After a fashion

Janet Fitch goes talent-spotting at London Fashion Week and shares her predictions on the people to watch and the trends for the new season

“And the seasons they go round and round, and the painted ponies go up and down…” as sung many years ago by Joni Mitchell still comes to mind twice a year when London Fashion Week comes around. Its place in the fashion calendar is now before Paris, Milan and New York, so London needs to make a strong statement if it is to be remembered along with the well-endowed big shots of those cities.

This season was the biggest and best ever. There were 46 fashion shows to be crammed into the London Fashion Week schedule, some in venues far removed from the London Fashion Week base – in the grounds of the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. There were also many “fringe” shows as well, leaving fashion editors, buyers and talent-spotters like myself gasping for breath.

New and fairly new names produced collections that were challenging, interesting and in many cases, wearable. There is also a spirit of fusion where art meets fashion design, so that some collections and the showing of them were more like art installations.

Outstanding shows were staged by Clements Ribeiro, Pearce Fionda, Lainey Keogh, Fabio Piras and Owen Gaster. But an even newer generation of designers is now jostling for attention: enter Deborah Milner and Anthony Symonds (if batwing sleeves make a comeback, hold him responsible). Warren Griffiths showed an interesting collection based on architectural Brutalism and its strange beauty. Conceptualist clothes were evident as well, by Boudicca – a partnership of Zo&#235 Broach, stylist and video producer, and Brian Kirby, a Royal College of Art fashion graduate. Their clothes are strange but beautifully conceived and cut, almost to fashion as Damien Hirst is to art.

The fashion industry waits for the Labour Government’s initiative through The Creative Industries Task Force headed by Paul Smith. It is the task of the British Fashion Council’s Chief executive John Wilson to steer British fashion sales onwards. For however frivolous fashion seems, it is a serious industry. The British clothing and textile industry employs nearly 375 000 people with exports totalling 3.3bn annually – Marks & Spencer is the largest exporter.

But fashion can be fun too. Pointers for next autumn/winter include: lots of grey and black of course, but lots of khaki greens, bright reds, and colour too. Flat shoes, thank heavens, but flatteringly pointed; textured fabrics – lace, beading, embroidery; and tailoring that skims the body.

And some weirder trends – the wearing of gauze and muslin or Perspex masks over the mouth and face, the breasts lightly dusted in what looks like soot, or a no-sleeve situation that binds the arms to the body. And what did we all eat at the shows? The free Chupa-chups handed out to the queues.

Dai Rees

Dai Rees’ erratic pro-gress, from leaving school in Wales at the age of 15, to being milliner and jeweller extraordinary makes you realise what can be achieved with talent when it’s allied to determination.

When he left school he worked as a chef, but left and became a welder and made medical aids. Interested in ceramics, he went to Croydon College of Art and Design and went from there to gain BA Hons (first class) in 3D Ceramic Design.

His largescale work won him a place at the Royal College of Art in 1992, where he won first prize in the 1993 Ceramics Contemporary Exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, and, as an example of his versatility, won the RCA’s billboard poster competition.

After leaving college he started experimenting with feathers almost by chance after collecting duck feathers from a local pond. His previous background added a strong sculptural dimension to his work and he was introduced to Alexander McQueen who used his tension-held quill headresses for his spring/summer 1997 catwalk show – a resounding hit for both of them.

For autumn/winter 1997/98 he designed for Julien McDonald and Sonja Nuttall and for the spring/ summer 1998 and autumn winter 1998/99 has been part of the New Generation of Designers’ show at London Fashion Week. He designs a couture range with prices from 1000 to 5000, gilding and decorating feathers and unlikely found objects, and a diffusion range of simpler feather headbands for 50. Rees’s work is stocked at A la Mode, Tokio, Koh Samui, Liberty and in Japan, Hong Kong, Italy and the US. With his ever busy mind he has ideas and plans to expand into different areas for which he hopes to find financial backing.

Mark Whitaker

Mark Whitaker is former fashion editor of British GQ, and Details magazine in New York, where he lived until 1995. He returned to London to start designing under his own label here, following two successful collections in New York which were sold to Liberty London, and Henri Bendel in New York. He was born in Halifax, and graduated from Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

His clothes are very modern in outlook and inspiration and he has adroitly bypassed the razzmatazz of a catwalk show by featuring his 1997 collection, Soft – the first to be shown in London – of fluid quilting and kimono jackets and pyjama-style trousers in pale pastels on models in a cool white installation in the Hempel Hotel.

Last year his spring/summer 1998 collection, which comprised his own prints heat-sealed on to silk crepe and satin devoré, was a separate installation in the Space Only Tent at London Fashion Week. This season his intelligent solution to the burgeoning number of catwalk shows and the clamours for fashion editors’ attention was to produce a brief but beautiful video of his collection and send it vacuum-packed, with a poster to each of them.

The collection, appropriately entitled Inside Out takes the theme of simplicity to a fine degree. All the clothes in this small but desirable collection are designed to be worn inside, as well as outside, carrying on the pyjama theme as jackets and trousers, tweed coats cut like dressing gowns and garments constructed to be worn inside out as well. The colours are luscious and the clothes have a timeless, but contemporary look. Whitaker hopes to sell more widely this season and to be able to carry on strengthening and developing his collection. ‘There’s no point doing it, if I don’t do something new,’ he says.

Lara Boeing 747

Accessories are now such an important part of fashion as a whole that it seemed essential to include a jewellery designer. Hard to choose just one, but Lara Boeing is one of several young designer/makers who are exploring the boundaries of jewellery and clothing, in a way that challenged the tidy idea of wearing earrings, a necklace and bracelet. Boeing’s latest collection uses silver snake-like chain, chain mail tassels and glass beads.

Born in 1972 in Ljubljana, Slovenia, where she trained in industrial design, Boeing came to London four years ago and, in 1996, gained an MA in Art, Jewellery and Metalwork at the Royal College of Art. She has won numerous scholarships and awards and was given a Crafts Council Setting Up Grant.

She has shown at London Fashion Week since 1997 when she was given a Marks & Spencer New Generation Award. She has worked with designers including Pierce Fionda, Bella Freud, Red or Dead and Michiko Koshino and for this season’s Guy Laroche collection in Paris. Her work is stocked in London by Koh Samui, Whistles and Pelicano, at prices ranging from 50 to 1000.

Elspeth Gibson

Elspeth Gibson showed her small, but perfect collection at Nobu – the Japanese restaurant in the Metropolitan Hotel, Park Lane, where only the fashionably correct dare to enter. Her clothes, however, are highly desirable in a modest but sexy way and are easy to wear, as proved by the number of fashion girls – particularly Voguettes – wearing her clothes.

In fact, Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman was quoted in The Daily Telegraph last season as saying that: ‘The most commonly bought item in the Vogue offices this season is an Elspeth Gibson skirt – they seem to strike the right balance, looking modern and different without being too extreme.’ That sums up her style. Working for Monix, after graduating from Nottinghamshire College of Design and a spell with Zandra Rhodes, must have taught her a lot about what women are happy wearing, plus the fact that she’s not a model height or size herself, but endearingly ‘normal’ looking. Her sharply tailored pencil skirts and cropped wide-legged trousers, worn with soft beaded cardigans, are very current. Add a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes and you could grace a table at Nobu with confidence.

You can find her clothes at Liberty, Harrods, Selfridges and Browns in London, at Saks, Nieman and Marcus in the US, in Japan at Isetan and in Asia at Joyce.

Matthew Williamson

Matthew Williamson graduated from Central St Martins College of Art and Design in 1994 and has already established himself as a name to watch. His latest collection entitled Future Heirlooms was the second he has shown on the schedule of London Fashion Week.

He contrasts elegant narrow tailoring with beading, fringing, embroidery and delicate chiffon, net, georgette and cashmere, all complemented by snowflake headpieces by top milliner Stephen Jones, jewellery by Jade Jagger (daughter of Mick) and Euan MacDonald, and softest suede pointy flat shoes by Manolo Blahnik. It is a very beautiful collection of calm, cool and flattering clothes, and reflects the experience he gained working as Zandra Rhodes’ assistant, and at Georgina von Etzdorf, Marni and Monsoon. His London stockists include A la Mode, Joseph and Browns.

The collection was shown at the Milch Gallery off Charing Cross Road, blocking the street with a queue of black-clad fashion aficionados in the same way that the Astoria queues do on the other side of the road.

Julien McDonald

Julien McDonald, still only 25-years-old, is another meteoric rising star in Britain’s fashion firmament. He graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1996, with a strong collection that attracted the attention of Karl Lagerfeld who whisked him off to Paris for work placement at Chanel followed quickly by an appointment as knitwear designer for Chanel couture, Chanel ready-to-wear and Lagerfeld. The first showing of his collection Mermaids was at the Imagination Gallery in February 1997 and his first London Fashion Week catwalk show was in October 1997.

This season’s show was exquisite in both presentation and content, but serious reporting on his wonderful knits was rather lost in the big question of whether it was really Michael Jackson in the front row or a lookalike (opinion is still divided). His fantasy knits in gold, silver and ruby reds are stocked by A la Mode, Browns and Liberty and by Bergdorf Goodman and Saks in the US. More to the point, he has designed a range of fine lacy knits for Marks & Spencer which will be in selected stores in April. Never mind the M&S groceries, spend it on sweaters instead.

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