For all London’s polished, crowd-pulling Fashion Week shows—think Erdem, Burberry, Preen and Alexander McQueen—there are an equal number of young designers solidifying the capital’s reputation for daring irreverence thanks to their audacious and innovative collections. Here’s our pick of the rising stars, the emerging designers who constitute British fashion’s New Guard.
Grace Wales Bonner
Grace Wales Bonner mines the depths of her personal experience for inspiration, drawing on a childhood spent in South London with a white mother, Jamaican father, and a tailor for a grandfather. It is no happy coincidence, however, that she has balanced her tendency for introspection with an ability to capture the wider zeitgeist. Bonner designs with an adroit deftness that belies her 25 years, producing collections that bristle with kaleidoscopic layers of cultural reference, swinging from African culture to British craft. Her abilities have not gone unrecognised. Few designers have risen to the top so meteorically. With a fistful of awards to her name, precocious doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Back in the early 2000’s, bohemian was the bastion of style. Sienna Miller and Kate Moss spent their days shuffling around Portobello and Primrose Hill in baked potato-shaped Ugg boots and wispy chiffon dresses, accompanied by a harmonious jingling that emanated from their thick, metal-studded belts. Then, suddenly, it was over. Their affable brand of louche, summery charm was usurped by an austere minimalism that favoured crisp shirts and clean lines. Now, for those tiring of tailored trousers, rising star Rixo might well provide the antidote to their woes. Offering silk skirts and vintage-inspired blouses, their trademark is their flowing dresses which, stitched from garishly clashing prints and fitted with voluminous sleeves, evoke an old-school sense of bohemia, with no Ugg boots needed (thankfully).
A graduate in sculpture and fine art, an emphasis on intricacy lies at the core of Alice Archer’s brand. Viewing clothes through the prism of her artist’s eye, she has become renowned for stitching climbing patterns of flora and festooning bursts of fauna onto dresses and jackets. Archer’s big break was when she was spotted by Simon Burstein, then the CEO of Browns, who was so transfixed by a stitched boot she had made, that he commissioned her to create a capsule collection for the store. Archer’s burgeoning brand points to a broader cultural movement, too: the growing popularity of making, and craft. People want to buy pieces that will last, and are imbued with a story. Naturally, then, customers gravitate to Archer, and many of the pieces that she makes are bespoke. And her most unusual commission? Embroidering a magnolia tree for the archbishop of Canterbury to give to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as a wedding gift.
Seeing as it launched the careers of Marques’Almedia, Richard Nicoll and Roksanda Illincic, acceptance into Lulu Kennedy’s Fashion East initiative is essentially an affirmation that, as a young designer, you are destined to Make It Big. It was just recently that A Sai Ta first caught Kennedy’s eye, and this year he will show his first collection during Fashion Week. Ta discovered fashion’s possibilities at a young age. Growing up with a crew of sisters, one of them gifted him a pack of fabric pens to customise his school uniform. Embellishing his trainers and t-shirts with graffiti-style scrawls, he later made a seamless move to Saint Martins, from which he graduated with a series of awards. After working for Kanye West’s Yeezy, he returned to London to set up his own label, Asai. Even now, when he is stuck for inspiration, he returns to his mother’s house.
When Kelly Townsend was 11, she told her parents she wanted to be a fashion designer–not an unusual goal for a pre-teen girl. What was unusual was the tenacity with which she pursued her ambition. Not long after graduating from St. Martins, and working for Temperley, she met corporate lawyer Phillipa Thackery, and the duo dreamt up a vision for a label that would be bold, modern, and not tied to the capricious seasons of the fashion calendar. Paper London was born, and fast became known for its graphic pieces that were confident with their clean, decisive aesthetic. Wide legged trousers were fitted with belts, knitted jumper stitched with large ruffles, and sculpturally shaped skirts printed in gaudy colours: blinding pinks and peonies. Having garnered an impressive following for their uncompromising style, their designs have been sported by everyone from Gigi Hadid to Solange Knowles.
Amie Victoria Robertson, the designer behind A.V. Robertson, certainly didn’t dedicate her first show to finding her feet. Instead, she orchestrated a catwalk worthy of a long-established fashion house. Staged in the Tate Britain, and styled by Katie Grand, a parade of supermodels showed her designs to an audience that included Marc Jacobs, her former employer. Based on the esoteric theme ‘Alien wanderers falling to earth’, the show was a smorgasbord of bursting seams and veering stripes, combining sleek, modern shapes with frantic touches of embellishment.
There is a feeling of frivolity associated with Ryan Lo’s designs: a pleasantly cloying mix of ruffles and scallops, nets and laces and silks, mixed with crystals and diamonds, tiers of floating silks and sheaths of heavy jacquards. But there is substance beneath the candy-toned froth. Another Fashion East alumni, the Hong Kong-born designer has been widely lauded for his powerful, romantic imagining of femininity. As the fashion industry increasingly (and importantly) becomes an arena of political protest, the whimsical beauty of Lo’s designs offer a welcome blast of optimism.—Isobel Thompson
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