London Fashion Week returned to the UK capital this week, boasting a teeming line up of 127 brands that showed through a series of runways, presentations and events throughout the city. Like always, the fashion week continued to put its emphasis on emerging designers and new names, bolstering their platform via its NewGen initiative. However, over the five-day period it wasn’t just the anticipation surrounding what the innovative young designers would present that had people buzzing, but that of eagerly awaited debuts and special occasions that were taking to London for the first time.
Luxury prevails in the fashion capital
And the event seemed to have rolled around right on time, just as the English capital was experiencing something of a luxury fashion revival. The sector is seemingly thriving in London, indicating a hint of promise for luxury despite the region braving the current cost-of-living crisis alongside record-breaking inflation. This was evident in a recent report by Savills, which stated that premium fashion brands were continuing to dominate the city’s retail landscape, moving in at a rate slightly higher than pre-pandemic. The property consultants found that there were some 21 international fashion and footwear brands that had opened debut London stores in the last year, double that of its 2021 figure. And the optimism is predicted to continue over the coming year, with more expected to come.
This sentiment was reflected in LFW’s lineup this season, where a number of luxury brands had either returned to the city or made their debut. However, unlike its Parisian and Italian counterparts, LFW relies more on that of young talent and emerging names, which take up the bulk of the schedule in the form of the British Fashion Council’s (BFC) NewGen initiative. This didn’t distract the spotlight from established names though, who were still sparking conversations throughout the week.
There was one definitive matter that did partially eclipse the rest. While last season the industry remembered Queen Elizabeth II, this season LFW was dedicated to the queen of punk, Vivienne Westwood, who passed late December 2022. Prior to the event’s kick off, the BFC already announced its intention to honour the late designer and her legacy, recognising her role in defining punk and driving positive change. In light of this, LFW was arguably ushered in through Westwood’s memorial, which took place at the beginning of the week-long event on Thursday and saw a cohort of celebrities and public personalities, including Stormzy, Kate Moss and Elle Fanning, descend on London’s Southwark Cathedral all donning fantastical, on-theme fits — ensuing in a fashion show in its own right.
Westwood, Moncler and Daniel Lee spark discussions
Meanwhile, the literal fashion week kicked off on Friday, with a line up that already set out the bold pace for the coming days. Anticipation had already been heightened by the addition of Moncler Genius and Burberry, both of which hosted shows consecutively on Monday evening. While Burberry was returning to London after a three-year absence, for Moncler, it was the first time attending under its collaborative project Moncler Genius. During the event, the Italian luxury brand unveiled its new “co-creators” – Louis Vuitton’s new creative director Pharrell Williams, designer Rick Owens, singer Alicia Keys, sportswear giant Adidas Originals and motorist Mercedes-Benz, among others – each of which presented creative concepts and new iterations of Moncler’s staple jackets in their own space.
The event, set in Olympia London, aimed to portray an evolution of the Moncler Genius concept, which the brand established in 2018 with a focus on co-creation across multiple industries. In a release, the company said: “The platform now evolves from the established concept of collaboration, which merges two sets of brand codes together, entering a new phase of co-creation focused on human creative skill and imagination to make something each brand couldn’t achieve on its own.” The concept took the idea of collaboration one step further, extending the strategy so favoured by brands beyond the boundaries of the fashion industry.
Meanwhile, a new phase was also being celebrated over at Burberry, where the house’s latest creative director Daniel Lee made his highly-anticipated debut. Upon his appointment, Lee had been tasked with rejuvenating Burberry’s British heritage, something that had been lost under its previous head Riccardo Tisci, while also driving it towards the five billion pound revenue target set by its CEO Jonathan Akeroyd for 2025. This alone chimed in a revival for Burberry, seeing many of the brand’s familiar codes receive a welcomed restoration through a fresh colour palette and contemporary detailing.
A particular focus for Lee was that of accessories, a category the 37-year-old designer has become particularly versed in after building a flourishing body of work at Bottega Veneta, where he previously served at, and therefore serves as a beacon of hope for Burberry shareholders. His efforts were already evident on the runway in the form of faux trim shoulder bags and leather crossbodies, as well as a casual take on footwear that drew on the outdoor aesthetic that once thrived at the British brand. Like many other labels, a younger consumer was also at the forefront of both Lee and Akeroyd’s mindsets, for which the house translated its traditional values into punky graphics and emboldened silhouettes for a string of zhuzhed up classics. Even Lee’s evolution of the brand’s Equestrian Knight Design logo was prominent, inflated onto dresses, knits and accessories.
Fashion week regulars make their own statements
Burberry and Moncler weren’t the only globally renowned brands to grace London this season, and many used the platform to firmly reiterate their own values and visions. Offering up his quintessential tongue-in-cheek flair, JW Anderson returned with a show that saw his guests confronted by a phallic-inspired presentation. The designer, who has become known for his unconventional commercialism, tackled the topic of “fandom”, as stated in the show’s notes, mirrored through the use of logomania graphics and slogan jumpers — a standout piece being a Tesco-branded bag shaped into a leotard.
Meanwhile, other statements were a little less raunchy. Turkish designer Bora Aksu, for example, decided to utilise the opportunity to pay homage to his home country, holding a minute’s silence for the victims of the February 6 earthquake that has ravaged the region resulting in the loss of tens of thousands of lives. While he was one of the few designers to reference the tragedy during the event, he joins a growing number of fashion houses and retailers responding through hefty donations and humanitarian initiatives hoping to alleviate the effects of the disaster. Aksu’s attitude was also mirrored in his predominantly black and white line, a world away from his typically vibrant colour schemes. The designer told Reuters post-show that, while it was not his initial intention, the choice of black “felt right in the sense of a silent grieving”.
For many designers, the ever-shifting consumer mindset was at the core of their offerings, causing subtle repositionings when it came to their collections. This was subtly evident at 16Arlington, for which designer Marco Capaldo partially stepped away from the brand’s partywear origins to present a more casual take on its aesthetic. While heavily sequined dresses and shimmery evening staples were still on show, the sparkles were juxtaposed with comfy skirts, fluffy fleece and elevated basics. Next to this, Capaldo also took this season as an opportunity to introduce menswear, a category he has long expressed his desire to enter and has now done so through co-ords and tailoring that still references his design codes. It brought to light the possibility that the Italian-born designer is looking to evolve the brand in order to appeal to a wider clientele, with items that take consumers from the dancefloor to the local pub to the supermarket.
A similar mentality of wearability was also apparent at the show of the usually flamboyant Molly Goddard. While still proposing her signature exaggerated tulle, for this season Goddard appeared to have dialled her collection back in a line that linked to the simplicity she felt when she started out in the industry in 2014, as stated in the show’s notes. Many pieces drew inspiration and were reworked from the British designer’s personal and professional archive, with references to nostalgic items from her childhood and popular looks that had previously been featured in magazines. Her focus on wearability and simplicity was further reflected in the choice to show the line at her East London studio. In the notes, Goddard said: “The space is basic, stripped back to the bare minimum, the perfect setting for a collection that isn’t about drama or optics, but wearability and the joy of dressing.”
Brands turn to a old-school glamour, stepping away from Y2K
In a stark contrast to the toned down route, some brands went in a completely different direction towards that of high-glamour and Hollywood drama – possibly implying a brief departure from the Y2K trend that has run rampant among recent trends. While David Koma drew design cues from the 1930s and 1960s, as seen in deconstructed tuxedos and exaggerated ruffles, Roksanda took to the runway with references to the art world, specifically the work of Japan’s Atsuko Tanaka, which guided the creation of sculptural gowns that closed the show. The intimate event appeared to be designed specifically for the Serbian brand’s dedicated clientele and fans, who lined the front row while models paced the runway to the backdrop of a live reading from poet Arch Hades.
In a similar dramatic fashion, Richard Quinn also delivered a spectacle, with a show that heavily recalled Frances Hodgson’s The Secret Garden. In typical Quinn manner, the collection brought together his now staple design combination of florals and BDSM-inspired details, as well as voluminous shapes that still seemed to mirror old-school Hollywood glamour. A highlight of Quinn’s show was a selection of bridal looks composing half of the collection. A series of 16 brides strode down the aisle donning gowns that incorporated everything from corsetry to embellished netting to highly structured silhouettes. The prominence of this line hints at the designer’s blooming bridal business, something he has been notably vocal about, particularly when it comes to international clients. The category is a one that Quinn has been building up over the last few years since he first ventured into the wedding arena prior to the pandemic.
Simone Rocha was another to lean on bridal wear this season. The Irish designer first entered the sector in 2021, just as weddings were beginning to pick back up after Covid-related restrictions forced many to be rescheduled. While her debut collection was designed to cater to brides looking for toned down gowns, which were popular during the age of Zoom weddings and restrained ceremonies, for AW23 Rocha did a distinct U-turn in the form of flowing lace and puffed-out skirts. Meanwhile, other pieces in this season’s collection saw the designer continue to bulk out her menswear offer, an area she only first dove into for SS23. While last season, the designer attempted to bring a new sense of femininity to her menswear, this year saw her further blur the lines, deftly intermingling women’s and men’s clothing to become one and therefore appealing to any and all who desire them.