From Paolo Carzana and Talia Byre to Feben and Christopher Kane, we round up the best in show from the AW23 edition of LFW
Having been thwarted by Covid restrictions and the Queen’s untimely death last September, AW23 felt like the first season that London Fashion Week regained its former stature, thrusting new and established talents into the limelight. Between Daniel Lee’s big debut at Burberry and Dilara Fındıkoğlu haunting an old church in East London, JW Anderson’s ode to Michael Clark and Saul Nash’s send-up of ski snobs, the city compounded its reputation as a place for weird and wonderful design – see: breeding kinks and a RoboCop Jil Sander. Below, we round up the best in show from the AW23 edition of LFW – from Paolo Carzana and Talia Byre to Feben and Christopher Kane.
Paolo Carzana, an outspoken designer unafraid of naming the industry’s most ethically dubious parts, makes some of the most sensitive and mournful clothing on the London schedule. This season, he staged his debut runway presentation in memory of the generations of queer people that were taken before their time: ”I want to be hope for you,” read an accompanying poem, written by Matilde Cerruti Quara, quoting Carzana on the struggles he had encountered in coming to terms with his own sexuality as a working-class teenager at a religious school in Cardiff.
Models ambled down the catwalk, enveloped in wispy layers of ecru, pale pink, and chartreuse, their gossamer sleeves trailing behind them like shackles. Welsh tapestries had been tailored into nip-waisted suits with plump pockets and frayed hems, open-hearted shirts were knotted into delicate whorls, and just about everything had been hand-dyed from wild plants, food waste, and spices in the sinks of the Sarabande Foundation. Towards the end of the show, a series of “guardian angels” loomed over models, free-floating in silhouettes of sculpted organza – emblematic of “all the old souls shall eventually be saved from purgatory.”
Talia Byre makes clothes for the kind of girls that like to take close-up shots of their dinners at St John. Staged in a natural wine bar decorated with zig-zag candlesticks and rough-hewn stools, Byre’s collection was a late entry to the fashion week schedule. Still, a queue of SSENSE shoppers in peasant skirts had snaked around the block, keen to get a glimpse at the designer’s off-kilter approach to womenswear. This season, Byre paid homage to the anti-heroes of cult films and recreated their blithe attitude in leopard-print two-pieces, form-fitting maxi dresses, and cinch-waisted shirting. These were clothes about misbehaving, selfish women, like Fanny Bryce in Funny Girl and Mrs Robinson in The Graduate. Buttons were left undone, skirts were squared off at the hip, and jackets had been sliced along the spine. Minuscule bralettes were deliberately made to squish and accentuate, while frumpy shirt dresses held the body in agitated, skew-whiff seams.
Anna Wintour sat on a floatation device in the basement of a Carnaby Street club; lapping waves looped on a floor-to-ceiling screen; and then Ian McKellen strolled into view, monologuing from an old book. This season, LVMH-winner Steven Stokey Daley saw himself as a sailor voyaging across time, moored on the memories of his great-grandfather’s life at sea and Kate Bush’s The Ninth Wave. Water and all its unchartered depths proved a metaphor for yearning and self-discovery, bubbling up through jaunty caps, rounded pea coats, and spangled hot pants. Shirts had been mangled and stitched back together as if pulverised in a rip tide, while sweaters had been embedded with dried flowers and cardigans were embroidered with nostalgic landscape scenes (keepsakes, perhaps, from dry land). There were double-breasted sequined suits, hooded cagoules, and china plates fastened to aqueous, silk-draped dresses.
Returning to London Fashion Week for the first time in four years, ASAI went above and beyond the Hot Wok dress we all know and love for AW23. Hitting the NEWGEN catwalk, the Fashion East alum brought newfound opulence to the tie-dyed, East Asian-inspired designs loved by the likes of Rihanna and Dev Hynes, with stylist Harry Lambert on board to help turn up the glam. There was no lack of hot pink (or bright red and yellow) tie-dye on the runway, with his patchworked aesthetic returning via sheer, skintight dresses and oversized outerwear. Garments were laced with porcelain, jade, and touches of gold, trailing tendrils like an old sea chest dredged up from the deep (see also: miniature glass chandeliers dripping off wrists). With the addition of silk bustles, all-leather ensembles, and fluffy neon cardigans, things felt a little more lavish this time around, with the designer’s Yin and Yang-themed handbags offering a sleek, simple counterpoint that feels destined for the feed.
At this season’s Christopher Kane show, guests were bundled onto bales of hay with bucolic, farmyard sounds chirping overhead. The designer presumably saw the most filth-ridded animals at Hackney City Farm and decided to emblazon their bodies onto clothing, with piles of AI-generated rats and pale pink pigs figuring on sinuous slit-thigh columns. Elsewhere, models walked with hard-backed structures jutting in all directions from the shoulders of dresses, school uniforms, and matronly gowns embroidered with urban flowers. The whole thing was inspired by the kind of things Kane’s mother, aunts, and neighbours wore in the 80s: dowdy domestic uniforms with offbeat silhouettes and kinked fabrications. Even the bustle skirts – which burst forth from mini dresses in big vinyl ruffles – were attributed to the humble bin bag.
Last season Molly Goddard filled a behemoth gymnasium with overblown tulle gowns. But she stripped it all back for AW23, inviting guests to her own atelier in East London where she debuted a collection of home-spun maxi skirts, peasant dresses, and rectangular shifts. It felt much more casual than what we’re used to seeing from Goddard, with the designer pulling on the sort of stuff she used to lust over as a student at CSM or as a teenager on the high street. There were leopard print jeans, striped knitwear, and popper belts (all of which were remakes of the clothing Goddard once bought from Gap Kids, Portobello Market, and Claire’s Accessories). Styled with hulking platforms and studded ballet pumps, tulle bristled from beneath narrow skirts, preppy blazers, and fair-isle cardigans, erring on restraint.
A bitter pong lingered in the air at the 16Arlington show with models encircling a coffee-strewn runway in an old drill hall in Bloomsbury. Dressed in crystal-encrusted slips, nude-illusion tops made for going “out-out”, and sequined pinafores, the set-up grounded the collection in something a little more earthy. It was, after all, about “darkness, moonlight, ritual, and magic.” And so the brand’s good-time glam girls (and now boys) walked with a little more heft in their stride – frump-pleated skirts were slashed at the hip and feathered trims were replaced with lacquered thorns while the brand’s signature Kikka bags were blown up to barrack sizes. Nocturnal harbingers, Capaldo’s women are descendants of the witches you could not burn (and quite literally) because he directly referenced the occult as a symbol of feminine strength.
Nensi Dojaka is committed to the same vision that first won her an LVMH prize in 2021. Bathed in a red wash of lights, this season’s collection stayed true to her signature squares of sheer fabric overlaid into a deliberate deshabilé. Mariacarla Boscono, Jill Kortleve, Adut Akech, and Imaan Hammam walked between pews scattered with singular roses, while their petals were conjured in the mini godets of tulle which unfurled from bra cups, hips, and ankles. Swarovski-embroidered gowns were designed to evoke the sensation of snowfall, encrusted with pinball pearls; G-string waistbands featured on sweatpants and denim which had been cut through with georgette and lace panelling; and faux-fur jackets glimmered with a sprinkling of crystals, like frost settling on a meadow.
It should have been expected that designers would channel all the anxieties that have collected around AI into their AW23 collections. Christopher Kane did it, CSM students did it, and so did Ancuta Sarca, who jarred uncanny tech with picturesque landscapes reminiscent of her Negrești-Oaș hometown. Athletic winklepickers with quilted nylon, metallic, and faux-fur uppers were showcased on wooden logs to get the message across. There were fuzzy yeti boots with pointed toes and kitten heels, and deadstock denim mules made in collaboration with Lee®. Also on this season’s roster were bralettes, detachable sleeves, and faux-shearling shrugs – clothes for a snow bunny who spends too much time on Bing (or whatever it’s called).
Titled Scales, Feben’s AW23 offering pretty much did what it said on the tin, dressing models in something between armour and animal skin. Sent down the runway at the Old Selfridges Hotel, the collection came coated in scales of all shapes and sizes, from reptilian trench coats to slips covered in glittering sequins, to dresses made of knobbly-bobbly satin that twisted like bark on a tree. With Jorja Smith included in the show’s line-up, Feben also tapped into a community of Accra-based artisans once again, to create hand-beaded macramé bags, fringed dresses, and cheeky chaps. Lycra dresses, meanwhile, were printed with vivid collages lifted from a Salvador Dalí masterpiece, and more ambitious silhouettes came courtesy of brawny puffas and shawls crafted out of plush, silky pillows that came in a rich gold hue (the ghost of lockdowns past hasn’t been exorcised just yet, it seems).
Titled The Privilege of Observation, AV VATTEV debuted its latest collection with a sparse and spontaneous lookbook. Models (AKA textile artists Corbin Shaw and Flora Miles, producer Hugo Hamlet, Kieran, R&B artist Lola Lolita, DJ Rishy Malik, and rapper Scribz Riley) were captured mid-pap shot in buttery leather jackets, suede two pieces with cocooning hoods, and laser-patterned fur trousers. Inspired by Antonio Vattev’s time at CSM – where he was introduced to some of the most important contemporary artists – AW23 channels Georgia O'Keeffe’s use of amorphous linework in intarsia jumpers, column skirts, and funnel-necked fleeces, and Christo, whose monumental wrappings are conjured in cropped jackets, and trousers with pleated surfaces.