Art School ascends to new heights for AW21
The London label’s latest collection is a beacon of defiance and hope for the communities it represents.
Images courtesy of Art School
For Eden Loweth, the founder and creative director of Art School, last season called for “a moment of pause and reflection” following the departure of former creative partner Tom Barratt from the label, resulting in a collection aptly titled Therapy. If titles are anything to go by this season, then Ascension, the London label’s AW21 offering, is a defiant rebound, and a statement of Art School’s intent to move onwards and upwards to the highest plains.
“This season is my first full season alone,” Eden says. “It's been kind of like completely wiping the slate clean and starting again from scratch, so I wanted to present a powerful statement about the community and the team that I'm building.” Community has always been central to Art School — perhaps more so than any other London label, the representation of bodies and identities that have historically been overlooked in mainstream fashion contexts is an integral part of its DNA.
“In the last year especially, Art School has carved out an important sociopolitical voice, and that's what I really want to be at the heart of every collection that we do,” Eden says. “If we're doing these big productions that speak to a massive audience, it's really important that we're saying something that actually affects real people.” This season, a recurring topic of conversation during castings and fittings was the ongoing effect of the pandemic on the queer creative communities that Art School is both a product and representative of. “It's a really difficult reality for a lot of these kids,” Eden says, noting how the lived experiences of the cast informed this season’s brooding tone. “The way that a lot of the models were talking about their lives right now was reflected in the clothes,” the designer says. “I think it would be totally unrealistic and unjust to do a collection that felt celebratory at the moment.”
Though the collection may not be overtly positive in tone, it is wrought with a sense of confident poise. This is perhaps most evident in the sharply tailored linen trench and leather smock coats, pieces that “really connect with non-gendered bodies — any gender, any size can wear those coats and those suit jackets,” Eden says. “We've also applied our tailoring skill set to tailored evening dresses,” the most striking of all being a faintly ecclesiastical polo-necked gown cut from a sparkly black knit, as well as the repertoire of slashed bias-cut satin slip dresses that are now proud Art School staples.
While the collection was indeed well executed, as Eden points out in the show notes, the story here is bigger than tailoring. "Ascension is designed to act as more than a collection of clothes,” the designer says. “It is a message of hope. No matter how hard the challenges our community may face, we will emerge from the darkness. Together we will rise.”