London is the city of unbridled creativity, and the second stop on the Fashion Month circuit. See what the city’s designers have to offer for spring 2021 with the five best looks from each standout collection.
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.
Autobiography has always been a strong component of what Supriya Lele creates. Her Indian heritage and British upbringing is spotted in the draped layers and bright brights, the classical tailoring and sharp lapels. A teenage love for heavy metal has its moment too, namely with stitched together tops that are a refined version of the DIY slice-and-dice jobs that outfitted a certain type of concertgoer (a spray-paint technique by Will Bond was employed to imitate “worn-in band merchandise from the ’90s and ’00s”). The most recent version of herself, the one affected by quarantining and its resultant reckonings, wasn’t ignored either. The designer was inspired by a team who returned to the studio post-lockdown with a renewed sense of sartorial drama (explaining, for instance, the long turquoise coat). She committed to making pieces with a customizable option too, allowing the future buyer to decide how much or little to reveal. “Pieces can be layered, draped, or tucked in individual interpretations, as women navigate the different nuances of modern female identity.” Past, present, and future iterations of Lele work beautifully together.
Christopher Kane wanted to “simplify and reduce output,” for spring 2021, but that doesn’t mean the collection itself needed to be boring or staid. Kane is always a bright spot on the London calendar, a designer who manages to infuse joy into collections—sometimes actually putting the word Joy on pieces. That exuberance, even in “these times” came by way of designer playing artist while in lockdown. “I would spend most of my day painting faces and mindscapes,” he wrote. “Painting during lock down replaced the void of making collections. It became a way to escape my own mind.” The paintings made their way into skirts, jackets, and dresses, as cool artful prints, offset with white shirting, and of course, some sparkles, just for fun.
In trying times, Roksanda Ilincic’s Pantone brights might be just the uplift we need. Her spring 2021 lineup is chock full of the sort of exuberant sculptural pieces we’ve come to expect from her, including a pink-and-orange dress with billowy sleeves, a sunshine yellow silk frock with an attached cape, and a tiered gown covered in neon-orange feathered fil-coupé. She also turned her color-blocking attention knitwear and soft wool and cashmere blends are a welcome upgrade to standard work from home attire. Every style was made from deadstock from her past collections, and modeled by a diverse group of real women that reflected how, regardless of one’s background, we are all looking for the light at the end of the tunnel.
In lieu of any sort of IRL reveal, Preen celebrated its spring 2021 collection with a whimsical video of models drifting down a canal and exploring a proper British forest, all dressed in the sort of dreamy frocks necessary for such an outing. The short was titled “Stitch Me Back Together with Gold” and that was indeed the case. Standout looks featured a patchwork of pretty prints, including several dresses where blocks seemed edged up against each other with warm golden chains, while a shabby-chic-meets-BDSM vibe popped up elsewhere, with scraps of Liberty fabric and belts creating pseudo harnesses. The mixing and matching is definitely a vibe, but it all came down to happy accidents rather than a carefully mapped-out vision. The couple’s kids, homeschooled throughout the COVID-19 lockdown, beat boredom by stitching fabric remnants together (and inspired their parents in the process). And since the pandemic meant ordering new material was iffy at best, the fabrics are all leftovers from prior seasons. In short, you might not always get what you want, but you do get what you need.
Margaret Howell focuses on “review and renewal”—and has for the last half-century—ringing in her 50th anniversary with a collection that’s free of surprises or loud, season-defining prints or shapes. Rather, it’s a reinterpretation of perfect staples. Cotton, wool, and silk all mixed nicely together for a mash-up of classics that represent the type of stuff you’d dream to unearth in a grandfathe’s closet: shawl-collar cardigans, roomy trousers, and well-loved button-ups. The tomboy vibe was cut with a few injections of femininity, namely via a voluminous midi and boxy dresses. To be sure, there’s no razzle-dazzle, but that might be just the ticket after a year that’s offered up more surprises than we ever could have wanted.
“Here To Stay” is the title of Osman Yousefzada’s spring 2021 collection, his first since departing from backers, and his first since founding his collection as Osman 12 years ago to use his full name. It’s also an anti-racist chant Yousefzada recalls hearing on the streets of ’80s Birmingham, where he grew up in a first-generation Afghan-Pakistani immigrant family. The collection’s relaunch features a range of Yousefzada’s classic cut-to-flatter trousers, including slouchy cargo pants and high-rise wide-legs. It also places a renewed focus on ethical production, with key fabrics—hand tie-dyed linen for easy work from home tops and vegetable dyed zigzag block-print cottons for backyard party dresses—made by artisanal communities in India and Pakistan whom he pays above-market wages. “Fashion should be about the creation of human value from weaver to wearer,” he says. At a moment when BLM activism has given a voice to marginalized communities, Yousefzada is sending a strong message about the power of inclusivity.
If you’re not quite sure of your answer to one of the great questions of our work from home age—to get dressed, or not to get dressed?—consider Toga for your spring 2021 wardrobing needs. The cult Japanese label splits the difference with such intriguing propositions as a cut away gathered jersey dress worn with relaxed athletic shorts or a gauzy maxi skirt paired with a performance bodysuit and matching swim cap. The later were made in collaboration with swimwear giant Speedo, an unlikely partnership that also yielded Speedo jackets wrapped tied around the waist and worn as a skirt. Peeking out from cut-away trench coats and thick knit dresses with strategically placed holes, cobalt and scarlet jumpsuits and swim pants are considerably more polished than your average Lycra look.
Erdem Moralioglu’s romantic heroines often look as though they’ve stepped out of the pre-industrial world described in the pages of an 18th-century novel. So in some sense things came full circle when he showed his gorgeous spring 2021 collection in ancient Epping Forest outside of London, with an avenue of oak and birch trees serving as both runway and audience. Striding down that path in the woods in Moralioglu’s signature Toile de Jouy print separates and puff-sleeved empire waist gowns, these were women blissfully unaware of the burgeoning Sweatpants Forever movement. However, that’s not to say they’re averse to comfort: soft mohair cardigans were casually thrown over evening dresses and eagle-eyed observers will spot jeans styled under skirts.
Victoria Beckham has carved a niche in the fashion space for tailored, smart workwear. Going into spring 2021, her starting point, Beckham said via a release, was simply that, “Limitations can be liberating…Working remotely, for this collection we reacted spontaneously. We were instinctive. We asked ourselves what has changed? Who do we want to be?” The answer, it seems, continues to be found in easy tailored pieces, including slim suiting with extra long flared trousers, mixed with coordinating sets, and approachable but sexy cut-out dresses done up in louche stretch fabrics. All of it is wearable, cool, and very Victoria Beckham. There is, after all, no world in which we imagine her pushing the sweatpants life.
Designer and curator Duro Olowu works at the intersection of fashion, art, and culture. He took a break last season to launch an exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, so it was pleasure to see him show a new collection at London Fashion Week this time around. (That stellar exhibit, “Duro Olowu Seeing Chicago,” placed Olowu’s own fashion designs alongside works from disparate mediums such as Simone Leigh’s sculptures using elements of traditional African art and Lorraine O’Grady’s black-and-white portraiture. It’s still accessible via an online audio tour.) For spring 2021 Olowu drew inspiration for his painterly stripes and color-blocked rooster prints from the work of the late Emma Amos, who passed away earlier this year. Through vivid paintings and collages featuring scenes of Black domestic life—often with fabric borders—Amos challenged racism, sexism, and hierarchies of art and craft, much like Olowu himself.
Kim Jones, Jonathan Anderson, and Martine Rose are just a few of the names who got their start in Fashion East, the legendary London young designer incubator. September marks the program’s 20th anniversary, and these being COVID-19 times, to celebrate, founder Lulu Kennedy opted to host a virtual fashion film premiere in lieu of the traditional group runway show. Maximilian Davis made his debut, joining three returning designers: Nensi Dojaka, who Bella Hadid wore to the VMAs, and menswear designers Goom Heo and Saul Nash. Since graduating from the London College of Fashion in 2017, the Trinidadian-British designer has honed his tailoring chops working under Grace Wales Bonner (herself a Fashion East alum) and it shows. Drawing inspiration from Carnival costumes, Davis put a distinctive body-con spin on tailoring—think keyhole halter-top dresses and micro miniskirts paired with princess seamed frock coats.
While the intersection of fantasy and minimalism might seem like a tricky spot to find, Emilia Wickstead had her GPS perfectly tuned for spring 2021. Inspired by a dreamy early 20th century travelogue found on her daughter’s bedside table, the designer turned out romantic-yet-simple silhouettes in cotton that could be styled for day or night (a call-out in the show notes, furthering the idea that versatility will become increasingly important for how we dress—and shop). From voluminous takes on the little white dress to oversized collars that wrapped cape-like around the shoulders, there was a wardrobe’s worth of refined dresses. It wasn’t all prim, either. Structured bralettes are the chicest of crop tops and sizzle when poking out from under a collared capelet.
Another welcome addition to the September show schedule is Edward Crutchley, Kim Jones’s longtime right-hand and a rising star on the London men’s wear scene. Crutchley’s spring 2021 collection, titled “Something gritty, something pretty,” was an homage to “the flawless sang-froid of avenging female Yakuza bosses” in Japanese director Hideo Gosha’s 1986 gangster film Yakuza Wives, Crutchley said in his show notes. Or, more simply put, it was about “the thrill of daring to dress.” Crutchley’s design practice marries global craftsmanship with British textile heritage, and that was evident here through his flounced tailoring which expertly mashed up kimono ribbon patterns and Hawaiian prints with gingham, Prince of Wales check, and houndstooth. While it is hard to imagine a Zoom occasion to which you might wear the towering bow headpiece by Stephen Jones that topped a jacquard dress with larger-than-life sleeves—or how you would fit it all in the camera frame—the dauntless fashion effort was appreciated.
If there’s a silver lining to fashion weeks going digital in both New York and London this season, it’s that a number of designers who previously showed during the June men’s weeks have opted to show in September, traditionally the month of women’s shows. One such welcome addition to the calendar is the gender fluid label Art School, helmed by Eden Loweth, whose audience-less show titled “Therapy” had a live soundtrack by Brits Rising Star award winner Celeste. Loweth’s 54-look lineup—running the gamut from deconstructed silk maxi skirts to military outerwear and Saville Row-inspired tailoring—was as inclusive as their casting, which featured a number of young trans and nonbinary creatives, disability advocates, and a local UK politician. The through-line is bias-cut, a construction technique used in flou silhouettes to create natural stretch, which Loweth also applies to suiting—to brilliant effect.
While we’re all looking forward, parsing the meaning of the “new normal,” it seems Simone Rocha was looking back in history, as she often does. Rocha’s work blends Victorian and Edwardian inspiration with an ample dose of romance—all with a downtown, boyish bend. Spring 2021 had all that in droves, along with Rocha’s staple floral and pearl adornments, but there was something extra this time around. This collection celebrated the female form, corseting busts, at times cinching waists (a rarity for Rocha), and turning bows into hips. The collection felt ultra-luxe, almost like ultra-femme armor. To protect against what, we wondered? Rocha answered that in her poetic show notes: “Sobering and exploding. Pragmatic and foreboding … looking for comfort and security in the extreme.” Whatever lies ahead, it appears Rocha’s woman will be prepared for it—clad in embroidered breastplates, with mother of pearl and faceted gem evening clutches the size of medieval wartime ball and chains, and “ergonomic shoes and souls.”
Bold brights; stripes and checks; ruffles on ruffles on ruffles. Sounds like a classic Molly Goddard collection, does it not? But Goddard wasn’t in the mood for her standard smile-inducing, frothy frocks when she first came out of lockdown. Per her show notes, the designer was feeling down, as we all were, and set out to design a more subdued collection, something “pared down” in all “neutral tones.” Until, that was, she understood the role she plays in making the fashion industry (and herself) smile, even in tough times. “As we returned slowly to the studio, after months of working as a team over Zoom, I realized how dark and depressing the last few months had been and more and more color crept in…” More color indeed—in clashing colors and patterns inspired by the Villa Menafoglio and Guiseppe and Giovanna Panza’s art collection, which features textured and messy Claus Oldenburg
papier-mache dresses alongside sleek and simple Robert Morris sculptures. While fashion lovers have always gravitated to Goddard’s designs, this collection will surely win her new fans ready to try dopamine dressing.
Michael Halpern made his name with Studio 54-inspired eveningwear. So what’s a disco-loving designer to do about his spring 2021 collection, shown in the time of COVID-19 when there’s absolutely nothing on the social calendar for the foreseeable future? While there were fewer sequins overall, Halpern created his most exuberant, couture-like silhouettes to date. (An emerald and black polka-dot silk draped orb dress and tea-length dress melding leopard jacquard with an explosion of ombré pink-to-black plumes were particular standouts.) Then, he invited eight “frontline heroines”—AKA essential workers including an ICU nurse, an OB/GYN, and a night bus station manager—to model in his lookbook. And he turned the shoot into a full fledged dance party (socially distanced, of course). “This collection was created in celebration of the women on the frontline, and for anyone it may inspire and uplift,” the designer explained in his show notes.
The draping, tucking, and folding at Matty Bovan was so exuberantly over the top that it was hard to identify where one layer ended and another began—it’s Mad Max in technicolor. His focus on craft means materials and accents look as if they are churned out by a knitting circle rather than sleek industrial machines—which is a major pro for Bovan’s young fans, to whom rabid consumerism continues to look more and more evil. The show’s theme of “Future Olde England” was perhaps seen most clearly in the grand silhouettes, whose peplums, panniers, and heaven-bound shoulders signify that the wearer is worthy of notice. In olde olde England, that privilege would have belonged to the few, but in the future? We all deserve clothes that announce our presence.
Although there were no actual mermaid tail dresses or seashell bras in Rixo’s “Ariel” collection, the theme wasn’t hidden in murky symbolism either. The sea sirens were swimming through the colorful prints, bringing the sort of cheeky, playful attitude that devotees of the British brand’s hyper-wearable dresses know and love. Designers Henrietta Rix and Orlagh McCloskey continued to print-block with aplomb, but visual variety also sang out with oversized collars, keyhole backs, and a new focus on separates. Rixo has always been about fun, and this collection doesn’t disappoint.
The show must go on: That seemed to be the message of Burberry Chief Creative Officer Ricardo Tisci’s fashion-show-as-performance-art spectacular that kicked off London Fashion Week. Together, Tisci and performance artist Anne Imhof sought to tell their own contemporary fairy tale, reflecting the juxtaposition of the mystical and the natural. Models emerged from the woods wearing Tisci’s signature tailoring-meets-streetwear staples, which came in classic Burberry beige and a spectrum of blue tones, accented with fisherman’s hats in mariner orange. In a one-line synopsis, Tisci called the scene “a love affair between a mermaid and a shark, set against the ocean, then brought to land,” according to his inspiration notes. What looked like portholes—small, round openings based on the handle of Burberry’s new signature Pocket bag—featured prominently across Tisci’s spring 2021 accessories and garments. This added to the dystopian sense that he was prepping his followers for life on a new Atlantis.