for a new generation of london designers, it’s all about courage
The first day of London Fashion Week was characterised by the absence of the late Professor Louise Wilson, but the bravery of new designers to make it big.
When it comes to our fashion industry, London is still a city left bereft. As celebratory as the memorial for the late Professor Louise Wilson OBE at Saint Paul's Cathedral was, Friday morning - the first of London Fashion Week - set a momentous tone for the days to come, reminding us all that things aren't what they used to be. Professor Wilson - she who nurtured talent such as Christopher Kane, Roksanda Ilincic, and Simone Rocha - used to own the first day of the London shows in February with her grand unveiling of her newest talent at the evening's Central Saint Martins MA show. Her memorial was a testament to her achievements: nearly all her designers were there, reading prayers or poems alongside colleagues such as Professor Jane Rapley OBE, Alber Elbaz, Wilson's son TJ, and her close friend Sarah Mower MBE, who orchestrated the flawlessly executed memorial with Sam Gainsbury.
A gospel choir sang George Harrison's My Sweet Lord, a favourite of Wilson's, whose love of music was highlighted by the presence of Kanye West, whom she famously refused to teach at CSM before the two struck up a friendship. As guests made their way out of the cathedral, bells tolling, a lone horsewoman in side saddle was paraded outside, wearing a black Victorian costume and veil made by Sarah Burton OBE for the occasion, as a tribute to the Professor's youth as a keen show jumper. Inside, the gospel choir was taking We are Family to new heights, setting an appropriate but also mindful soundtrack for the week to come. Because if London's fashion industry is a family, it's currently a somewhat broken one. Next to the death of Professor Wilson, designers like Meadham Kirchhoff are missing from this season's schedule, bringing down the creativity level by an epic notch, while others have recently had to seek last-minute financial backing to save their businesses.
It was with all of these things in mind that show-goers kicked off their schedules, hitting up presentations by London's new generation of female designers including Shrimps, Molly Goddard and Le Kilt, the new kilt label designed by Sam McCoach and stocked at Dover Street Market. Everything was 'youth' and 'new' and 'raw', like some brilliant tribute to the memory of Professor Wilson with a slightly dark undertone. 'Courage' seems to be the tagline for the post-Wilson generation of designers, who are brave enough to set up their own businesses in a fashion industry that's financially brutal even on its established stars. Ed Marler, whose collection at Fashion East was based on Only Fools and Horses and the 'impoverished baroque' surroundings on his expat grandparents' home in Spain, put on the kind of spectacle that London Fashion Week has been lauded for, men sashaying in womenswear, divas blowing kisses and what not.
It was great fun and a little bit similar to the showmanship of Meadham Kirchhoff, if not the spirit. In that sense, it was hard not to get melancholic as a spectator and lifelong London fashion devotee, because history has proven unforgiving to designers such as Ed Marler. (Who didn't, by the way, study under Louise Wilson but did complete a BA at CSM.) In a post-Wilson world, London's fashion industry is above all posed with the challenge of finding a way to match in financial backing what designers such as Marler offer in courage, on a very long-term basis that can sustain their businesses past the first five years or even decade of their careers. And so, we went from 'barely established' to 'just starting out' at the first Central Saint Martins MA show not headed by Louise Wilson, where fifteen budding women's and menswear and textile designers got to show their worth.
The show had all the experimental craziness we expect from a CSM runway. Gigantic knitwear in the vein of Sibling seemed to be recurring, as was asymmetry and a penchant for long strands of fabrics appearing here and there, and little pieces of fabric for shoes. What would Louise have thought about it all? If the speeches at her memorial were anything to go by, she would have openly hated it but secretly liked some of it. "This girl is so bad, you have to have her!" Alber Elbaz quoted her as saying whenever she wanted him to hire one of her students. It's a less self-contradictory statement than you'd think. For these kinds of diamonds-in-the-rough, there's a fine line between bad and brilliant. It's just about who tips them to the right side. Matty Bovan and Beth Postle won the L'Oreal Award, i.e. 'best collections', and were, not surprisingly, Professor Wilson's favourites in her last year. May the courage be with them.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Mitchell Sams, Fashion East autumn/winter 15