London Designer Showrooms boosts small brands, strong season for sunglasses, swimwear
London Fashion Week ended Tuesday and while the big name labels were the focus, the event also helped smaller brands gain valuable exposure and make the kind of buyer and press contacts that are the lifeblood of early-stage businesses.
The London Designer Showrooms event that runs alongside the main show schedule is always an interesting place to pick up on new brands and given the dynamism in the sunglasses and swimwear sectors at present, it’s interesting that some of the most interesting were in those categories.
The still-new Lily Cole-founded Wires eyewear brand was a big draw and told us it had generated a good response. And while it has benefited from plenty of advance publicity given the Lily Cole link, a lot of those buyers discovering it at LDS hadn't already heard of it. The brand was attracted to the event by the focus on “positive fashion” at London Fashion Week generally that links into its own sustainability message. And buyers (many of them from smaller boutiques) were also attracted to it both by that sustainable outlook and by the brand's innovative interchangeable lens/rim concept.
This really does look like a brand that has staying power based on the wider industry's reactions to it so far and also by the responses from the steady stream of visitors to its LDS stand.
Meanwhile Christianah Jones is another virtually-new label that evolved from Jones’ vintage business into a dedicated eyewear brand. At LDS for the first time, the brand is rapidly gaining traction and is already stocked in Opening Ceremony, as well as being available via its own website.
Manufactured in China, part of its appeal is its pricing (prices range from £69 to £89) and, as with Wires, it underlines how it’s the more affordable sector that’s enjoying much of the eyewear buzz at the moment.
The company currently offers a single model that’s ultra-slim in very distinctive capsule-style packaging and comes in a huge colour range. The affordable pricing is designed to encourage consumers to buy multiple pairs, although orange is the most popular colour so far. Jones is also adding a new model for the new season so the label clearly has the ability to develop and that reminds us of the evolution of higher-end brand Prism a few years ago that is now an established name.
To complement the eyewear offer, there was also plenty of interest in the swim category. Two of the most striking labels were Davy J and Just Sauced, both of them also relatively new to the market.
Devon-based Davy J (named after Davy Jones' locker) launched just a year ago and was, again, an LDS first-timer. Its aim is to “bridge the gap between performance and fashion swimwear,” founder and designer Helen Newcombe (formerly a development economist) told Fashion Network. The pieces “are built to last” and, importantly, the sustainability message is strong with all of the nylon coming from recycled fishing nets. The swimsuits retail at £140 with the bikini tops at £95 and the briefs £55, so it’s “a thoughtful purchase but not an outrageous price,” Newcombe said.
The brand sells online and has generated plenty of press attention due to its recycling back story. And Newcombe said the brand got a lot more attention at LDS because of the positive fashion message that this season’s LFW has embraced.
A complete contrast in style comes from London-based Just Sauced, created by Hannagh Rose. The concept is about “spreading the sauce” with 80s vintage-inspired styling with a retro edge. “When you go on holiday, you’re living in a fantasy for about 10 to 14 days so why not wear something saucy and fabulous?” Rose said.
While the biggest message is the overall look, there’s also a sustainability element as Rose, a former stylist and personal shopper, uses a lot of vintage fabrics for her pieces.
The brand is currently available on its own website and via LA-based dollskill.com, but Rose said Urban Outfitters is currently also looking at it.
The signature frill-trim Lula bikini and the laced Naomi one-piece were the key items on show at LDS with Rose saying the event has been “an eye-opener”. She was most surprised by how many people have heard of the label and also encouraged by buyer and stylist interest. The brand will also be at the consumer-facing London Fashion Week Festival until the weekend.
Outside of the beach-focused area, Bite was another young label that made an impact. It has a strong story to tell as it “was founded on the principles of social and environmental responsibility,” and mixes a slow fashion approach into that. Its offer - which falls into the contemporary category and features timeless pieces with an edge in understated tones - is made ”in our own studio by our own seamstresses working normal hours for living wages” using natural and organic materials, co-founder Suzanne Elvi told us.
She said that it was born out of four friends who wanted to do something 100% sustainable and after a lot of research, it’s currently on its fourth collection. Designed by another of the co-founders, Elliot Atkinson, prices are premium/affordable luxury with a jacket retailing for around £250 to £300.
The silhouette is easy and smart-but-relaxed with plenty of carryover pieces in unadorned quality materials, but also given an extra edge by seasonal artist collaborations. The label’s signature deep-cuff shirt, for instance, is currently available in a variety of materials but also with a special print for the season.
Elvi said the show “has been really good” with the label seeing “the buyers that we wanted and a lot of interest from journalists and stylists.”
Meanwhile, LDS continues to appeal hugely to independent designers coming out of Asia, especially China and South Korea. One of the most interesting this time was Seoul-based Besfxxk, designed by Royal College of Art-trained Jae Lim and London College of Fashion-trained Bona Kim.
With their expertise taking in both menswear and womenswear, they mix the influence of British classics with a Korean mash-it-up sensibility and this results in a range of day and outerwear pieces that represent a real style clash. But it works. Also mixing in military, utility and casualwear detailing, it’s what they call “unconventional bespoke clothing.”
Imagine a trench coat with sheer leopard print inserts, or a track suit jacket with a tulle skirt attached. “We like to mix two different items together in one place,” Lim said. “We try to bring it up and make it new. We always start with a trench coat though. It’s like the basic ingredient when you cook. It’s so simple but has so much history and function behind it.”
Lim told us the label is on its sixth collection and having shown at LDS once before, they came back because of the “visibility” it gives the label.
The high-end offer (retail prices go from around €500 up to €1,000) is already available in Selfridges, Barneys New York and Bergdorf Goodman.
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