London Fashion Week, which wrapped Tuesday, was shrouded in uncertainty. As Brexit looms over the United Kingdom with no plan for leaving the European Union in place, turmoil—both political and social—was ever present.
Though the tumultuous times were referenced on the runway (Riccardo Tisci at Burberry, for example, sent out a puffer cape stamped with a huge Union Jack and a collection that was split in two very disparate parts), the Brits did what they do best: Keep Calm and Carry On. However, maybe “calm” isn’t the best word here, because the Fall 2019 collections seemed to be an energetic celebration of everything London fashion is about: tradition, young talents, and experimentation.
The city’s new class of designers, including Richard Quinn (whose show was attended by Queen Elizabeth II last season) Ashley Williams, Grace Wales Bonner, Matty Bovan, and Molly Goddard took marked steps toward maturity, in many cases evolving their collections from youthful explorations to creative but considered offerings. Meanwhile, Tisci, who showed his second men’s and women’s outing for Burberry, and Victoria Beckham, who recently moved her show from New York to London, brought the star power to a fashion week that had lost some of its luster for major editors and buyers. And while London has always been about the next generation, sometimes it takes a few heavy hitters showing to ensure the younger talents’ work will be seen.
Here, the five biggest takeaways from London Fashion Week.
Since Vivienne Westwood first stormed the London scene in 1971, Punk and D.I.Y. sensibilities have been deeply ingrained in the city’s fashion fabric. For Fall 2019, designers played with punk-tinged deconstruction and patchwork, employing the techniques for everything from intricate gowns (expertly executed by Matty Bovan) and feminine frocks (as seen at Simone Rocha) to bohemian looks (the opener at Preen by Thornton Bregazzi), puffer coats (Riccardo Tisci’s Burberry), separates (at Richard Malone), and sequin party dresses (Halpern). Certainly not your grandmother’s approach to patchwork, these designers elevated the technique to luxurious and unexpected heights.
Over the past few seasons, designers have been inflating their wares, with dresses and gowns getting a high-volume boost via bubble draping, layers of tulle, and more. We saw this on Marc Jacobs’ Spring 2019 catwalk, where each frilled, ultra-feminine look was imposing in its size, and also on the runways of Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccoli, who, at his Spring 2019 Haute Couture show, channeled the soft-yet-sculptural shapes of Cristobal Balenciaga. If the Fall 2019 London catwalks are any indication, the bigger-is-better mentality is here to stay (for the season, at least), as brands including Molly Goddard, J.W. Anderson, Erdem, Roksanda, and Ashley Williams opted for overblown shapes that were ethereal, ladylike, and in-your-face.
London is the home of tailoring mecca Savile Row, and the UK is famed for such menswear fabrics as houndstooth, Prince of Wales check, and tartan. The Fall 2019 runways were brimming with nods to the country’s sartorial heritage, with brands like Wales Bonner, Vivienne Westwood, Victoria Beckham, Emilia Wickstead, Peter Pilotto, and Burberry offering forward-thinking takes on these menswear staples. Erdem and Richard Quinn, too, embraced these historical patterns and fabrics, but gave them a feminine twist—the former presenting ’50s-style skirts with a plaid effect and the latter showing a beaded houndstooth skirt suit.
The London catwalks are always teaming with color, but the city also has a subversive side, which was out in full force for Fall 2019. A strict counterpoint to the exuberant, rainbow-hued work of Richard Quinn, Matty Bovan, Halpern, and the like, many designers played with leather, latex, and PVC, turning out stern styles that will conjure one’s dinner dominatrix. Christopher Kane, for instance, proposed a rubbery, hunter-green overcoat and a Matrix-worthy black puffer, while Hussein Chalayan showed loads of black leather and corseting galore. Simone Rocha featured corset detailing, layering it over gauzy, girlish dresses, and also included a black, PVC trench. Preen by Thornton Bregazzi got kinky, too, with an oversized black suit adorned with dangling straps and a black, deep-V overcoat that looked to be made of vinyl.
Wrap It Up
Is there anything more old-world England than a cape? The elegant outerwear option received an update for Fall 2019 and swished down myriad London runways. Roksanda Ilincic added cape details to her billowing gowns; Mary Katrantzou draped her models in textural, oversized capes, one of which looked like a dreamy, landscape tapestry; Victoria Beckham offered them in suiting fabrics; Jonathan Anderson opened his show with a deliciously minimal gray version; and Vivienne Westwood’s olive-green take harkened back to military styles. However, it was Riccardo Tisci’s Union Jack puffer cape at Burberry that packed the biggest punch. Affixed to the model’s back with branded straps, it resembled a parachute of sorts. The collection’s title, “Tempest,” was, according to the show notes, a reference to “contrasts in British culture and weather.” Indeed, a storm is coming. And though Tisci’s flag won’t be able to save both sides, it is big and fluffy enough to break the fall.