Leah Dolan, CNN
While London Fashion Week has been no stranger to the influence of weighty external forces in recent years – including Brexit and the global Covid-19 pandemic – this season’s spring-summer 2023 shows once again took place in an extraordinary setting.
After the death of Queen Elizabeth II, much of the schedule got scrambled – particularly around her state funeral, which took place on September 19. Shows and events scheduled for that day have either been postponed or cancelled. Burberry – a Royal Warrant Holder and one of the UK tentpole labels on the calendar – was the first brand to announce it would not be hosting its show (which was later followed by a postponed date). Celebrated Belgian designer Raf Simons also issued a statement for his much-anticipated debut in London with his eponymous brand, confirming his show would not go ahead as planned.
Ahead of opening day, British Fashion Council chief executive Caroline Rush told CNN in a phone interview that she “absolutely” understands why brands are changing their plans.
Still, the industry quickly rallied around many younger, up-and-coming brands and designers for whom disruption could be critical.
“London has always been known as the global capital of creativity. It’s where we have more emerging and independent businesses than any other fashion capital,” said Rush. “I think the sense of community that these designers exude has come over the past few years and we’ve seen it now, even in this time of adversity following the death of the Queen.”
Harris Reed, who was unveiled just this week as the new creative director at French fashion house Nina Ricci, is a young designer who has managed to thrive against the odds. After graduating from Central Saint Martins during the height of the global pandemic, Reed initially relied heavily on social media to generate interest in his designs. It led to Harry Styles wearing one of his pieces (a suit jacket and crinoline suit) on the cover of American Vogue in December 2020 and Reed dressing supermodel Iman for the 2021 Met Gala.
On September 12, he was one of the first designers to announce that his spring-summer 2023 show would take place – posting on Instagram the importance of “being there for small brands in London this week”.
Ahead of the event, Reed’s Instagram Stories teased snippets of late-night runway preparations, emphasizing the often unglamorous and grueling reality of staging a show. On Thursday night, in a renovated 16th-century church in the City of London, Reed set the tone for London Fashion Week with a presentation that included a moving live performance by Adam Lambert and a collection steeped in elegance and sculptural artistry.
And although the events came at a time of national mourning, there was much to celebrate. Simone Rocha unveiled her first menswear collection, while JW Anderson returned to the London schedule for the first time since 2020. Consecutive LVMH award winners Nensi Dojaka and SS Daley were also among the top emerging talent representatives.
Turkish-British designer Dilara Findikoglu went viral for her silent catwalk show on Saturday, which featured a selection of vampiric, Victorian-inspired looks (some modeled by Amelia Gray, influencer and daughter of reality star Real Housewives of Beverly Hills) , Lisa Rina). And at Susan Fang, models even walked on water — thanks to a floating runway built on the surface of an indoor swimming pool.
Read on for the highlights of London Fashion Week.
A week full of honors
Designers paying respect to the passing of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch have done so in a variety of ways. For smaller labels unable to alter the majority of their physical collections, music (or lack thereof) often became a form of eulogy. Adam Lambert sang a rendition of Queen’s “Who Wants to Live Forever?” at Reed’s show, while Michael Halpern opted for silence during his collection’s opening look – a tribute to the late Queen. This fashion-forward tribute was a billowing sky-blue cape draped over a turquoise dress and headscarf, inspired by an outfit the Queen wore in 1957 when she attended the opera with former French President René Coty.
“We wanted to do something that felt really respectful,” Halpern told CNN in his studio before the show. “No music, no fancy lights, no nothing. Just a really beautiful, concise and humble walk with a girl on the catwalk at the beginning of the show.”
“She was wearing this really beautiful blue dress, and that’s exactly the color of[first sight],” he added.
During the finale of Dojaka’s show, the models each carried a sprig of lily of the valley – reportedly a favorite flower of Queen Elizabeth II, and one featured in her coronation bouquet in 1953. Christopher Kane, who is returning to the schedule for the first time, has created a gray sweatshirt and skirt look since before the pandemic, which the show notes say hints at the last official photo of the former monarch.
Perhaps the most comprehensive tribute, however, came courtesy of Richard Quinn. His fashion career is inseparable from the monarch who – after presenting him with the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design in 2018 – sat front row at his Autumn Winter 2018 show. Quinn was quickly cemented as one of the country’s top talents, and in honor of his royal supporter, he opened his show this season with a funeral procession of 22 all-black looks – including long crystal-encrusted veils, jeweled crowns and a black wide-hat with a brim reminiscent of the Queen’s style.
As the models left, a melancholy video montage of the monarch as a young child and wife played on hanging screens: alternating glimpses of the laughing Queen off duty, at her wedding to Prince Philip and, of course, footage from Monday’s state funeral flashed by. The entire collection was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth II, “who, along with so many others, touched him with her grace and kindness,” according to the show notes.
The female gaze
Rocha – a renegade romantic whose subversive and often gothic take on femininity has garnered her many accolades including the prestigious British Womenswear Designer Award in 2016 – made her debut in menswear this season with a gender-defying collection. In the frescoed halls of London’s Old Bailey, the Irish-British designer offered a new interpretation of male clothing with tutus, lace-up ballet flats and backpacks decorated with bows. Khaki trench coats were adorned with red and green crystals arranged in poppies, while chunky belt chains (typical of late-night emo fashion) contrasted with delicate ruffles.
Molly Goddard, another women’s fashion pivot, similarly extended her signature frothy ruffles to the male population. Known for her candy-hued, sheer tulle creations, Goddard debuted her men’s 2020 collection with a largely conservative collection of tartan suiting and Fair Isle cardigans. On Saturday, she took it up a notch with tees, shirts and suit jackets trimmed with her signature ruffles. Wearing a pinstripe kilt throughout, she went even further into the men’s rock movement.
Everywhere in the spring-summer 2023 program, the collections were full of female energy. Chinese designer Yuhan Wang took inspiration from female pilots as she reinvented flight uniforms and helmets with floral prints and ethereal fabrics like silk organza. For Halpern, his mother’s enduring glamor—who continued to throw lavish house parties and dress appropriately for a New York socialite even after the family moved upstate—influenced his spring-summer designs. Rejina Pyo presented this season on the 28th floor of a London skyscraper with a range of office-ready cuts, evening dresses and walking mules – all set against a spoken soundscape that highlighted the beauty of working women.
Brazilian designer Karoline Vitto’s collection of cut-out mini dresses and edgy evening wear, directed by non-profit talent factory Fashion East, was a love letter to “the most controversial and overlooked aspects of the female figure,” according to Show Notes. . In partnership with casting agency AAMO, Vitto’s show exclusively featured curvy and plus-size models between UK sizes 10 and 20, hoping to set a precedent for the industry.
Buckles, straps and harnesses were inevitable this season. Poster Girl, the creator of the Peek-a-Boo-It-Girl party dress beloved by Kylie Jenner and Dua Lipa, sent a slew of looks down the runway, often with three belts at a time. Rocha created garters made from oversized parachute straps that dangled under dresses, while Yuhan Wang crafted body-attached backpacks, complete with handy pouches made from pink lace and chintz fabric.
Drawing inspiration from science and human anatomy for Spring-Summer 2023, Kane designed corsets with multiple straps made of clear plastic and tiny metal buckles. The “skeletal structures,” as Kane called them in his show notes, “emphasize the strength and importance of the abdominal area and external muscles.”
Pictured above: Harris Reed Spring-Summer 2023 at London Fashion Week.
The CNN Wire
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