By now, you know the drill.
Throw a pin down on a glamourous (preferably central) spot somewhere in the city. Send for the fashionati. And then point 30 or so models down a catwalk, frowns recommended.
This is the usual feel for London Fashion Week, but a group of upcoming menswear designers said no to the conventional, and took it upon themselves to bring some fun to a structure that, post-Covid, sometimes felt tired. Immersive runways, here we come.
Labrum, Saul Nash and S.S. Daley all presented in the British Fashion Council’s TikTok Showspace, the Selfridges based hub for shows this week. And all three turned away from the cold forth wall, leaning on live bands, singing, theatre and dance to deepen the narratives behind their SS22 collections. Catch up with each below:
Ask anyone who made it to Foday Dumbuya’s stellar Labrum show, and they’ll agree it whipped up the most rapturous applause of the week. Guests entered a room packed full of drums, trombones and ngonis, the traditional guitar of Mali, uncertain of what to expect from the brand bridging British tailoring with the designer’s Sierra Leonean heritage.
The 16-strong Balimaya Project collective, who mix West-African folkloric music and jazz, played centre stage. The singer Thabo swooned around the runway. And the audience left a concrete room concerned with a Lover Islander sat front row, transported to the world of Dumbuya.
“To understand West African stories we wanted these components to ignite the audience’s interest and get people excited about the history that we are talking about,” the designer says. “The stories we tell are not often heard, and don’t have an existing presence in our education system or media, so it’s important, when we present them, that people are immersed in the spirit.”
Printed fabric air dried in Sierra Leone was crafted into peaked lapelled, double-breasted blazers and shorts, worn with towering headpieces inspired by wrapping techniques synonymous with traditional West African looks.
And Ibrahim Kamara, editor of Dazed and Confused, brought his touch of magic styling to the show. “Our parents came from the same tribe, Temne, one of the oldest in Sierra Leone and we are passionate about telling stories about the place that we grew up in,” Dumbuya says. “He pushes boundaries. He encourages me to work outside my comfort zone.”
It was back to teenage years at Saul Nash. Or how he remembered his, in “fragments.” The ground was covered in gym-floor-lines-meet-road-markings and models sat on familiar red London bus benches, with Nike backpacks slung over shoulders.
The lights went down and a scene came to life as models came on, and stayed on. The boys chatted, laughed, and helped each other change in and out of Nash’s signature sportswear.
This season it came in the form of short nylon shorts, sliced waterproof jackets with contrast colour toggles and see-through mesh vests in greys, blue and a blast of neon green. Knee-high socks spelled out his name, and reversible cagoules featured warped prints of his 16+ Oyster card.
“Whilst I was at school, the act of waiting for the bus was an everyday ritual. It became a symbol of my youth,” Nash says. “I’m a strong believer that immersive shows are key to helping people connect with a story being told about a moment in time. Being able to give my audience an insight into these fragments of my past is very important to me.”
Steven Stokey Daley put on a show. And a three part play, devised and performed by the National Youth Theatre, the organisation where this Liverpudlian designer had a coming of age at 16. And for his debut live show (he graduated from the University of Westminster mid-Covid, in 2020) Daley showed no sign of sticking to runway tradition.
But tradition was part of the conversation. Long stockings worn with pleated, printed and bleached shorts, ballooning sleeve shirts under V-neck sweater vests and gently distorted pin stripe suits unpicked private school codes through working-class eyes.
There were boarding dormitories, where pyjama shirts had paisley prints taken from the designer’s Nan’s wallpaper, short shorts and body paint for the rugby pitch, and a Twenties Bright Young Things romanticism in the floral boater hats that ran through it all.
“It was really exciting to see the clothes in a narrative without them being costumes,” Daley says of his collection styled by Harry Lambert, the man who launched his garments from college onto Harry Styles for the ‘Golden’ music video. And what does this young designer want to do with the stage he’s been given? Share.
“I partnered with the National Youth Theatre because it’s had a really difficult year, and I’ve had a gorgeous opportunity to share a platform with a group of theatre kids, theatre goers and theatre creators,” Daley says.
“Hopefully this has altered people’s mind-sets and viewpoints on what fashion shows can be, and help value performance and theatre as well.”
See the gallery above for the best 10 menswear looks at London Fashion Week SS22