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And just like that, another London Fashion Week draws to a close. In what felt like the first real return to full-scale fashion since pandemic-hindered and funeral-dodging plans affected the city’s regular programming – with many of the calendar’s biggest names moving site or sitting out entirely from proceedings – this season saw brands both established and emerging enthusiastically embark down familiar runways with dynamic collections and unexpected presentations.
From Sinead Gorey’s cowboy saloon to Susan Fang’s rose water-infused gowns, here are our favourite collections from London fashion Week AW23:
Sinéad O’Dwyer opened London Fashion Week with what would end up being the weekend’s most dramatically inclusive collection. The designer remained committed to diversifying the runway, showcasing the beauty of figures of all sizes and abilities, and was the first in a series of designers across the weekend to pay homage to pregnant women. Dedicated to her late grandmother, Rita O’Dwyer, the collection explored her memories of growing up in the countryside and how these compared to her grandmother’s recollections. She named the collection ‘Duil’, an appropriate Irish term that has no direct English translation, but encapsulates feelings of fondness, longing, craving and lust.
In her sophomore season as a BFC NEWGEN recipient, O’Dwyer extended her exploration of her youth, this time offering more practical styling solutions to her already iconic lattice knit bodysuits in familiar hues of neon pink and pastel green. While a celebration of the body remained at the core of her runway presentation, box pleated skirts, poplin shirting and shibari-inspired playsuits provided seasonally-appropriate styling suggestions for a wardrobe-ready collection full of future must-haves.
For her latest collection, Dimitra Petsa took inspiration from her Greek heritage and its ancient mythologies, this time turning to the coming-of-age tale of Persephone, the Goddess of the Underworld. Petsa’s storyline can be followed through the collection, opening with her signature wet-look gowns in the deep reds, browns and golds of Persephone’s closeness with her mother Demeter. As Persephone descends into the underworld, so too does the colour palette into hard silvers, and cracked black corsets made from recycled leather.
An intimate recording of the designer’s voice soundtracked the mystical collection, beginning as a guided meditation that climaxed to sensual moans and groans, as pregnant and faux-pregnant models glided down the runway holding sage sticks and snakes. Petsa’s collection was an excellent example of a theatrical runway at didn’t forsake the clothing, showcasing new techniques in velvet, denim and silk.
For Friday’s evening entertainment, Sinead Gorey invited attendees to immerse themselves in a Western saloon fantasy. “‘She’ll pour for you; you’ll pour your heart out to her’. Think Coyote Ugly meets the Wild West… she’s hot, she’s wild, she’s the boss and she wears Sinead Gorey,” the designer teased ahead of her first stand-alone presentation.
The space, art directed by Grace Capewell, flipped the traditional fashion week format on its head, transporting audiences into the saloon fit with cowhide dancing platforms, sleazy card games and a mechanical rodeo bull, with models casually swaggering through cosy corners and across dancefloors. Gorey’s collection continues to establish her as the go-to girl for partywear – prioritising comfort with her instantly-recognisable trompe-l’œil naked prints and barely-there fishnets. For AW23, Gorey paired her rave-inspired garms with cowboy hats and matching coats, and debuts a new long-term partnership with footwear stalwarts Kickers.
Making her long-awaited return to London, Mowalola Ogunlesi’s AW23 collection was a dystopian journey through corporate greed and sinister technological developments. Entitled Darkweb, the collection featured passport prints, sewer grate bags and graffiti patterns donned by stars such as Rico Nasty and Yves Tumor. Codes of the ‘American Dream’ were subverted classic logos of the New York Yankees, the Museum of Modern Art, Mcdonald’s and the National Basketball Association, while face-covering hoods and alienesque glasses hint at the sinister anonymity of online activism.
It served as daring commentary that felt urgent following the seasons of escapist collections we have come to expect during this time in our uncertain social climate. Many of us have been disenchanted by the Old White Men responsible for our capitalist hell-hole for quite some time now, but despite the NYC-heavy branding, the collection was a necessary warning for us in the UK of where we’re headed.
For AW23, Priya Ahluwalia’s collection made use of one storytelling device – music. Set in St John Smith’s Square, Ahluwalia replaced the concert hall’s usual orchestra for a jazz ensemble to accompany her latest collection, Symphony. Saxophonist Solaaris and jazz pianist Insxght took audiences on a soulful journey through the songs of her youth, including Prince, Lauryn Hill and Luther Vandross combined with tracks from the designer’s Indian-Nigerian heritage.
This inspiration can be seen in the collection, most notably through its prints, from the designer’s instantly recognisable wave prints to ripples of sonic notes and instrument curvatures that adorned belted outerwear and track shirts. The graphics from the aforementioned artists’ album covers also worked into some of the designs, as did new addition for the designer – QR codes, designed into the garments that allow customers to find out more about what their clothes are made from, where they’re made, as well as the inspiration behind the design. The design innovation is the result of its new partnership with Microsoft, and continues the brand’s commitment to sustainable production, having utilised organic, recycled and upcycled materials throughout the collection.
For his AW23 collection, Conner Ivessought to capture the unbridled joy fashion can bring. Looking to the 90s to recapture the excitement Ives felt when he first found out the happiness fashion would bring to his life. Entitled ‘Magnolia’ after the 1999 cult classic, Ives dressed his models as if they were his own fashion dolls, adorned in Bratz-like clashing prints, beaded long skirts and go-go boots.
On the runway, this meant a soundtrack of Madonna’s “Sorry” and Benny Benassi’s “Satisfaction”. Backstage, this meant Ives telling models to “serve cunt.” And that they did, no doubt supported by TikTok’s model of the moment Alex Consani closing the show in a wedding dress a la Meredith in The Parent Trap, another of the many nods to niche 90s nostalgia. The collection was a reminder of what I enjoy most about fashion – uncomplicated, beautiful clothes, with enough story to give necessary context without losing its sense of wonder.
In his second season away from talent incubator Fashion East, Chet Lo felt like he had a point to prove (this season, not literally). Entitled ‘Bioluminescence’, Lo was inspired by animals who live in the darkest environments to use the phenomenon to attack predators, lure prey and find mates.
The sinister mood was a far cry from the designer’s earlier collections, which saw his now iconic spiked knitwear adorn models in ice cream hues and apres ski, sporting stuffed animal handbags and oversized earmuffs. This season, Lo reinterprets his knit signatures in black with spraypainted bursts of blood red, forrest green and deep navy. Knitwear is paired with distressed denim, and black lapel-less coats with plunging necklines nod to the Hanfu and reference Lo’s East meets West sensibility. The collection showcased an expansion of Lo’s universe, infusing his design signatures with a new layer of quality, craftsmanship and luxury.
There was already a buzz around Indian-born, London-based menswear designer Harri, who made headlines earlier in the month for hisstriking inflatable outfit worn by Sam Smith wore to the 2023 Brit Awards. For AW23, Harri presented his collection with an energetic theatrical presentation.
Ballooned trousers in candy stripes and wet-look latex burst through the collection, which saw dancers glide effortlessly in the oversized designs, a reminder that might look impractical can be anything but. While I don’t doubt Harri’s trousers are best kept for red carpets and performance outfits, it was refreshing to see the buoyant designs styled with shirts and ties, the sleeves mimicking the enlarged shapes of the trousers. The presentation served as light-hearted relief among a packed fashion week schedule, and while I don’t anticipate balloon trousers to fill the streets come September time, it’s a welcome argument for more fun in our fashion trends.
Another designer to make a welcome return to the London schedule, designer A Sai Ta – founder of esteemed London-based brand ASAI – showed his first collection since 2019, having “paused to be present” during the COVID pandemic. Having already launched a thousands trends following its iconic overlocked, patchwork mesh designs, ASAI marked its return to the runway through a celebration of the designer’s Asian heritage, featuring new interpretations of its classic designs.
Having taken time to reasses his brand’s sustainability, ASAI returned with a limited yet confident collection that spoke directly to the virality of the designer’s debut, and looked to the brand’s future. Featuring new fabrications from slick faux leather to patchwork denim, the collection felt like a statement – don’t pigeon-hole this designer, as he certainly has more up his (fringed, extra-long) sleeves.
Rounding out Monday afternoon, Chinese-born, London-based designer Susan Fanginvited attendees to a sports hall to view her AW23 runway collection. Following the setting of her SS23 showcase – which saw gigantic, inflated balls featuring Fang’s prints in the centre of a swimming-pool atop with floating runway – I had come to expect a twist on the usual catwalk display, and this season, Fang filled the floor of the West London school sports hall with thousands of rose petals.
Fang’s collection was inspired by the book, “Ami, Child of the Stars”, which tells the story of an alien visiting Earth to spread a message of peace and unity, and saw the designer debut childrenswear in the collection. Fang’s unique fabric rushing returned on cocktail dresses, red carpet gowns and Midsommar-esque bodysuits, while new beaded designs added a new layer to her eveningwear. Not one to shy from an Insta-worthy moment, Fang’s runway featured dresses that looked as if they were eliterally breathing, emitting rose scented water vapor from tubes attached to the back and arms of models in wing-like structures, and left a truly delicious scent in the air as we closed another season of shows.
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