gareth wrighton, yuhan wang and charlotte knowles were the real storytellers this fashion week
Fashion East did it again!
19 years after its inception, Fashion East is still fashion’s greatest talent incubator. The two simple words that make up its name are synonymous with London's world leading, era-defining fashion scene. Lulu Kennedy MBE and her team are creative believers and enablers, finding, nurturing and navigating the capital’s brightest talents through the difficult early stages of their careers. It's the wonderful web that holds the next generation of designers in place and the support network that turns promise into progress. After ASAI graduated to his standalone debut, Gareth Wrighton joined the fashion’s family show for the first time, Yuhan Wang was back for round two and Charlotte Knowles made her final showing, reminding us just how far this south London-based brand has grown.
Gareth Wrighton makes his Fashion East debut as an unlikely if very interesting proposition, if only because he’s studied Fashion Communication And Promotion at CSM rather than design. Gareth has, since graduating in 2016, done a bit of just about everything. Photographing, styling, design, art direction. He most recently worked with i-D Fashion Editor-At-Large, Ib Kamara, on the photographic-fashion-storytelling project Soft Criminal.
He took a similar narrative approach to his collection. “I designed it to read like telling a story, from left to right in the line-up,” he explained. Gareth told this story, primarily, in graphic knitwear, which had a gorgeously complex and evocative beauty to it. “The collection grew out of an obsession with the contradictions of America,” he explained, his work telling tales of the death of the hippy ideal, pastoral scenes of America, bad acid trips, Bob Dylan goes electric, murder at Altamont and the end of the Summer Of Love. It found parallels in our own modern dystopias, mass shooting, disinformation, cyber warfare, repression, Chelsea Manning and Wikileaks.
There were a lot of ideas crammed into 12 looks, but there was a fearlessness in the designer’s desire to do all this, say all of this, to believe in fashion as a way of storytelling. It’s exciting because you can already sense that Gareth is going to develop into a very interesting, singular, talent. Text Felix Petty
Overcoming any sense of Difficult Second Season Syndrome this time round was Chinese-born Yuhan Wang, whose collection of delicate and dainty dresses were anything but weak in their softness. In fact, as she made clear in the show notes, “Softness in power -- we don’t need to dress like men,” and Yuhan put her case forward in deceptively simple designs that appeared to rise and fall, undulating around the models she sent down the runway. As she told us backstage, “It’s about exploring the women’s inner world. How they translate their softness and how, for me, softness doesn’t mean weak, it means the power from women.”
The colours -- all pastel blues, lilacs, greens and yellows -- were drawn from watercolour illustrations of Victorian women, and were repurposed here in a way that felt whimsical yet contemporary. Yuhan even painted those impressionistic flower prints you see on the silk satin midi dress herself. Yet there was nothing Victorian about the attitudes of female strength she hoped to display through the work. “I used a curtain like fabric,” she said. “I feel like when you’re passing a window, you have this curiosity to see what’s happening behind it. And that’s how women dress themselves. They decide how much to see and show people, and what kind of stories the body’s trying express.” Where she takes those stories for her final Fashion East collection next season, will be from a position of great strength. Text Matthew Whitehouse
Charlotte Knowles launched her eponymous brand with partner Alexandre Arsenault after graduating from the CSM MA in 2017. In the last two years, Knowles and Arsenault have explored contemporary femininity and sexuality, creating intimate garments that manage to be futuristic and familiar in the same instant. For autumn/winter 19, with one eye on a future beyond Fashion East, Knowles developed her ready-to-wear language into a more comprehensive wardrobe and introduced an evolved mode of toughness to the brand’s manifestation of femininity, pushing the swimwear fantasies of seasons past forward as the Charlotte Knowles woman readies herself for a more brutal reality.
The expanded ready-to-wear blurred boundaries between the vulnerable and the combative, the human and the natural, the intimate and the public, the otherworldly and the humdrum. Delighting in this duality, nothing is quite what it seems. Highlights saw the duo reposition hyper-sexualised push-up bras and mini-skirts as outerwear wadding à la puffer jackets, and as duo intensified their quest to add functionality to womenswear. Their signature fanny pack hybrid garments -- the ‘fanny skirt’ and ‘fanny top’ -- made a welcome return, as did the Fang bag, this time appearing in reinforced leather. In the hands of Charlotte Knowles, the vulnerable becomes the protector, underwear becomes the armour.
“It’s our last season, we’re entering the real world,” Alexandre Arsenault emphasised post-show. “We’ve always challenged but now, as we push our aesthetic, we’re offering a fuller wardrobe and it’s about tying everything together,” Knowles added. After seducing us with the art of fashion, the magic of Fashion East is that it provides a safe-space for the capital’s chosen few graduates to learn the business of fashion. “Fashion school only teaches you so much and Fashion East have helped us face the realities of the industry,” Arsenault explained. With updated branding, a broadened offering, and a growing stockists list, Charlotte Knowles is ready for the “real world”. Text Steve Salter