accessories, which lent the collection a feeling of human touch and craft.
2021 LVMH Prize winner Nensi Dojaka continued her ascent this season with an evolved collection which riffed on the label’s hallmarks – delicate straps, lingerie-inspired elements, intricate hosiery – while expanding in fresh directions. The mood was defiantly sensual (no easy feat at 10am on a Sunday morning), with the designer noting that the collection had begun with a gifted book of Jean-Paul Goude photographs, as well as her ‘eternal inspiration’, the flower. Such reference points suggested a juxtaposition between boldness and romance, notable in the new fabrics for the season, from lace, which delicately trimmed signature graphic black mini dresses, to an array of fluid, sheer and metallic fabrics (one particular silver slip dress appeared molten in movement). Two-tone denim was also introduced for S/S 2023, while a series of blazers – broad-shouldered, cinched at the waist, with in-set lingerie – was perhaps the most convincing tailoring proposition from the Albanian designer yet. The show ended with three contemporary ball gowns in sheer fabric – one adorned with iridescent paillettes that shimmered like scales – no doubt set to win Dojaka a legion of new high-profile fans, like American model and author Emily Ratajkowski, who closed the show.
Saturday 18 September
Recent seasons have seen designer Jonathan Anderson – at both his eponymous label and as creative director of Loewe – consider the way in which we have become one with our digital devices, and how that has shifted our perception of the world. In the various collections, this has resulted in increasingly surreal moments, whereby what Anderson calls ‘high-definition’ silhouettes meet an assemblage of objects, often fused onto the garment in unexpected ways (this might be motorcycle handlebars or a Perspex balloon; the result is something akin to scrolling a social media feed while momentarily glancing between the phone and the real world beyond).
With the show held in a gaming arcade and casino in Soho next door to the label’s London store, Anderson once again considered this notion of alternative reality (the giddy neon arcade screens and perpetual twilight of the setting proved apt). ‘Are we falling into our screens, becoming our phones?’ Anderson considered after the show, noting the ‘layers and layers’ of the ways we interact with technology every day. It gave the collection a down-the-rabbit-hole effect: palm tree and dolphin prints were derived from stock images akin the those found on screensavers, garments were dotted with computer keys, dresses took on the appearance of giant bags of goldfish, like those won at a funfair (indeed, Anderson noted that ‘size matters’, with a play of proportion explored throughout – all the way down to a tiny version of his ‘Bumper’ bag). A giant shiny silver orb, fashioned as a dress, was perhaps the collection’s nexus – as the gathered audience held up their phones to capture the moment, our disembodied faces were reflected back at us, warped. What better metaphor for the endless scroll of social media than that?
Steven Stokey-Daley held his latest show amid a constructed English country garden in the St Pancras Renaissance hotel, a setting which would become a stage for a short theatrical performance at the end of the presentation, whereby actors read lines from the correspondences of Vita Sackville-West and Violet Trefusis sent in the early 20th century. Stokey-Daley said he drew inspiration from the women’s loving relationship – which caused scandal at the time – for a collection that once again saw the designer explore gender and sexuality against the backdrop of the British class system (both Sackville-West and Trefusis were part of the Bloomsbury Group, a primarily aristocratic artistic and intellectual movement). ‘In their letters, there’s a sketch of Vita and Violet arm-in-arm, walking around the south of France. They’re all in black, Vita in a tuxedo, and it’s this moment of connection when the tone of their letters is increasingly sad, when they cannot be with one another,’ the designer said. ‘The emotion of that moment fills this whole collection.’ As such, Stokey-Daley’s clothing riffed on hallmarks of British dress (at times swapped across genders), while motifs inspired by the garden, a particular fascination of Sackville-West, who alongside artistic endeavours wrote a column on gardening for The Observer, ran throughout.
Staged in the bright main hall of Marylebone’s Seymour Leisure Centre, Molly Goddard’s colourful outing for S/S 2023 continued to expand and refine her vision for the eponymous label. A mood of Americana lingered over the first half of the collection in riffs on the T-shirt (one elongated T-shirt dress included the designer’s signature ruffles rendered in jersey), 1950s polka dots, printed denim and kitschy wallpaper motifs, as well as the footwear, a series of high-colour cowboy boots and matching pointed pumps. But it was the kaleidoscopic palette that proved the collection’s energising force: neon pinks, greens and yellows met shades of red, purple, and navy in a brilliant mash-up of colour and print. ‘I wanted the staging of the show to feel like a break from relentless scrolling,’ Goddard said of the collection, which also included a series of menswear and bridal looks. ‘The experience of watching in person is different to seeing it online – slower, messier, more spacious.’
Friday 17 September
There was an undeniable buzz surrounding Chopova Lowena’s debut runway show – their collections have previously been presented in lookbooks or one-off printed publications – in part down to the number of people throughout the day who could be spotted wearing the duo’s distinct looks (notably, the colourful pleated kilts with thick leather waistbands that have now become synonymous with the brand). Shown at Bayswater’s Porchester Hall and modelled by a communal gathering of friends and peers, the collection saw Emma Chopova and Laura Lowena-Irons look once again towards the former’s Bulgarian roots; it collided the spectacle of summer Rose Queen festivals in the country’s central Rose Valley with sporty lacrosse wear (since the brand’s inception, such juxtapositions between centuries-old costume and craft and colourful 1980s sportswear have been a bedrock of the pair’s work). Chopova and Lowena-Irons noted that they wanted to encapsulate the sport’s feeling of ‘aggression’ – the soundtrack was overlaid with the virile shouts of lacrosse players who had been mic’d up on the practice field – emerging in a feeling of teenage rebellion that ran throughout in profusions of chains and charms, scrawled illustrations, chunky footwear and the label’s already signature tough leather belts, carabiner fastenings and pleated minis. A contrasting sweetness – nodding to the tradition of the Rose Queen – emerged in ruched rose motifs that bloomed from the back of jackets and dresses, bow fastenings and macramé jewellery. ‘Loveliness extreme’, read an extract from Gertrude Stein’s 1913 poem ‘Sacred Emily’ on the accompanying press release, an apt description for the compelling contradictions at the heart of Chopova Lowena, a brand that has cemented itself at the vanguard of emerging British design.
This season, Fashion East began with a serene presentation by Irish designer Michael Stewart, whose label Standing Ground showed its inaugural collection as part of the talent incubator. Comprising a series of striking column gowns sensitively draped on the models’ bodies – some wrapped with padded twists of fabric, or adorned with looping elements of metalwork – the collection mined the monolithic motifs of ancient cultures, from Ireland’s Newgrange, a prehistoric tomb, to Ur, a city-state in Mesopotamia (for example, the designer noted that padded waistbands evoked the ‘ringed recesses’ of ancient burial grounds, while other shapes were drawn from neolithic carvings). Rendered with an impeccable eye for proportion and form, it was a convincing – and polished – opening act from the designer, who graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2017.
Jamaica-born Jawara Alleyne – the only returning designer this season – playfully noted that his S/S 2023 collection began with imagining ‘a modern-day yacht crashing into a pirate ship’ (the figure of the pirate has been a fixation for the designer throughout his career so far). Jersey dresses hung from the body, fastened with safety pins, sheer billowing shirts were worn over torn singlets, and tailored jackets were sliced away at the sleeves. He called it ‘The New World’, noting he wanted to explore the way in which Caribbean history is often only taught from the arrival of European voyagers in the 15th century. ‘It got me thinking about what “The New World” means to me,’ he said. ‘How do you build an identity when fragments of yourself have been told to you in ways you have to decipher?’
Karoline Vitto is an alumnus of Central Saint Martins who originally comes from Brazil (‘Summer in January’, the title of the collection, was a nod to her home country). Vitto’s work is defined by the creation of garments for a gamut of body types that are usually underrepresented in fashion, born from the freedom she found in moving to London to pursue fashion after feeling ‘hyperconscious’ of revealing her body growing up on the beaches of Brazil. Here, this liberated approach was explored in a series of jersey garments that twisted and looped around the body, delighting in – as the notes described – ‘the bulge of an armpit, a squish of hip fat, or the curve of a back roll’. Presented on a group of models who ranged from a size ten to size 20, it forms part of a growing movement to expand the historically narrow confines of designer fashion.
Thursday 15 SeptemberHarris Reed
Central Saint Martins alumnus Harris Reed – who has risen to swift fame with endorsement from a slew of celebrity fans, most notably Harry Styles – is not a designer to shy away from spectacle. For his first official runway show on Thursday evening, guests gathered at London’s Dutch Hall, a renovated church in the city of London, for an intimate (but no less theatrical) presentation soundtracked by a live performance from current Queen frontman Adam Lambert. Inspired by the feminine pomp of a debutante ball, models slowly moved through the space in the collection’s 12 looks, which riffed on tropes of corsetry, crinolines and embellishment, albeit imagined through his liberated lens (the designer calls himself a ‘fluid’ designer, with clothing that traverses and defies gender binaries). Proportions here were blown up in a playful manner – models peered through giant taffeta circles of fabric, while Reed’s typically outré millinery, made in collaboration with Vivienne Lake, levitated above model’s heads – though it was a relatively simple ballerina-inspired bridal gown that was perhaps the collection’s most polished look. Reed called the collection an ode to ‘collective effort, community and collaboration’, presented with a typically dramatic flourish – an assertion, the designer noted in an Instagram post shared before the event, that for London’s young designers the show must go on.
Daniel W Fletcher
As one of the several designers whose shows were cancelled on Monday in light of the public holiday for the Queen’s funeral, Daniel W Fletcher found himself as London Fashion Week’s opening act – a somewhat tricky proposition, with little opportunity to sense-check the way the week’s other participants would respond to the unexpected backdrop. Fletcher chose a respectful tone, beginning proceedings with a minute’s silence, before an opening all-black look replete with mourning armband (his collection notes called this addition ‘a solemn tribute to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’ and he noted afterwards his recognition of the importance of allowing for a moment of national grief). What followed was a more expansive exploration of British ceremonial garb, in what he called a ‘love letter to London’, from riffs on the military parade jacket – here reimagined in clean white and black, with minimal embellishment – to Prince of Wales checks, kilts, corsets and rowing blazers. The designer said he imagined these pieces at the intersection of heritage and rebellion, noting how such garments had been adopted and subverted by countercultural movements from Swinging London to punk (of the latter, delicate studs were dotted throughout, including across his first official womenswear looks). Funnelled through an increasingly refined aesthetic – indeed, Fletcher revisited and perfected pieces from earlier in his still-young career – it was a confident, considered outing that stood up to a challenging task.
Stay tuned for more Wallpaper* coverage from London Fashion Week S/S 2023
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Jack Moss is the Fashion Features Editor at Wallpaper*. Having previously held roles at 10, 10 Men and AnOther magazines, he joined the team in 2022. His work has a particular focus on the moments where fashion and style intersect with other creative disciplines – among them art and design – as well as championing a new generation of international talent and profiling the industry’s leading figures and brands.
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