Where once ‘emerging talent’ and ‘avant-garde’ equated to interesting but not very wearable garments, the latest generation of London designers places customer and commerce firmly in the picture. The array of visions present on the catwalks is remarkable, from Molly Goddard’s intricately detailed tulle dresses to the embellished haute streetwear of Roberta Einer. What unites these disparate aesthetics is a sense of fearlessness that’s bringing in a new wave of style. And while these clothes are happy to push boundaries, they are designed with real clients in mind.
Molly Goddard, whose clothes can be found at Dover Street Market, makes a brave stand by being very singular. Her ‘anti-fit’, subtly colourful tulle gowns look as great over jeans as they do over a slip dress and her highly feminine, almost girlish, dresses have placed her on the map. She staged her London Fashion Week presentation as a faux rave, with a diversity of models dancing on a podium at the show’s end.
Fashion thrives on exuberant statements that unite and communicate, and Goddard’s feminist statement is bold yet light-hearted. A similarly joyous expression can be found in the work of Estonian-born Roberta Einer, who learned the craft of embellishment at Balmain in Paris. Imagine an outsize leather bomber jacket covered in a mosaic of applique graffiti motifs and embroidery, or a long slim skirt with beaded pockets.
‘Each garment takes many hours – but I want to create something special,’ says Einer, whose pieces can be found at prestigious retailers including Saks Fifth Avenue in New York. ‘Fashion is about bravery and I want to transmit confidence,’ she says. This season, drawing on the graphics of contemporary illustrators Yoko Honda and Jiro Bevis, the designer playfully re-imagines 1980s poolside poster art in her trademark embellishment. Highly worked fabrics feature botanicals and tropical birds, layered together with pen-and-ink figures in a vivid homage to the surfside city of Miami. ‘I was looking at Miami’s art scene in the 1970s when it was still riding the wave of pop art,’ explains Einer, who toured the city’s art galleries and botanical gardens for inspiration.
Einer is part of the Swarovski Collective, a programme that funds and supports young talent in fashion. Two other members are young London designers Faustine Steinmetz and Grace Wales Bonner. Steinmetz specialises in handcrafted denim and takes pleasure in raising the ordinary and generic into something extraordinary. ‘Denim was the first fabric I really ever experimented with,’ says the Paris-born, London-based designer, who recently displayed a pair of recycled jeans with 60,000 cerulean Swarovksi crystals embedded into foam as part of her tableau vivant at London Fashion Week. So impressive is her denim research and development that Steinmetz is now employed by others as a specialist consultant on the fabric.
Grace Wales Bonner
It’s not just womenswear designers making waves. Grace Wales Bonner, who graduated from Central St Martins in 2014, is achieving great acclaim for her menswear, which is characterised by languid tailoring. She weaves culture, character and collective memories into clothes that speak with depth and emotion, a skill that was publicly recognised when she was awarded the LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers in 2016. The most exciting thing about Wales Bonner is her dismissal of traditional ideas of gender in fashion. Her collections may be nominally menswear but women covet them as much as men do, and they have been bought by prestigious retailers such as Matches as part of their spring/summer 2017 women’s collections.
London is known for nurturing its local talent. Fashion East, the not-for-profit platform established by entrepreneur Lulu Kennedy in 2000, is one of the city’s most important supporters of young designers. Jonathan Saunders, Simone Rocha and Roksanda Ilincic are all previous beneficiaries. Recent alumni include Mimi Wade, known for her handpainted leathers; Caitlin Price, who specialises in tailored silk satin clubwear; and Craig Green, who fuses Asian aesthetics and casual cool in his menswear that is notably beloved by women.
All three designers are sold at Selfridges in the new Designer Studio, alongside more established but equally experimental labels such as Marques Almeida and Christopher Kane. In the new David Chipperfield-designed Accessories Hall, you will find Chaos, a line of phone and travel accessories developed by stylists and consultants Charlotte Stockdale and Katie Lyall; iPhone cases are crafted in deerskin and there are giant initial tags and keyrings to attach to luggage and handbags, proving London’s idiosyncratic design spirit is not limited by size.
As we turn away from metatrends to embrace the individual and the different, London’s crop of emerging talents is poised to feed that desire. Enter into these designers’ worlds and you will discover a micro-universe of ideas and sentiments. Some you will adore, others you might not, but what you will never encounter is mediocrity.