It goes without saying that most of the designers who show during London Fashion Week do not like to color inside the lines. In fact, much of the history of British fashion has bent towards the subversive, from the witty and gritty to the totally bonkers–think Mary Quant’s perverse (at the time) minis and the late, great Vivienne Westwood and Lee McQueen giving us punk corsets and bum pants. That mischief is what we always have to look forward to each season when London Fashion Week rolls around and the Spring 2024 collections did not disappoint.
The resident mayor of surrealist-ville is, of course, Jonathan Anderson. He is a designer who understands how to make us dream while also knowing exactly what it is we want to wear at a given moment in time. This season, he brought his eponymous brand JW Anderson into the trick-the-eye territory he’s made his signature as creative director at Loewe, with incredible hoodie and pant combos sculpted out of actual clay and feather-trimmed balloon cargos, which looked as though they were on the verge of exploding onto the models’ bodies. The pieces were playful and childlike, filled with the kind of innocent but intelligent whimsy that fashion can so often lack.
That push-and-pull of soft versus hard, femme versus fatale, is what made many of the London collections so alluring this season. One of the best in this category came by way of Chopova Lowena’s acid-trip collection, in which skater kids were decked out in silver hardware and flouncey ruffles that seemed made for not giving a fuck. Both sweet and a little rough around the edges, the collection felt like a modern love story, one that looks nothing like you imagined but full of authenticity, energy and passion.
Similarly, Molly Goddard’s smart, quirk-laced spring collection built a subversive take on a fantasy romance. Using her signature tulles and ball silhouettes as anchors, the designer incorporated pleating and pin tucking to mimic casually hiked-up hems and necklines. Details like inside-out seams and out-of-the-box proportions proved, once again, that Goddard is one of London’s most talented hands, but also emphasized her adeptness at reinterpreting old-school notions of enchanting clothes and the women who wear them.
And speaking of these women, the vast majority of London designers, Goddard and Chopova and Lowena-Irons among them, deserve props for casting women of all shapes in their shows. A romance with fashion belongs to everyone.
When it comes to casting, designer Matty Bovan always triumphs. The designer’s latest show featured supermodels like Precious Lee, Ashley Graham, and Richie Shazam decked out in explosions of electric, upcycled fabrics. The collection had a sort of Weird Barbie vibe–clothes that, thanks to Bovan’s intimate touch, had been played with over and over again (the designer is known to keep going back to the same garment multiple times). The result was deliciously wacky and artful, with mishmashed tops, dresses and jackets that looked like they’d both been loved and still have lots more love to give.
Romance has always been at the core of Simone Rocha’s eponymous brand, but with spring 2024, the designer certainly upped the ante. We dare you to try and not fall truly, madly, deeply for her transparent fabrics, made with real roses as boning. The same goes for an oddly shaped mini dress that gathered at the neckline and sleeves, giving the illusion of the model’s body wrapped sweetly in a giant flower petal. Rocha is a master when it comes to this kind of quirky sweetness, a sentiment that rings true even when it comes to her chunky, oft-bedazzled footwear which, this season, comes by way of a collaboration with Crocs. Dare I say, Rocha has brought sex appeal to everyone’s favorite ugly shoe with a sparkly, white, naughty platform heel.
Romance and naughtiness go hand in hand, and no one handled the latter better than Mowalola and KNWLS. While Mowalola Ogunlesi interpreted the fetishization of pain and crashing with more direct anime porno prints, boxer-inspired barely-there dresses, and sex worker-inspired mini skirts, Charlotte Knowles continued to take a slightly more restrained approach. And by restrained I do mean harnesses of varying types–the designer and her partner Alexandre Arsenault pumped up the volume on their signature corsets, bodysuits, pull-ties, straps, and balconette bras. KNWLS has always leaned into lingerie as ready-to-wear but what’s been so impressive to watch over the last year is the way the label has elevated and evolved into something so much more than the sexed-up tops made famous by those like Bella Hadid. There was plenty to wear in the spring lineup, namely a beaded fringe mock neck top and mini skirt set and leather and denim outerwear that ranged from floor-sweeping trenches to cool biker jackets.
But a more expected vision of romance was also plenty visible over the last few days, namely by way of the spring collections from Richard Quinn and Erdem. Quinn dedicated his show and his collection of brilliant, beautifully constructed gowns and dresses to his late father–a sweet, ethereal tribute that was as thoughtful as it was dazzling. His hand-beading and floral embroidery were the stuff of dreams. Similarly, Erdem Moralıoğlu sent us up into the clouds with what was one of his most impressive and provocative collections to date.
As one of my colleagues noted, it’s as if the designer has had a great breakthrough, one manifested through inside-out patchwork Barbour-style trapeze coats and tapestry-inspired ball skirts. His designs this season were created as a nod to the singularly English style and personality of aristocrat Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. Known as being a master hostess with impeccable taste, the Mitford sister had a penchant for bug-shaped jewelry and a slight obsession with Elvis. It felt like a fitting reference for a London Fashion Week chock-full of off-kilter femininity, of beautiful things that you have to focus your eye on a bit more in order to really appreciate the beauty. And while Daniel Lee’s second outing for Burberry wasn’t explicitly romantic, it was somewhat of a love story to the brand’s legacy, told through sensual separates and the designer’s retooling of the classic trench.
In summary, here’s a request for those designers across the pond: stay weird, London. It’s what keeps us all coming back for more.
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