"I am not interested in catwalks at all," proclaimed Faustine Steinmetz following her much-lauded S/S16 London Fashion Week presentation – and she wasn't the only one making such a statement. In a time where fast fashion is ruling the industry and reporters are filing their reviews from their iPhones before they even arrive at the next show, new designers are taking a newfangled approach to their seasonal collections. While the rest of us are reaching peak panic, and the fashion industry seems as though it couldn't possibly be any speedier, a new, thoughtful movement has emerged: the experientially-oriented fashion presentation.
These moments are opportunities for designers to communicate the totality of their brand and are being created with dynamic consideration like never before; using sound, art and scenography to interact with their audience without the cost that goes into a catwalk show. While a static presentation is nothing new, London Fashion Week S/S16 proved that there is something delightfully refreshing and seductively relatable occuring away from the traditional runway – and here, we consider some of the best.
(Above image: Le Kilt S/S16, Photography by Chris Rhodes)
A Resurrection of Intimacy
"Before, after seeing a fashion show, you’d leave, you’d go and have a drink and you’d talk about it," explained fashion illustrator Richard Haines to AnOther a few weeks ago. "You would process it differently; everything felt more intimate." And, in spite of the hurried schedules that apparently summon people from their seats before a show has finished (see: Vivienne Westwood S/S16, Giles S/S15), London's young designers are making valiant efforts to recreate this intimacy. Their atmospheric presenations enforce a different pace of experience, and a different type of interaction with both the collections and their designers. It's (quite literally) very hard to rush through a surrealist maze like the one Faustine Steinmetz constructed; it's near impossible to hurry through the rooms of L'Escargot where Richard Malone showed his collection (if not only because the corridors are so very narrow). At Le Kilt's presentation at 100 Club, everyone stuck around drinking whiskey in a scenario which felt more like a well-dressed clubnight than a fashion event – and at Molly Goddard, people couldn’t stop talking about the slightly depressing ham sandwiches (and what they meant to a designer who is often known for her girlish aesthetic).
"With a show you miss it all, because you’re stuck backstage." – Lola Chatterton
On top of this, as Faustine Steinmetz’s stylist Lola Chatterton explained, “It is great to be able to see the finished thing yourself – whereas with a show you miss it all, because you’re stuck backstage.” A presentation means that a designer and their team can literally be on hand to answer questions one-to-one, rather than closing the backstage entrance post-show in exhaustion, or only engaging in the strange 'group interviews' that seem to have become the norm. It makes discussion par for the course, an integral part of understanding a collection, and returns a sense of real life community to an industry that is sorely lacking it in a digital age.
That Human Connection
On Saturday, Claire Barrow showed her newest designs amidst Owen Pratt's powerfully emotive soundscape, and there was something brilliantly unsettling yet enchantingly fluid about it all; the hand-painted silks sat in a darkened room, illuminated by the sounds of clanging metallic instrumentation and a beautifully droney furore. "I wanted to create that human connection," she explained. "I think [the music] evokes a certain feeling – and for me, the process of making clothes is all about that. I do it by feeling things." With the models hooked up to microphones, so that their disenchanted tapping at sheets of metal or little xylophones reverberated throughout the space, the impact was all-encompasing: it was a thoroughly multi-sensory offering. It was the sort of thing that couldn't be communicated through Instagram – and, according to Barrow, that was what it was about, "creating a futurist, post-technology dystopia where the servers were down and we all had to rely on our own human experience." If Barrow's world is the one we enter if we take time to unplug, it certainly made chucking your iPhone away an attractive proposition.
"I wanted to create that human connection" – Claire Barrow
A Holistic Approach
"You can create more of an atmosphere with a presentation," explained Molly Goddard, whose street-cast sandwich production line added "something bleak and grim" to her tulle dresses, preventing them from appearing too twee and instead taking her collection into a slightly sinister direction (still very pretty, but with plaid smocks alongside the peachy frills). "I think presentations give you the opportunity to present your work in a much more creative way; while catwalk are all about the girl, presentations are all about the clothes and the little world you create around them," said Faustine Steinmetz. Ed Marler's post-apocalyptic universe was constructed in a Soho alleyway, where his girls were smoking cigarettes in their luxuriantly dishevvelled but immaculately fabricated outfits. This Is Uniform created a cafe-cum-ping-pong-club on Greek Street, where girls wore clothes that paired velcro with silk cotton for a brilliant subversion of the elitism of fashion culture. McDonalds chips and Look Magazine met rouleau trimmings; it made for a self-explanatory scenario without the philosophising of shownotes.
"I am not interested in catwalks at all." – Faustine Steinmetz
"It means that you can show a bit more of your personality," explained Sam McCoach, the woman behind Le Kilt who chose a tribute to her namesake Eighties Soho clubnight to present her new collection. "We lit the club up with red lights, the music was loud and the floor was sticky with whiskey. I just wanted people to have a good time!" And indeed they did; the girls who weren't insouciantly lounging on Marshall amps in her immaculately constructed kilts while kicking their Converse-clad feet were dancing to the grunge-pop sounds of Garbage, blending in with an audience who were doing much of the same thing. And this is another key aspect to choosing a presentation over the show: it creates an easy, interactive experience where people can engage with one another, discuss the collection, and form proper opinions after getting up close with the clothes. You can see a Shirley Manson-inspired eyeshadow up close; McCoach is on hand to wax lyrical about Linton tweeds. Accompanied by an open bar, there are certainly worse ways to spend a Friday night in fashion.
"The music was loud and the floor was sticky with whiskey. I just wanted people to have a good time!" – Sam McCoach
Once you take away the traditional runway, you also take away the typical minefield of hierarchical seating arrangements and put everyone – editors and stylists to bloggers and buyers – on equal footing. "I appreciate that fashion has an elitism," expressed This Is The Uniform's Jenna Young, who was showing as part of the Fashion East initiative. "But at the end of the day, I make clothes for girls and I want them to be comfortable in them." And maybe this is a part of the industry dismissed by the large-scale brands – not only can they afford the literal costs of show production, but they are less invested in forging new relationships with industry figures and stockists. They already have them sorted, know where they stand, and the elitism of backstage access serves them well; it's positively brand-building. When it's your first collection and you're creating it on a wing and a prayer, establishing a gentle intimacy and having a chat with the people who come by is key to establishing your future. What the presentaton has proven this season is that it's a more democratic means towards fashion's future – and, in a season that has been slightly stagnant thus far, perhaps that's exactly what we're missing.
"At the end of the day, I make clothes for girls and I want them to be comfortable in them." – Jenna Young
See full galleries of the S/S16 collections at dazeddigital.com