Jack Moss rounds up the best collections from London Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2021 – from Ahluwalia’s powerful celebration of migration, to Molly Goddard’s musing on ‘classic’ British pieces
Titled Life Before Birth, Greek designer Eftychia Karamolegkou’s latest collection represented “the end of something old, the beginning of something new”. Born from a difficult six months – “fear, isolation, depression” were the words she used to describe the feeling of designing in this current moment – the collection struck a darker mood, though her subversive take on tailoring remained the focus. An accompanying film by the artist Polly Brown saw a surreal collage of images combine to create a “visual ‘self-help’ diary” of the last half year.
Saul Nash returned this season with another powerful video presentation, which melded the designer’s background in dance with his desire to create clothing which adapts to and moves with its wearer. Directed by longtime collaborator Fx Goby, TWIST explores the “cultural and societal landscape” Nash grew up in through a stylised sequence in which two men, surrounded by a crowd of their peers, appear to fight before kissing at the film’s conclusion. “You think there’s going to be an altercation, but what it’s building up to is a moment of love,” he said.
Without being able to go to the library for research, Molly Goddard turned towards books she already had at home: Tina Barney’s Europeans, David Douglas Duncan’s Goodbye Picasso and Terence Conran’s books on interiors. “All of these books represent something that has always inspired me. I love looking at people of all generations and how they wear clothes,” she said. This resulted in a new take on ‘classic’ British pieces – tweed suiting, Fair Isle knits, a velvet coat – which were layered and combined as if passed through time. “Each item could have been handed down through generations, and now hopefully will be,” the designer said.
Irish designer Rory Parnell Mooney said his latest collection was driven by instinct – “I wasn’t over-thinking,” he explained. The result was an optimistic offering which honed in on the idea of “getting ready for work, getting ready to go out … anything that requires an outfit”. Inspired at once by the films Beau Travail, Working Girl and Wild at Heart, the clothing straddled office and club, elevating everyday clothes – pinstripe tailoring, denim jeans, the T-shirt – into sexy, dance floor-ready separates. “I guess the collection looks forward in a hopeful way to the future, to getting together again,” he said.
Bianca Saunders’ Autumn/Winter 2021 collection looked to the work of Jean Cocteau, Man Ray and Erwin Wurm, finding inspiration for pieces which explored the idea of “positive and negative spaces”. “I like to take a multidisciplinary approach to my work, with art and filmmaking as part of my practice,” the designer said, having exhibited a series of sculptures in Paris last year. That exhibition led to an exploration of form: here, Saunders’ signature clean-cut tailoring found new volume, widened across the shoulder, while surface texture added to the sculptural feel of the collection, from intricate ruffled tailoring to creased and twisted shirts.
All eyes will be on Simone Rocha next month as her high-profile collaboration with H&M arrives in stores, but outside pressures seemed far from the designer’s mind as she presented her latest collection yesterday. Enlivening her signature romantic silhouette with punky irreverence – biker jackets, schoolgirl skirts, brothel creepers – it was a collection which saw Rocha double-down on her roots, growing up as a teenager with a rebellious streak. Elsewhere, pinafores, collared shirts and baggy babydoll dresses looked back to school and childhood, while a series of cocooning gowns, formed from twisted fabric flowers or patchworked wallpaper prints, conjured beauty and escape – long the driving forces behind Rocha’s work.
Priya Ahluwalia found out after her Autumn/Winter 2021 collection aired this weekend that she is the recipient of this year’s Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design. This season was a demonstration why: recalling the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance and the way migration can lead to new ideas and schools of thought, an accompanying film – made alongside musician cktrl and filmmaker Stephen Isaac-Wilson – explored ideas of brotherhood and unity. Hybrid garments and upcycling remained at the forefront of Ahluwalia’s vision, here imagined in a palette inspired by artists Kerry James Marshall and Jacob Lawrence, whereby vivid colour is backgrounded with subdued shades of brown and black.
A feeling of escape was central to Antonio Vattev’s latest collection, which took viewers on a symbolic journey to the moon. Titled Generation in Rehearsal, the designer began by looking towards 1970s sci-fi and the rebellious spirit of three icons of the age – and Vattev’s own heroes – Grace Jones, Mick Jagger and David Bowie. A fusion of function and glamour set the collection’s blueprint, melding techy high-neck jackets and poncho hoodies with 70s-tinged racer-striped trousers and slick leather overcoats – “an ode to the era where space was the future and the moon [was] a new beginning”.
Meanwhile Yuhan Wang’s collection was titled Women in Landscape, drawing inspiration from the symbolic language of traditional Tang Dynasty landscape painting. “Unable to change their physical environment, the artist projected their inner imaginary landscape onto the outer world,” the designer said of the genre, reflecting this way of working into her own delicately constructed pieces. Like in previous collections, floral motifs provide the backbone of the collection – here across narrow-waisted jacquard tailoring, or adorning ruffled lace gowns and tights – alongside prints of Sika deer and pine fronds. “I wanted to explore how time, space and spirit connect women together, and how nature is an ever-present teacher,” Wang said.
Fashion East returned this season with a digital presentation, seeing returning designers Maximilian Davis, Goom Heo and Nensi Dojaka joined by Jawara Alleyne and HRH (Hannah Hopkins). The new arrivals were energetic additions: CSM graduate Alleyne’s collection was set aboard a fantasy ship ‘The Renegade’, Hopkins created a series of colourful accessories inspired by gymnastics and figure skating. Dojaka’s spidery mini dresses found inspiration from the elegant lines of Hilma af Klint this season, while Heo mused on protection, “a statement on the need for preparation in the face of the unknown”. Davis – last season’s breakout star – proved his staying power with an elegant, elevated collection which began with thinking about his grandmother’s emigration from Trinidad to England in the 1960s, and her wardrobe for attending church on Sundays. “It’s the one moment when the Black community would dress up and show off their outfits – in the same way that me and my friends will put on our looks to go to the club,” he said.
Titled Dunhill Compendium, creative director Mark Weston said he was focusing on individual items of clothing rather than themes this season – “[it] seems more appropriate when a collection is looked at in detail rather than shown and seen at a distance,” he said. Fit for our current uncertain mode of dressing – whereby a desire for garments to wear at home is matched with a want for clothing for freer days ahead – the collection compiles a series of hardworking staples, where garments are built to be many things at once, like the Compendium parka which can be zipped away to transform into a shorter jacket.
Riccardo Tisci presented his first standalone menswear collection on Monday, replacing the forest setting of last season for a minimal plywood set located in the brand’s Regent Street store, enveloped with thick beige curtains. That said, the outdoors was still on Tisci’s mind: “Enclosed indoors, I dreamt of the outdoors and its beauty,” the Italian designer said. Looking towards the British craft and outdoor movements of the early 20th century, it was a collection which centred on expression and escape. Outerwear was a focus throughout: a hybrid version of the Burberry trench opened the show, later, it came fringed at the hem and cuff, tied at the waist with a silk scarf.