There is always that one show during fashion week that leaves you feeling elated. It becomes a mark for the entire season and sets a bar for consequent designers. This time is was Christopher Kane, whose entire show was a statement in its own right. It confirmed his own identity as a designer, reminding us of where he was going and where he had been before. He refined his own vision and reference back to his own archive, re-introducing shapes, fabrics and textures that we have all come to know and love. But it is not just Kane who dedicated this season to refining his designs. The new generation of London designers, including Simone Rocha, Phoebe English and Marques ' Almeida took a similar turn, replacing grand narratives or complex references with a unique story of their own.
You could say that there was a return to materiality with these designers. Emphasis was placed on process, fabrication and refining silhouettes – rather than using shock pieces to make headlines. Simone Rocha opened her show with a series of blush pink designs in wafer mesh, that soon evolved into patent leather skirts and sparkly tweed dresses. Her silhouettes remained clean, predominantly linear and played with the feminine- masculine dynamic that she explores so very well, season after season. It was also a collection that will sell well, not that Simone hasn't managed to get the balance right in previous seasons. Today also really marked a triumph for Marques' Almeida, whose design identity, firmly routed in the grunge girl aesthetic of the 90s, decided to change it up this season and approach evening wear. “We wanted to do something different,” they explained backstage. “We wanted to explore the concept of evening wear and luxury, but in the context of our girl. She is the kind of person who would just grab a piece of fur, throw it on and walk out the door.” Again, importance was placed on the fabrication of their designs. The duo's usual uniform of denim on denim was broken up with the inclusion of pony skins and shiny silks. Their fabrics had really developed and so had their girl. “I guess it was the challenge that really excited us,” they giggled in delight.
Phoebe English also presented a new and refined vision for AW13 at her intimate show inside the vaults of the Freemasons Hall. There was no grand theme, it was simply about the clothes. English did what she does best, manipulating surface textures and exploring the potential materials have in motion. This really became a driving force this season. Static mesh silhouettes ran seamlessly alongside loose strips of latex and tasseled leather shoes, providing an interesting contrast when in motion and a visual delight. It was hard against soft and sheer against matte – and this season, she really confirmed who she was as a designer.
In a similar way, Christopher Kane responded to the buzz surrounding his 51% PPR investment by making a statement with his collection. He reminded us of his roots – at times quite literally, re-introducing a neckline that defined his graduate collection – but also showing us he has built a brand, and one that will last. At the beginning of the week, we anticipated the potential impact that Tom Ford's decision to show in London would have on British fashion. It seems that the young designers have answered back, reaffirming that they have their own strong vision amongst their more established counterparts, by placing emphasis on materiality, technicality, and autobiography. This season marked a turning point for British design, reminding us that London will always have its own voice, and is bursting into the big league with a set of labels practicing fashion at its most artful.