It's that time of the year, when the British capital sets the stage for some of the most exciting fashion moments on and off the runway – or it should have been. With Covid-19 still rearing its ugly head, London Fashion week went fully digital. All the better for us to witness some of the most exciting designers from the comfort of our homes.
As the latest fashion capital to show its new collections digitally, London is veritably showing us a fashion industry transformed by the pandemic. While its counterparts have offered us worlds of escapism, LFW tentatively reveals what a new normal might actually look like. And young emerging designers are at the forefront of this transformation.
Below we have rounded up the most exciting showcases of London Fashion Week FW21. These are the ones to watch.
Daniel W. Fletcher
Daniel W. Fletcher has come a long way since its inception five years ago. This season inaugurates the brand's first fully-fledged womenswear collection, a decision that came about due to rising client demand and Fletcher's growing inquisitiveness. Although he is better known for his subversive, split-hem menswear, Fletcher has alchemized his design sensibilities into a fresh and feminine 18-piece collection of re-worked classic tailoring, top-stitch denim jacket, leather riding jackets, checkered dresses, and pleated kilts worn over pants as an homage to the ’00s women he grew up alongside.
A few weeks ago, Maximillian Davis told Highsnobiety to expect "history, sex, elegance, and music" from his FW21 collection and Fashion East debut, and the ensuing collection does not disappoint.
Titled "MASS," the new garments draw inspiration from a mix of ’60s and ’70s couture and the "Sunday Best" outfits worn my Davis' grandmother, "it’s the one moment when you really know the Black community would dress up and show off their outfits – in the same way that me and my friends will put on our looks to go to the club."
Our favorite piece here is the leather gilet in slide #15, and the monochrome skirt and polo neck combination in slide #17.
Goom Heo's inspiration for her final Fashion East collection was "horror," hence the foreboding domed hoods. However, the brand's trademark loud patterning brings a camp and joyful sensibility to the imposing silhouettes, such as the geometric pattern snaking up the thigh in slide #1.
Our favorite look here arrives in slide #7, which shows a new collaboration with Amsterdam-based cordwainer Marko Bakovi to develop the perfect red boot.
Nensi Dojaka was inspired by the work of Swedish artist and mystic Hilma AF Klint and drew upon her experience designing lingerie for the FW21 collection.
Following a period of relative conservatism and concealment in modern womenswear, Dojaka's collection brings a much welcomed focus on the body, sensuality, and shape to the forefront with deep-V keyhole necklines, bustiers, tulle corsets, high waisted tuxedo mini-skirts, and a relaxed double pleat pant.
Our favorite here has to be the pop of fuschia in slide #9. Honestly, the perfect vibe for June 21st lockdown exodus.
Ahead of her FW21 collection with Fashion East autodidact HRH AKA Hannah told us "It’s very much about adornment but make it ’practical.’" These new pieces includes oversized scrunchies that double up as underwear lining, miniature padded purses, and a clashing mix of nylon and shearling.
The lookbook is a series of portraits showing HRH's fantasy sports team, which speaks to her former training as a gymnast, and her interest in recreating "that winning feeling" in her designs, comparable to the feeling HRH describes as "when you watch Simone Biles win Gold, or when you see Surya Bonaly spiral across the ice in her glistening lame."
For us, the ensemble in slide #9 wins the gold medal here.
Fashion East newcomer Jawara Alleyne was inspired by Caribbean mythology to tell the story of "The Renegade" as a conceptual narrative of high-fashion pirate outlaws.
Ahead of his FW21 debut of upcycled metallic pants and knitted tanks, Alleyne told Highsnobiety about the customer he had in mind, "the man I’m designing for has made a conscious decision to re-learn and develop their sense of identity and has chosen, through the way they dress, to say I’m committed to re-evaluating what I think I know about the masculine."
Our favorite piece here is the look in slide #10 which imagines the crew of Alleyne's fantasy shipping crew in a shrunken hand knitted tank top and re-draped vintage leather horse-riding pants.
British heritage label Dunhill joins digital LFW with a new short film soundtracked by IG Culture, pioneer of the broken beats movement which was a definitive sound of ’90s West London which came to wider prominence at legendary nightclub Plastic People.
Broken beats is characterized by a staggered snare beat and fusion of different influences. In that sense the score is a suitable introduction to the new Dunhill wares, which explore a broad and disconnected mode of dressing that combines homely British signifiers with chicly cut paper leather trenches, split-hem pants, and a colourful new accessory called the Lock bag.
What’s not fully clear in the video however, is the multi-functionality of the new pieces. The Dunhill Compendium Parka (slide #1 above) is the hero piece from FW21 as it can be zipped off to become a jacket with the options to zip in shearling, cashmere, and wool liners, and a hood.
Taking inspiration from Man Ray, Erwin Wurm, and Jean Cocteau, Bianca Saunders has delivered another collection filled with innovative men’s tailoring. Called "Superimposed," the designer takes surrealist elements from the artists and translates it to her clothes — sculptural ruching makes a Mac and an Oxford shirt seem alive, contorting themselves against the wearer. Elsewhere, a knit sweater is shrunken to the extent it becomes a crop top, while shirts and a bomber jacket go the opposite way taking on an XXL voluminous silhouette.
"I wanted to create a collection that appeared as something, but then also appeared as something else," Saunders explains in an interview with The Face. "Every element of the collection was either creating large silhouettes on top, and then more focus on the textiles, prints and fabric manipulations."
The collection also includes her second collaboration with Wrangler, but of course, the designer didn’t just make a straight-forward pair of blue jeans. Saunders took a close-up image of creased jeans and printed the abstract image onto upcycled Wranger pieces including a pair of split front jeans, a peach-colored sweatshirt and trouser set, and a tote bag.
The final highlight of "Superimposed" is a short recreation of Jean Cocteau's 1931 The Blood Of A Poet film with Saunders' model drawing us into the fast-paced dream-like clip.
"We all live under the same sky", the former Chancellor of Germany, Konrad Adenauer’s unifying words set the scene for Qasimi’s AW21 show. Dedicated to championing "a community of revolutionaries" and "bearing a spirit of hope and optimism," the show features jersey wear adorned with Arabic calligraphy that reads "Dream!" pieces with the words "Free At Last" referencing Martin Luther King Jr, and "We all live under the same sky" printed on detachable panels that are then added to everything from shirts to hoodies.
As the quotes suggest, Qasimi’s inspirations for AW21 range from across the world. We have shapes from ‘90s grunge, and colors and prints paying reference to Yemini culture, including a take on the war-torn country’s military camouflage alongside imagery of a tulip, a common flower used in Islamic arts and crafts. While the fabrics are inspired by the brand’s adopted home of London. Drawing from Savile Row tailoring with Houndstooth, barathea, and tweed-inspired fabric, alongside material references from the meeting rooms of artist set the Bloomsbury Group — think velvet, chenille, and mohair.
This season marks the second collection for Hoor al-Qasimi, who took over the label after the passing of her brother and the brand’s founder, Khalid al-Qasimi. The collection also arrives with a choreographed film made with performance company Bakani Pick-Up.
The Harlem Renaissance, global migration maps, the artworks of Kerry James Marshall and Jacob Lawrence, and Yaa Gyasi’s "Homegoing" are all touchpoints for Priya Ahluwalia’s new collection which explores themes of blackness, migration, and ancestry.
Afro Comb emblems show up across sneakers and hoodies, dark-toned colors reflect Marshall’s paintings, while tailoring mixes with the tracksuits the brand is best known for. "I definitely came at this collection with a more global approach in my mind and I was also thinking about age," Ahluwalia tells GQ. When they get older, people might not want to wear tracksuits and I definitely don't also want people to feel isolated from my brand. It's for everyone, except racists."
Last season as part of GucciFest, Ahluwalia released her first film, Joy, with director Samona Olanipekun. This season she’s continuing her visual work with a short film, Traces, directed by Stephen Isaac Wilson, and with music from CKTRL, the work "captures the spirit of brotherhood and unity."
Fundamentally Saul Nash's new collection, "Twist," is about movement. Whether it's reinvigorating sportswear to serve its true purpose or removing gendered expectations from its wearers. With clothes at service to the body and not the other way around, Nash meticulously advances the canon of sportswear and surely many will try to follow in his footsteps.
A dancer in his previous life, Saul Nash's passage through Fashion East (an incubator for young talent in London that's birthed Craig Green, JW Anderson, Simone Rocha, Kim Jones, Mowalola, and many more) launched him as a designer with a unique new vision of sportswear. As a dancer, he applies his knowledge of performance into purposeful pieces. Forget ornamentation, everything has a function. From quick-release zippers for bodies in action to mesh ventilation panels, detachable hoods, and use of extremely lightweight fabrics.
The vivid dynamism of this collection comes to life in the collection's video, which shows the clothes in motion immaculately styled by Elgar Johnson with music by London's CKTRL. "Twist is about movement in an everyday context, telling a story about the men who shape the way I dress. I wanted to look at preconceived assumptions about men of my generation, how we are perceived, and who we really are," says Saul Nash.
Bethany Williams' see-now-buy-now capsule is at the forefront of labels exploring sustainable alternatives to traditional fashion week. Williams' brand has never been about pomp and pageantry, but rather poetic clothing which carries as much weight in impact as in design.
For FW21, the British Fashion Award-winning designer continues her collaboration with The Magpie Project a charity that supports women and children who are homeless or living in unstable accommodation. The nine-piece unisex coat collection, which goes on sale exclusively at Selfridges from today, is crafted from recycled blankets, and 20 per cent of the profits will be donated to The Magpie Project.
The coats vibrantly and cozily tell a story of shelter and better days. "The Women’s Institute community creates a personal blanket for every baby born into the Magpie Family," Williams told the Evening Standard. "A blanket is so much more than a piece of fabric. It is a feeling of comfort and shelter and I wanted that feeling to be at the heart of this capsule collection."
After a brief hiatus, Rory Parnell Mooney, now simply Parnell Mooney, returned to the fashion calendar and he's using the pandemic as a chance to look forward to going out again. So much so, that he's presented the perfect uniform for a night beyond our doorstep.
"There’s an element in the collection about power dressing but also escapism and the idea of dressing up for a place that we currently can’t access like a party/office/nightclub, like even the ritual of getting dressed in work clothes feels strange, so I wanted to try to capture that feeling of confidence and sex appeal when someone has gotten ready and feels great about themselves," he told WWD.
London's gender-fluid fashion week feels like a welcome home for the Irish designer whose collection exudes unbridled self-love through a panoply of military-inspired khakis, fetish chaps, lacing, and leathers, as well as loud leopard and python prints. There's a sculptural asymmetry in how pieces are layered and flirtiness in transparencies, or even a Tudor-like bare décolletage. These are clothes to make you feel excited about the ritualistic act of getting dressed up – and ultimately getting undressed at the end of the night.
Nicholas Daley has taken the digital format with ease. The Scottish-Jamaican designer presented a film to go with his spring/summer 2021 collection, Stepping Razor, which takes its name from Peter Tosh’s 1977 debut single.
"The film is actually in homage to Peter Tosh, the roots reggae legend and Martial Arts enthusiast," Daley told the Evening Standard, "I really feel this way of showcasing the collection adds more authenticity and character to the film. It allows people to connect with the brand in a completely different way."
The collection oozes with Black heritage and taps into the Black diaspora's fascination with the world of cult kung-fu movies. The collection is captured on 16mm by Joe Ridout and features Jordan Thomas, former World and European Champion and Britain’s first Olympic karateka.
The collection itself is informed by the craftsmanship and thoughtfulness that has become a signature of Daley's and look to the designer's partnerships with local manufacturers for source material. "Community, culture, and craftsmanship are the three things that really define what I’m trying to say as an individual and as a designer," Daley explained.
The word Labrum is a Latin term for "having an edge" and that philosophy is definitely at the heart of the London-based brand. Under the tagline "Designed By An Immigrant," Labrum's founder and designer Foday Dumbuya retells modern-day menswear through the West-African lens.
Labrum's FW21 collection, titled "St Giles Blackbird" after the Black community who settled in England in the 1700s is a reminiscence on heritage and legacy. British tailoring and West African design merge on honest, practical clothing with a sophisticated edge – not to mention, 70% of the collection was made from deadstock fabric and factory surplus from previous seasons.
The line carries through it an exciting partnership with Converse. Throughout the runway show, the clothing is accessorized with the iconic Chuck Taylor 70 in the ‘dark soba’ seasonal colorway. However, this partnership runs deeper than accessories, true to the brand's ethos Labrum partnered with Converse back in 2020 to create more opportunities for young London talent in the creative field, with Converse funding a work placement for a studio manager at Labrum.
The entire showcase unfolded in an empty church with live music, which you can watch in full here.