London Fashion Week began with an ending, or a goodbye, rather, to one of the most influential figures in British fashion, Vivienne Westwood.
On the eve of the first day of Fall-Winter 2023 shows, the designer, who died in December, was celebrated at London’s at Southwark Cathedral in a memorial service attended by fashionable dignitaries including Kate Moss, Marc Jacobs and Helena Bonham Carter.
The British Fashion Council (BFC) also announced that London Fashion Week would be dedicated to the legendary designer known widely as the priestess of punk.
Matty Bovan, the North-England-based designer whose experimental silhouettes, penchant for clashing patterns and use of deadstock material has often led to comparisons with Westwood, said her influence was immeasurable.
“(Westwood) reached people who weren’t in fashion, she reached generations of young people who would never have looked at fashion or never felt they could look at fashion,” he told CNN ahead of his presentation on Friday. “Without Vivienne, I don’t think I’d be a designer.”
It was a jam-packed schedule within which emerging brands outnumbered the more established labels such as Burberry and Christopher Kane. Debuts were aplenty: Greek label Di Petsa staged its first — and suitably theatrical — catwalk after hosting a presentation in 2020. Chinese newcomer Buerlangma showed in London for the first time, closing the schedule with a series of villainous horned masks and sinister elongated finger gloves.
Most notably, Daniel Lee successfully delivered his first collection for Burberry on Monday night, putting forward a cosy, punk-inspired aesthetic for the British heritage house.
On Tuesday, three Ukrainian designers presented their Fall-Winter collections created during the conflict. Ksenia Schnaider, Frolov and Paskal would have typically shown in Kyiv, had it not been for the ongoing war. Instead, the special Ukrainian Fashion Week, hosted by London, was a poignant chance to celebrate the nation’s artistry: “Today, more than ever, we need creativity for life,” read the press release for the event.
Other highlights included AI-generated animal prints (think literal piglets, baby chicks and rats) at Christopher Kane, dainty ribbons in the place of eyeliner at Simone Rocha, a nautical-themed S.S. Daley show on Sunday night, and a series of ivory bridal gowns at Richard Quinn.
Across the five-day event, there were moments of diverse casting that ultimately felt few and far between. Curves were abundant at Di Petsa’s sage-infused show, and Brazilian-born designer Karoline Vitto once again built her collection with bigger bodies in mind. Sinead O’Dwyer started the week right with one of the most diverse casts of models seen on the schedule (including larger bodies, a model using a wheelchair and a pregnant model), but the general tide skewed skinny — a signal the battle for true body positivity is far from over.
Baby bumps and kidswear
Not one, but two shows this season featured expectant models. A consistent champion of body diversity, womenswear designer Sinead O’Dwyer featured a heavily pregnant Tessa Kuragi on one of the first runways of the season. Meanwhile, Di Petsa — whose regal wet-look gowns have been worn by Kylie Jenner, Lizzo and even Gigi Hadid in her last trimester — opened its Fall-Winter 2023 show with a pregnant model, and created several garments which mimicked the baby bump silhouette. Inspired by the Greek myth of Persephone and themes of rebirth, ideas around parturition were hammered home by the label’s founder, Dimitra Petsa, moored on a rock in the middle of the catwalk chanting “your belly button is the center of the earth.”
Emerging designer Susan Fang also made it a family affair. On Monday, the label debuted its first childrenswear collection. Miniature floral dresses with diaphanous poplin collars were modeled by adorably spirited toddlers, chaperoned by adult models in corresponding looks. “We look to the future of all of us — children,” wrote Fang in the accompanying show notes.
Art & commerce
Designers this season appeared to sit in two camps: Those who adopted a more mercantile mindset — perhaps in response to concerns around another recession — and those who seemingly through caution to the wind and chose art over commerce.
Young labels Natasha Zinko and Mowalola found fashion’s funny bone: Zinko with a collection that centered plastic green six-packs and Hulk-inspired makeup, as well as Mowalola’s jeans that were so comically low-slung they sat at the knees.
While the frayed pleated mini skirts and corsets at Dilara Findikoglu felt bang on trend, there were moments of pure sartorial hedonism: A dress embellished with vintage silver knives molded perfectly to the body, for example. At KWK by Kay Kwok giant metallic shields doubled as dystopian body jewelry, while at Harri’s buzzy presentation — the label responsible for Sam Smith’s viral Brit Awards look — ballooning inflatable trousers were offset by neckties. “This was me letting go,” founder and designer Hari Pillai told CNN at his show. “(I want people to) think as big as possible.”
Elsewhere, brands like 16Arlington, Ahluwalia and David Koma produced more refined, wearable party pieces that could be plucked straight off of the runway.
You needed more than an encyclopedic knowledge of fashion to understand some of Fall-Winter 2023’s references, as designers this season went cross-disciplinary. At Connor Ives’ second-ever London runway show, the American designer included an esoteric nod to the 1998 film “The Parent Trap,” starring Lindsay Lohan, Natasha Richardson and Dennis Quaid. Ives’ closing look, a bridal dress and white veiled top hat modeled by TikTok influencer Alex Consani, was inspired by a scene from the movie. “I love a nice reference,” Ives told press after the show.
Matty Bovan equally found inspiration in film. His baroque, sci-fi-looking creations are in part influenced by “Blade Runner” (1982). “It was positively dripping off the screen at me,” Bovan told CNN over video call. “I reference it a lot. It’s one of the pinnacles of production, costume design, I love it.”
After winning both the LVMH Prize and the British Fashion Council’s award for emerging talent last year, Liverpudlian Steven Stokey-Daley presented his latest collection to a room of high-profile editors including Anna Wintour. The show opened with a surprise performance from British theater heavyweight Ian McKellan who performed a reading of Alfred Tennyson’s “The Coming of Arthur,” which inspired Kate Bush’s “The Ninth Wave.” The series of songs by the British singer served as the starting point for the lost-at-sea-themed collection. “Listening to ‘The Ninth Wave’ by Kate Bush, I found the whole universe in it. I do see clothes as music, and this feeling for the collection overtook me in a way that I couldn’t ignore,” said Stokey-Daley in show notes.
Scroll down for more eye-catching moments from London Fashion Week.