Horse-diving, power suits and pubic hair badges: as London Fashion Week kicks off, we shine a light on the city's far-out fashion grads in the second of a two-part series
From Central Saint Martins to London College of Fashion and the Royal College of Art, graduate designers are the lifeblood of London Fashion Week. Boundary-pushing, nonconformist and totally unafraid to question the industry they are entering into, these are the individuals that keep the city’s fashion so exciting.
As London Fashion Week begins, we spotlight the new generation – shot with the family and friends who inspire them the most.
“I remember for my first project (at CSM) I took – well, stole – some remnants and scraps from a car crash and laid them out on the floor in my crit as my research,” recalls Richard Malone. “That was it – and a load of wild, unmanageable drawings. But it made sense to me, (because) that was my way of working, and it still is. Those kinds of misshapen and uncontrollable piles have always been endearing to me, because I grew up around and working on building sites. I’ve always made something I believe to be beautiful from nothing.” Overlaying his personal history in Ireland with striped and sculptural couture that rises in all directions, Malone is an out-and-out fashion idealist who wants to liberate women from the assumptions about material and shape that have traditionally defined ‘luxury’. “The clothes that Freya and I wore for the shoot only touch the body in two places – aside from that, you’re completely free,” he explains. What’s more, “a lot of it is made from excess or pieces from around where patterns are cut out. I love how, afterwards, you have loads of fashion experts reviewing and assuming what something is, and they are always wrong!” Having graduated from the CSM BA in 2014 with an award-winning collection, Malone is currently working towards costuming a dance project alongside gearing up for AW17. He counts his blessings when it comes to the current climate for graduates, describing his frustration at the lack of scholarships available right now for those from similar backgrounds to his own. But as for his advice for the next generation, he remains philosophical. “Go for it. Just never, ever try to follow anyone else. Most likely you’ve got everything you need already, provided you have a big pair of balls about the whole thing.”
Forget ‘see now, buy now’ or ‘ungendered’ underwear. For Luke Brooks, one half of design duo Rottingdean Bazaar, we need to take our cues from modern life’s most egalitarian establishment to truly revolutionise fashion. “All the big lower-cost fashion shops are so directed at a particular market... A shop like Ikea doesn’t feel so pinpointed. They present some really odd things, just as things in themselves,” he says. “It’s not that I love everything there, and I’m not entirely comfortable with mass production of disposable things. But when I’m in Ikea, I can look at a weirdly shaped footstool and forget I’m even in Ikea, like it’s an art gallery.” It’s a statement that speaks to Brooks and James Theseus Buck’s startlingly original methods in the graduate fashion landscape. Working out of Buck’s native Rottingdean, East Sussex, the duo – shot here with Brooks’s dad – mutate the mundane through object-embellished clothing: sweatshirts emblazoned with slippers and washing-up gloves, ‘ancient’ Roman coin rings set in blue tack, and pube-filled badges. “We’re drawn to things which are instantly recognisable, but loaded with connotations,” says Buck. That these ideas take root far from the London scene they came up in is also what imbues them with a certain freedom. “It is inspiring to be surrounded by fundamental things,” says Brooks. “Like the churches, the local shops, the windmill, the sea, the allotments... It is very elemental, and that helps with thinking about ideas in their most simple forms.” Working with other designers – they created shredded flag faces for Christopher Shannon AW17 – as well as Rottingdean locals, they’re populist as well as pop. “When we do something that seems so straightforward that, in a way, anyone could do it,” says Brooks, “that for us feels like something with universal potential.”
Disco never died – at least not according to CSM MA graduate Michael Halpern, whose one-time Studio 54-regular mum inspires his hypnotic world of Technicolor shimmer. “Just listening to her and her friends talk about those days – about Andy Warhol and Bianca Jagger, and the crazy shit that happened there – is really something special,” he explains. “There is a great energy level and element of smut in New York that will always help to inform what I do.” Going way beyond a mere throwback revival, Halpern prefers to “smash two worlds together that would never be paired”: think OTT two-tone sequinned flares spliced with hand-sewn satin bustiers that are more International Debutante than after-hours disco. More than just an exercise in form, the idea of severe contextual clashes was one that sprung from Halpern’s research – in particular, one peculiar discovery about his hometown found amid the dusty shelves of the New York Public Library. “(I found pictures) of a carnival sport called horse diving, where a super-glamorous woman would mount a horse racing toward her just as it was about to leap off the diving platform. The women’s costumes were outrageous: crystal beads, hair in pin curls, flowing, silk-like capes... The imagery was so shocking that it has stuck with me for a very long time.” Pictured here with artist friend Eleanor Turnbull (“she’s a total chameleon and has no airs about her – I love that”) Halpern assures me that, between consulting for Donatella Versace and preparations for his on-schedule debut for AW17 at London Fashion Week, he’s got plenty going on to keep him busy right now. That said, if he does get a night off, he knows exactly what the first track on his party playlist will be: “Candi Staton, ‘Young Hearts Run Free’.”
Have you ever been to the Sunset Strip at 9am? By which I mean the strip club on Dean Street, Soho (where else?). Defying fashion week propriety with her early-morning, Turkish rock-soundtracked seance for SS17, Dilara Findikoglu’s coven of witches injected by-the-numbers presentations with a prescribed dose of raw power. “It was about celebrating the woman’s body,” says the Turkish designer of the concept, which saw Adwoa Aboah and her fellow femmes don baby-pink power suits embroidered with ovaries, 18th-century lace-up corsets with fetishistic stockings, and more black-and-white check than a suburban Hot Topic. “I’ve always had this big respect for strippers. I don’t know how men see it, but I find it really brave.” Exploring how the female body has been restricted and represented “in different cultures and different times”, Findikoglu aims to armour her women against the world – most literally through this season’s “sickeningly pink” boxing shorts. “Last summer, I started doing kickboxing because I am so tired of men shouting at me on the streets like, ‘Hey, hottie!’ I like to dress up, and I want to be able to defend myself.” The designer has specialised in fighting talk since graduating her MA, when she helped organise the Encore CSM guerrilla show for those students who weren’t selected for the press show, and she doesn’t have support from the BFC. “I feel more comfortable when I fight for it, (when) it’s not given to me,” she says. “Everything I’m doing is questioning the system and going against it. I think that people are a bit scared to come near me!” Totally unafraid and thrillingly original, this woman in red refuses to apologise – well, maybe just the once. “I’m a bit spiritual... Sorry for talking about weird things.”
For Helena Manzano, the journey from season to season should be a “constant conversation.” “I normally follow up or jump back between collections working as a stream-of-consciousness rather than specific references” she describes of her process. “Sexiness is mostly accidental in my work.” This sense of the accidental – of an unexpected exposed back on a jacket, or carefully-co-ordinated outfits that seem to be missing trousers – has been a constant in Manzano’s silky, sensuous work ever since she graduated the London College of Fashion BA in 2014. For her label HELENAMANZANO’s SS17, silhouettes were deconstructed, draped and tied-up with barely-there threads, pushing decency to the limits – all the while maintaining a certain spirit of naivety. When it comes to the industry-at-large, however, Manzano is totally switched-on. “(I want fashion) to be more engaged with what’s going on around us, maybe just through production and the choice of materials,” she describes. “Fashion can be a very ugly and self-obsessed industry – it’s very important to try to make your product as humane as possible.” It’s a world-facing attitude Manzano plans to bring all the way to South America this year – after her AW17 presentation launches this week (in the form of a “fake catwalk” shot by Joyce NG and styled by Dazed Senior Fashion Editor Emma Wyman), she plans to spend the next two months leading workshops with migrant woman in the country. But when it comes to her own, delicately-crafted creations, Manzano can sum up how she wants the woman who wears them to feel in one word: “Herself.”