The most eagerly anticipated shows of the second day of London Fashion Week highlighted two very different approaches to design: craft versus concept. The two aren’t mutually exclusive of course, and indeed, craft without a driving concept can become, well, just clothes, and concept without craft? Let’s see.
Firmly in the conceptual corner, JW Anderson – Jonathan to his friends – has been hailed as the new Christopher Kane, and for good reason. Like Kane, Anderson has had a meteoric rise, both have been handpicked by Donatella Versace to design her Versus range, and both have been feted by big luxury groups; Kering bought a 51 per cent stake of Kane’s brand in January, and rival LVMH is rumoured to be seeking a deal with Mr Anderson. But judging by the outing from Anderson, that’s where the similarities end.
The show notes for Anderson’s big moment were a dead give away to the somewhat challenging concept that was to come. This season Anderson’s woman, in his own words, was “sliced and diced” and “always slightly broken”; perhaps not what most women have at the top of their wish list for next summer. Cue sheer dresses elasticated to chop up the body in a variety of unflattering ways, pleated leather bunched into hobbling skirts – paired with breast-revealing squares of cellophane-like organza – and ruched flesh-coloured crepe dresses that conjured up the after effects of dramatic weight loss, all sent to the grind of an industrial soundtrack.
“I hate the way fashion is like a photocopy of everything else,” Mr Anderson said in the backstage scrum. “I have to be different. It has to be a challenge.” It certainly was.
As if to magically highlight the opposing approach, designer Paula Gerbase’s 1205 label made its fashion week debut directly after Anderson’s. “I wanted to explore the craft of tailoring in more interesting ways,” said the Savile Row-trained Gerbase of her beautifully cut layers of shirting fabrics and masculine inspired suiting. “I’ve always loved comfort and ease. It’s more modern. I don’t want to restrict women, I want them to move.”
During the day, a mix of very different designers played the craft card to equally arresting effect. Some even had a concept to match.
Hong Kong-born, Ireland-based John Rocha was in full romantic mode with bell-shaped embroidered dresses, origami rose appliqués, raw edged tweeds, spaghetti twists of organza and floor length layers of sheer white chiffon. “It was a celebration of craftsmanship. There was so much handwork in every dress,” he said of the intricate floral embroideries and looping twists of fabric. “Each piece took about four weeks to make. The last white dress in tubes of organza took six weeks.”
Scottish-born Holly Fulton has her roots in textile design – and it showed. She overlaid denim with appliqués to create richly patterned dresses, printed silks in soft florals to make easy pyjamas suits and even-hand cut cork – yes, cork – into cute A-line skirts, all with a Seventies twist. And her concept? “A cool woman in 1970s New York stopping off to buy noodles on her way to Studio 54,” she said with a wink.
Julien Macdonald is a master showman – it’s no coincidence he is appearing as a contestant on television show Strictly Come Dancing this season – but what is often overlooked is the intricate work behind his often flash, brash designs. “I outsource work to India and China, as well as artisans here in the UK,” he said of his Moroccan-inspired collection conceived before his ballroom dancing stint was confirmed. As if that would have changed anything. The look, as usual, was the closest thing you can get to being naked and covered in glitter and still be wearing clothes. And yes, he did sew many of the crystals on himself. Some at 4am in his kitchen the night before.
Henry Holland also loves a show – most often one played out by his celebrity friends on the front row. This season he bagged star prize One Direction’s Harry Styles, someone whose celebrity shine distracted from the actual catwalk happening and turned grown editors in to slack-jawed groupies jostling for an Instagram trophy. And the clothes? A cute mix of cinched in floral dresses, mismatched gingham separates and tattoo heart-print slips inspired by Mexican girls in Los Angeles.
Sister by Sibling is a London label that likewise plays on its cool party crowd connections, but also manages to come up with some surprisingly commercial pieces in the process. Early 1960s-inspired gingham pencil skirts, sweater dresses and crochet mini skirt suits jostled with flower appliqué cardigans, bra tops and leopard print to an ‘80s rockabilly soundtrack from The Cramps to riotous effect.
Backstage Sibling’s Joe Bates asked, “Did it make you happy?” Conceptually, no question at all.