London Fashion Week climaxes with Simone Rocha and the QEII Award
London Fashion Week ended Tuesday night after five days and scores of virtual shows, presentations and debates, with a stellar show by Simone Rocha, and the latest Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Fashion being given to Priya Ahluwalia.
In a hyper-colourful season after this dark period in history, designers created bold broken graphics or churned up floral prints; and anchored scores of looks in platforms, which made a major return. Though the key theme was about the longing for artistic ladylike fashion for women, and hyper practicality for men. Here are five key moments from the final 24 hours in the UK season.
Simone Rocha: Pinafore princesses in perfect Perfectos
Almost the last major designer of the largely virtual London season to present her collection was Simone Rocha, who unveiled an actual runway show, albeit sans audience, inside a deconsecrated church.
Rocha has been for good half decade one of the half dozen most important designers in the UK, and top 20 in Europe, and this collection will only serve to cement her reputation. Loosely entitled 'The Three Graces,' where the graces were satin, leather and tulle - the trio of disparate fabrics that Simone handled with wit and sophistication for Fall/ Winter 2021.
Few people do volume with as much élan as Simone, who opened with a series of great new Perfectos, worn over tutus, leggings and platforms; or cut brilliantly into bubble coats; or paired with a long white shirt-collar and tie. All the way to her penultimate look – a Perfecto in pink organza with delicately embroidered fabric flowers.
Rocha covered patch pockets in giant fabrics; trimmed mannish pointy collars with crystals; bedecked ears with huge pearls and rubies and decorated cocoon trenches. All shot with smooth grandeur by partner and photographer Eoin McLoughlin.
Her rock 'n' roll restoration moll rebels donned chopped-up wigs and ladles of rouge or came with spiky cornrow hairstyles. Strolling past the stained glass windows of the church in Pinball Wizard pearl platforms. Gothic Lolitas at a spiritual fashion ceremony, about to exit and face inclement weather in green Aran sweater dresses and scrunched up parkas. Cool Catherine de' Medicis on the Central line.
“Thinking of clothes in a protective and practical way, fragile rebels. Lost and found, interior wallpaper prints gaining a sense of place but patched-worked together to disorientate. Structured, sculpted leather; harnessing and resisting, creeping flowers. Uniformity & naivety,” explained Rocha in one of her stream of consciousness program notes, well summing up the disparate yet divine nature of her fashion philosophy.
Roksanda: A sonnet to three generations
The virtual UK season’s most touching moment had to be Roksanda’s video featuring three generations from one family of inspiring women.
Named 'Friday in February,' it starred Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson and Daisy Bevan, wearing Roksanda’s Fall/ Winter 2021 collection, wandering around a garden, playing cards and quietly enjoying a picture-perfect English manor. As the 84-year-old legend Oscar winner recites Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73, about the dimming of the fires of youth and the importance of love in old age.
Shot via iPhone in creative collaboration between Roksanda, and director and photographer, Linda Brownlee, this tender vision worked perfectly for these clothes. From the voluminous hammered satin gowns to the fantastic silk dresses in prints of the female form to the stunning moiré taffeta or silk organza dresses hand painted with broad brush-strokes in meadow blush or merlot.
All projected onto some of Roksanda’s favorite buildings across London as darkness fell on the capital in a poignant moment.
Dunhill: Compendium clobber for multi-purpose living
This season at the venerable house, designer Mark Weston focused again on the clothes rather than the narrative; concentrating on fabrication and detailing.
His big idea was based on an archive piece called a compendium, which managed to be a compact cigarette case, lighter, watch and knife all in one. The result was a multi-functional coat, also the Compendium, which he described in a morning Zoom with editors as the “complete opposite of disposability’.”
Created in a cocoon shapes and made in silk moiré – like a multipurpose anorak; or developed from the shorn fibres of sheep, which were knitted together to make a faux shearling, but half as light. Other looks to impress were cunningly frayed collarless jackets and graphic vertical ribbed Aran sweaters. Many combos based on natty new ergonomic brothel creepers and quilted sneakers.
Using Italian mills, Weston dreamed up great graphic yet abstract floral silks, then used them inside-out for tunics, Mao jackets and excellent cummerbunds. Ideal for evening, even if there was also a large dose of domesticity – like knitted scarves, inspired by those Weston’s mum sewed for him and his brother as kids. Echoed on the mood board by a photo of Brian Eno in a striped sweater.
“Eno? He stands for innovation and different ways of thinking, which what I am all about at Dunhill,” explained Weston.
The Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Fashion
And the winner is Priya Ahluwalia, the LVMH Prize finalist, who draws inspiration from both her Nigerian and Indian heritage.
Back in 2018, the Queen caused a sensation by showing up at an actual fashion show, beaming delightedly as she witnessed the show by the debut winner of her award, Richard Quinn.
Since then, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, formerly Camilla Parker Bowles, presented the prize to Bethany Williams and Alighieri's Rosh Mahtani, in 2019 and 2020 respectively.
Making the announcement, Caroline Rush, the Chief Executive of the British Fashion Council, explained that the Duchess of Cornwall had chosen Ahluwalia, praising the designer “for responsible sourcing and manufacturing techniques and for telling the stories of the communities that she works with.”
The show video, shot in a Masonic lodge-style interior, featured a group of all-black male models wearing Ahluwalia’s signature graphic street-smart tailoring as they marched around as a sax player played mournful jazz on a central podium. Clever fashion making Ahluwalia look like a worthy winner.
Erdem: Margot Fonteyn Moralioglu
Last but not least, Erdem by designer Erdem Moralioglu, who is justly famed for his narrative skills when it comes to fashion shows.
This season he set his fashion video inside a dark space and took his cast to the ballet, as if the audience was in the wings watching as privileged friends.
The models were four Royal Ballet ballerinas marching into wells of light, evoking the halcyon era in dance when Rudolf Nureyev performed with Margot Fonteyn. She was 42, he just 23; but their synergy gave them a certain unique energy.
Hence rehearsal-style clinging knits were mixed up with refined leaf-print coats in the palest of greys; while others came with cantilevered backs.
For evening, when invited out by admirers, the ladies donned marvellous feather or marbleized print dresses, rich in crystals, bugle beads and strass. Their big sisters – like veteran Marguerite Porter, who actually danced with Nureyev - looking magnificent in grand-dame black organza dresses, bejewelled in crystals.
Courtly, cool, classy and cleverly filmed in the Bridge Theatre, and a great way to bring the London season to a close.
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