Why Climate Activism Was the Biggest Trend at London Fashion Week

Originally published on EcoAge

fashion week

Image: Talia Woodin

This season, London Fashion Week saw the climate crisis take centre stage both on and off the catwalk. Brooke Roberts-Islam looks at the initiatives shaking up the way the industry works, and exactly what these demands for action should entail. 

Following a packed month of climate change and sustainability summits in January spanning the World Economic Forum in Davos, The Future Fabrics Expo in London and the Study Hall Climate Positivity conference in New York, February showed little sign of retreat from the appeals to act against climate change. While New York fashion week rolled on with what looked like business as usual, London Fashion Week (LFW) was punctuated by activism, climate speeches, designers presenting clothing they had stolen or swapped or upcycled, and the, now seasonal, Extinction Rebellion climate protest. 

Ahead of LFW on 10th February, Extinction Rebellion (XR) delivered a letter endorsed by Caryn Franklin MBE, Livia Firth of Eco-Age and among others, the founder of London Fashion Week, Lynne Franks OBE, asking the British Fashion Council (BFC) to “cancel September 2020 fashion week” and “ immediately start work on an emergency action plan that aids stakeholders through change.” Extinction Rebellion has asked the BFC to respond before September 2020 with a commitment to this transformation. While their response is as yet unknown, that wasn’t to say that the climate message didn’t manage to dominate London Fashion Week nonetheless.

On day one, the mood was set by the ON|OFF catwalk show which commenced with a speech from fashion sustainability researchers Professor Kate Fletcher and Dr. Mathilda Tham. “Climate scientists tell us that we’ve only got 10 years to change how we live, and also how we dress,” they declared. “For many years we have been dressing like we are somehow separate from the earth; as if our fate is somehow not tied to the health of the planet that is our home. But it is, and we need to change.” They also proposed that ‘Growth Logic’ should be replaced by ‘Earth Logic;’ the name of a report and manifesto they have authored as a blueprint for rooting fashion in creativity, community, curiosity, courage, and care, instead of profit. 

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Images: ON|OFF

Fletcher and Tham’s speech was followed by a catwalk show entitled All Power to the Imagination. The clothes were strewn with anarchic slogans, stickers on the soles of second-hand sandals, stilettos held on with scotch tape and spewing ball gowns, painted as though they were decaying – all while models stomped down the runway to a remix of The Clash’s ‘London Calling.’ These looked like clothes for rebellion and the message felt more important than the medium (which was largely synthetic, not particularly commercial and was peddling the idea of shredding fashion rules). It felt like these designers were lashing out – and rightly so, given that they are inheriting a climate crisis and an industry painfully resistant to cleaning up its act. 

During a conversation after the show with Fletcher and Tham, I asked what the desired outcome of their Earth Logic manifesto is. They are pushing for a slowing down of the fashion industry and adoption of their ‘landscapes’ for redefining and reorganising it. The full manifesto calls for changes including less growth, local scaling and re-centering of the fashion industry. I questioned whether the manifesto would deliver widespread action in an industry that is largely based in Asia (China and Bangladesh, to be specific, given that these two countries manufacture most of the clothing sold globally). Aren’t scalable, technology-based solutions needed to solve the immense problem of waste and overproduction, I asked? 

Fletcher’s response was words of caution against looking to technology to solve our climate challenges. The Earth logic document states that “technology is good at reducing impacts associated with the production of material goods, but it has very real limits. Yet somehow a dream of a techno-fix still permeates society. The only solution is less stuff. There are no other options.” But won’t it take longer than a decade to convince people to buy less stuff? Fletcher thinks not, citing the smoking ban and suggesting that it sparked a swift change in public opinion and behaviour. She and Tham are touring the UK to disseminate Earth Logic and will be speaking at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in an effort to lobby all fashion industry stakeholders to adopt their radical re-think and re-organisation of the industry.

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Images: House of SheldonHall

Meanwhile, day two of London Fashion Week saw the launch of Extinction Rebellion’s XR Fashion Action protest effort. This season, the protests too had a creative slant, featuring talks, block printing on second-hand clothes and music outside of the BFC’s main show venue at 180 The Strand. Their actions were bolstered by respected academics and industry veterans, including Professor Dilys Williams FRSA of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion. “We ask all involved in fashion to place earth and equality first, to respond to XR demands and to recognise those designers and fashion practitioners who create prosperity in social, ecological, cultural and economic dimensions,” stated Williams.

There is no doubt that XR is shining a spotlight on fashion and demanding that business as usual ceases, but I can’t help but ask what will replace it? What happens next if XR’s 3 Demands Bill (their core aim) is passed? The industry still needs to be transformed, but how will that be done, and by whom? In previous interviews, Sara Arnold, a pivotal member of the XR Fashion Action team, has explained that their aim is to trigger the announcement of the climate crisis by parliament, catalysing a pause in the industry so that all stakeholders can plan for, and implement, a more sustainable form of the industry. However, I would contend that it is difficult to understand how this will be structured and actioned, in practical terms. 

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[Images: Talia Woodin]

Elsewhere during London Fashion Week, Anya Hindmarch replaced her usual catwalk show or presentation with the ‘I Am A Plastic Bag’ collection and filled up her London stores with plastic bottles to make a statement on waste. Phoebe English, an up and coming designer and advocate for slow, low-impact fashion, created her collection from the leftover fabric of twelve London-based fashion design studios, including Simone Rocha. How this works for the production of the collection post-show is not immediately evident, but the use of existing materials sent out an applaudable message.

Yet perhaps most notably of all, the main BFC showroom space at 180 The Strand that was once a vast trade show of brands presenting collections to buyers this year became a paired-back ‘Positive Fashion’ showcase. While still a commercial brand space, it was filled with labels claiming a facet of sustainability in their offering. What was also new this season was the prominent positioning of young emerging designers who are operating under sustainable business models that integrate swapping (Patrick McDowell), upcycling (Sophie Hird) and repurposed deadstock (Duran Lantink). Although not immediately scalable, they had the fashion week audience engaged and talking, both in-person and online via Instagram. Their endeavours served to show that the fashion crowd’s appetite for something new is not related to seasonal silhouettes and colour palettes, but the business model and consumption methods of fashion. 

With the global narrative around sustainability and climate change imperatives rising, it is difficult to imagine a fashion week without the growing sustainability narrative taking centre stage, powered by designers making a stand and activists demanding change. Business as usual looks less likely for the seasons ahead – All power to the Imagination indeed! 

LFW: What Designers Really Think About Calls to Cancel Fashion Week

Originally published on Eco-Age.

As London Fashion Week draws to a close for another season, fashion tech innovator, writer and public speaker Brooke Roberts-Islam speaks to designers and Extinction Rebellion representatives about this week’s protests and how we can all play a part in building a more sustainable fashion industry.

On Day 1 of London Fashion Week, I was met with a row of police vans stationed outside the LFW show venue, parked up, in an ominous standby state as if predicting the worst might happen. With civil unrest predicted following Extinction Rebellion’s calls for a ‘boycott’ of LFW and of the British Fashion Council to acknowledge the climate crisis, the heightened security  signified that the escalating protests about the climate emergency we are now facing were being taken seriously.

Sara Arnold, founder of fashion rental business Higher Studio and member of Extinction Rebellion, now known as XR, explained that they are calling for one thing (with three parts). They want the government to tell the truth about the climate emergency; to act immediately to halt biodiversity loss; and to create a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice, to ensure that achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2025 (as deemed necessary by IPCC) is not beyond hope.

But is boycotting fashion week really the best way to halt the climate crisis? XR has, in fact, penned a letter to the British Fashion Council asking them to cancel London Fashion Week and convene the industry instead, to discuss solutions for halting fashion’s broken and polluting system. The term boycott has been mistakenly used, explained Arnold when I interviewed her on day 2 of LFW. Would it be possible for LFW to go ahead and then convene the industry, I asked? Do these things have to be mutually exclusive? Arnold’s view is that fashion week is a distraction from the truth about the urgent crisis we are in, and to overhaul the system business as usual needs to stop. “We need to have a radical solution, ” she said. But what about the independent designers whose products she rents via her subscription service, Higher Studio? “I feel deep empathy with designers wanting to make a living out of what they are doing,” she said. “But Higher Studio won’t save us.” 

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Image: Sabinna Season 9

Looking to designers for their opinion, I spoke to London-based Sabinna Rachimova, founder of womenswear label SABINNA, which she sells direct to consumer via pop-up stores and an e-commerce site. On the subject of boycotting London Fashion Week, she said: “I would love to see alternative solutions – London Fashion Week could be used as a platform to inform, educate and showcase the necessary changes that this industry is facing.” 

During a Positive Fashion panel discussion on the final day of London Fashion Week, Arizona Muse echoed Rachimova, saying: “fashion week could be harnessed for good (so that it) reflects a more humane approach.” It’s true that London Fashion Week has a hugely influential and powerful voice, which explains the importance of XR being part of the LFW narrative as the BFC ushers in a new era of Positive Fashion and seeks to be part of the sustainable solution and secure the industry’s future – in Brexit Britain, at least. 

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Image: Phoebe English SS20 Ready to Wear, credit Asia Werbel.

Phoebe English also joined the Positive Fashion panel to explain why she stopped making collections for three seasons and discarded “eight years of (working with suppliers) – scrapping it all and starting from scratch.” English and several other designers, including Bethany Williams, who earlier this year won the Queen Elizabeth II Award for Design, have created a Whatsapp group to converse about the challenges and solutions they are facing as fashion designers and brand owners, and to rally around solving sustainability challenges. 

Bel Jacobs, representing XR, presented the stark truths from the IPCC and UN climate reports that we are “in the middle of the 6th mass extinction”. “We called for fashion week to be cancelled to use this as a platform to broadcast the climate emergency,” she said. “Everyone will stop and recognise (the emergency) if the BFC does that. It’s too late for incremental change.”  She dismissed the notion that the XR activation planned for the final day of fashion week entitled “RIP London Fashion Week” was “overly dramatic and alarmist”, again citing the IPCC and UN reports as evidence that the planned action is proportional, reiterating that XR are “calling for an end to the industry in its current incarnation.” 

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Image: Roberter Einer SS20

Designer Roberta Einer, who presented her collection in a London Fashion Week show, commented: “I feel incredibly privileged to be part of the LFW but understand that with that comes a lot of responsibility.” She explained that over the last couple of seasons her team has started to recycle silks for their embroideries, re-dye and reuse fabrics for sampling, and revaluate the mills they are sourcing their fabrics from. This echoes the words of English, who has assessed all aspects of her business and implemented the most sustainable options within her power. She admits there is still much to do, though. 

Tamsin Blanchard, the panel moderator, nailed the crux of the problem by reminding the London Fashion Week audience that “we can’t buy our way to sustainability.” She pointed to fast fashion as the main culprit for the lion’s share of waste and climate impact attributed to the fashion industry.  There was no representation from fast fashion brands at the panel discussion, but JD.com and Foot Locker are current sponsors of LFW, so there is undeniably a direct line of communication from high fashion to fast fashion.

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Image: Martina Spetlova

In terms of the drivers behind the growth of the fashion industry and the huge volumes of fast fashion produced and consumed, Dr. Amy Twigger Holroyd, professor of School of Art and Design, Nottingham Trent University and core team member of the Union of Concerned Researchers of Fashion said we are: “stuck in a capitalist model of growth.” “Do fashion designers need to create things? No. When we recognise this, the scope for creativity is much broader,” she said. 

This conjures up thoughts of the work of digital fashion house The Fabricant, which created the world’s first blockchain registered digital couture, never to be made in physical form, and ‘fitted’ to the avatar of the owner – all for a princely sum approaching £8,000. While that may feel quite futuristic to some, there are immediately accessible solutions that could radically improve fashion’s climate impact, like the high street moving from sales to a rental business model. Tamsin Lejeune, CEO of Common Objective, highlighted rental as a potential solution that may offer immediate and widespread reductions in climate impact.

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Image: Phoebe English SS20 Ready to Wear, credit Asia Werbel.

So if the lion’s share of the fashion industry’s environmental impact lies with fast fashion brands, what role can smaller, independent designers play in halting this climate crisis? Phoebe English contributed to the recent environmental audit committee recommendations, which were rejected in their entirety by the British government. “Parliament and government does not have systems in place to deal with this emergency – the change will only come from us, ” she said. “We need to change and we need to change right now.” 

London fashion week Positive Fashion exhibitor and designer Martina Spetlova told me that ”although LFW is making positive efforts to promote sustainability within the fashion industry, we still need to stand up with XR boycott fashion and provoke that change through media pressure and awareness. Coming from Eastern Europe I have witnessed the power of direct protest with Velvet revolution.” 

So it seems the overriding view of designers and activists at London Fashion Week is that the responsibility falls on all citizens (both those creating and consuming fashion) to demand change. However, protest alone will not effect the change required, and if the existing fast fashion business model and mode of selling remains unchanged, the unbridled use of resources and creation of waste will propel us toward climate devastation. In terms of rallying around solutions and urging recognition of the crisis, the singular, unified message from all parties is that action is required by each and every one of us, right now. I’m starting by reviewing the IPCC and UN reports referenced above. And I haven’t bought a single item of new clothing all year, which I intend to maintain indefinitely. What will you do? 

Sabinna Experiments With Mixed Reality Shopping for Fashion

For Sabinna Rachimova, her ‘brand DNA’ is, actually, familial.  It transcends ethos and aesthetics and runs deep into the past, through two generations of her family.  Her grandmother, a maths and physics professor in her native Russia, who during communist times made clothing on the side for neighbours and friends for extra income, inspired her to pursue a career in art and craft.

Sabinna’s parents were professional athletes, her mother a field hockey player and her father a footballer, which meant the family travelled regularly and she grew up in Russia, Spain and Austria, where her family finally settled.  Describing this experience as unsettling, she created her own fictional world of play to distract herself from being the new kid and not speaking the local language, at least initially.  Craft became Sabinna’s passion, so where communication with others lacked, she filled her time with what interested her – art, craft and languages.

Family photos, Sabinna’s studio, East London

Sabinna’s parents insisted she attend a languages and maths-focused high school, so unable to pursue creative subjects, she completed her studies under duress and then went on to enrol in a Slavic languages degree after a rejection from the University of Applied Arts Vienna, where she had hoped to study fashion design.  Struggling to find a route into a design degree, she sent her CV to every fashion designer in Vienna, asking for a part-time job and hoping to step inside what she described at the time as the ‘secret world of fashion’.

Schella Kann took her on and with a tough love approach, telling her to forget about the rejection from the University of Applied Arts Vienna and to look further afield to pursue her dreams.  By putting together a portfolio based on the way her maths and physics professor grandmother had taught her to present ideas, she applied and was accepted onto a foundation course at Central Saint Martins in London.  Not bad for someone who pulled together a portfolio in twenty four hours, assisted by her boyfriend and now long term partner, David, and sent it simply addressed to the ‘fashion’ department with a request to join a fashion course, of no particular specification.

Following completion of her foundation course, Sabinna went on to study Fashion Marketing and Design at CSM and interned in the knitwear department at Dior, which she describes as ‘the best and worst’ (experience).  She describes spending up to two days pondering yarn colours alongside the knitwear team, and working with Italian factories who would bring cases full of ideas into the ready-to-wear team’s studio for the knitwear team to use as inspiration from which to develop the seasonal designs.  Sabinna describes gaining an insight into the technical aspects of knitwear development and production with the scale of a luxury fashion house and this knowledge has clearly stood her in good stead for developing her own fashion business.

Describing herself as “terrible at maths but very good with numbers”, she explains to me how her business, which she launched eighteen months ago, works on a day-to-day basis, with the SABINNA team, consisting of herself and her partner David, co-founders and leading the design and IT and e-commerce respectively; Zula, Sabinna’s mum, who is head of knitwear, which is made in Vienna, Austria;  Scarlett, a long-term friend of Sabinna and pattern cutter, who develops the designs alongside Sabinna and is based in Hastings;  David’s sister Simone, who is in charge of taxes; Julia, who is based in Vienna and does research and marketing; and Asya, who creates the crochet pieces and assists Sabinna in London.

Sabinna’s studio 

All of Sabinna’s fabrics are from Europe and all the ready-to-wear, custom made pieces for private clients, crochet pieces and bags are made in the UK.  All of the knitwear is made in Austria.

Zula’s knitwear design notes, inspiration and hand-knitted jumper at Sabinna’s studio, East London

Having seen behind the scenes at Sabinna’s studio, I am eager to delve a little deeper into this season’s collection, show and mixed-reality presentation.  Having attended Sabinna’s catwalk show and seen the collection up close, I’m curious to know what prompted Sabinna to delve into using the Hololens and working with a mixed reality platform to present her collection virtually after having just presented it in catwalk reality.  When I ask how the fashion-tech collaboration came about, we spent some time talking about notions of innovation in fashion and the idea of ‘newness’.

Sabinna’s studio 

Fashion is highly resistant to change.  I have mentioned this paradox a number of times in my articles.  Sabinna puts it clearly, “the main problem with fashion is that it doesn’t communicate well with the outside world… Social media has divided fashion along commercial lines”.  She feels there is too much made of creative/experimental fashion versus commercial fashion, especially in London, and that designers are often placed in one box or the other.  Describing her collections as very wearable and leaning towards the commercial side, she sees the opportunity for innovation and creativity in presentation and storytelling, with Microsoft Hololens and collaborator Pictofit being the perfect collaborators for this, facilitated by the FIA and Fashion Scout.

SABINNA SS17, I Still Love You  – Photos and Styling:  Toni Caroline

Sabinna follows what’s widely termed as the ‘see now, buy now’ business model, which means her collections are produced in advance of her show and ready to buy immediately after they are presented, allowing her to capitalise on the buzz of London Fashion Week and engage her clients in a complete presentation and shopping experience.

SABINNA SS17 show, Fashion Scout, London Fashion Week

Setting the tone for seasons to come, where Sabinna plans to continue experimenting with technology to create new experiences rather than attempting to constantly re-invent her products, Sabinna chose to create the world’s first mixed-reality shopping event at the Freemason’s Hall as part of Fashion scout during London Fashion Week, following her catwalk show.


Behind the scenes at SABINNA SS17 show, Fashion Scout, London Fashion Week

Why mixed reality shopping?  With her collection available, she thought it would make sense to give the customer a creative tool to explore styling different pieces of the collection virtually before purchasing.

Top: Image capture by Pictofit in Austria, Bottom:  Sabinna’s mixed-reality shopping experience at Fashion Scout, LFW – Photos by Emmi Hyyppä and Sabinna

There was also an app available to download, allowing shoppers to use the Pictofit virtual fitting room and, instead of looking at virtual mannequins, try on the SABINNA collection, entitled I Still Love You, on images of themselves.  The clothes adapt to the user’s body shape in real time.

With a huge ambition for trying new technologies and exploring the potential of virtual and augmented reality, Sabinna passionately emphasises that designers need to experiment with new technologies in order to discover newness.  Sometimes something new is right in front of you, but you don’t see it because you are striving to re-invent something that may not need re-inventing, she says.  Newness can come in the form of simply working with a new piece of technology, while sticking to the same core aesthetics, materials and designs in terms of product.  For her, technology is the catalyst and an exciting tool for telling new stories in fashion, she states, mentioning the huge leaps in the technology’s image capture and render quality in just the six months since Martine Jarlgaard’s mixed reality fashion presentation at London Fashion Week in September 2016. Let’s see what next season brings.

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Sadie Williams and Marta Jakubowsi Wield A Sucker Punch Of Colour at London Fashion Week

The ‘insta-fashion’ of today lends a kind of high impact then fast fade to fashion imagery – blink and you’ll miss it.  It occurred to me today that the presentations I have seen at fashion week so far on day one are highly condensed, stringently edited and high impact.  Jammed with colour and unwavering in focus, they are a visual sucker punch that makes for great images ripe for social media – saturated colours, bold sets, texture, drape and exaggeration.  They are a distillation of concentrated strong visual ideas rather than a gently rambling or winding journey.  Kind of like the meat of the story, without the preamble or rounding-off.

Sadie Williams presented a glimmering gang in a folk art disco, mixing old and new on the textile front – 70’s glitter vibes set against retro-reflective ‘high viz’ trousers and corduroy accented with crystals by Swarovski – a pioneer in new technologies with an eye on robotic manufacturing, according to a recent interview with Nadja Swarovski for the McKinsey report on the State of fashion report,2017.  The collection was styled with Converse Chuck Taylors and elastic layered tights and socks smattered with holes by Wolford.  This collection was a fun textile and colour mash-up underpinned by textile mastery.

Marta Jakubowski‘s collection was understated and seriously focussed on turning childhood nostalgia into grown-up elegant tailoring.  The colours were rich and deeply attractive.  On the tube on the way home I considered researching the psychological effects of the deep, warm shades of purple and red in the collection to understand how they somehow ‘fill out’ the aesthetics visually – making the sum of the parts (tailoring and colour) so much greater than either individually.  I bet there’s enlightenment to be found, alas the scope of this piece is short given the gazillion words I want to write about all I have seen so far at London Fashion Week.  Suffice to say, it was beautifully elegant and desirable, not unlike Sade, who not doubt provided aesthetic inspiration for the cutaway polo necks and much of the soundtrack in the form of Sweetest Taboo, Chaka Khan and Tina Turner.  Sometimes simple is best.

Below is a list of the people involved in creating and presenting these collections.  I include these credits, which are on the designer’s printed show notes along with the back story of the collection, because the teams and talent required to realise these collections is huge and diverse.  I type these names to recognise their input (we’ve all been there, working behind the scenes and during the months of preparation) and to show the diversity of backgrounds of London’s fashion creatives.   Long may this diversity continue.

Presentation credits Marta Jakubowski:

Set Design: Gary Card; Styling: Tati Cotliar; Casting: Emilie Astrom; Make-up: Lucy Bridge @ Streeters; Hair: Mari @LGA Management usiing Bumble and Bumble; Nails: Imarni Ashman using Elegant Touch; Music, Elton Gron; Press release: Daryoush Haj-Najafi; Shoes: Jimmy Choo.  Special thanks:  NEWGEN Panel, British Fashion Council, Sarah Mower, Ash Smith, Ella Dror, Jade Willson, Laura Fairfax, Gillian Horsup, Vintage Models, Butler & Wilson.   The Marta Jakubowski team is: Zuzanna Szarlata, Alexandra Sipa, Ines Vilas Boas, Ashley Lee, Ellie Carless, Ash Chari and Audra Kreivyte-Krajewska

Marta Jakubowski showroom:  1-7th March, 3Rue Portefoin, Marais, PARIS, 75003

Presentation credits Sadie Williams:

Styling: Poppy Kain at Intrepid; Casting: Frances Odim-Loughlin; Set Design: Sean Thomson assisted by Warwick Turner-Noakes; Hair: Syd Hayes using Babyliss Pro assisted by Paula McCash and Josh Goodwin; Make-up:  Lucy Bridge using Mac Cosmetics; Nails: Pebbles Aikens at the Wall Group using Nailberry assisted by Brigita Backtye and Lyubomira Koukoutar; Soundtrack: Jackson Holmes.  Special thanks:  NEWGEN team, Topship, the BFC, Nadja Swarovski and team, Sarah Mower, Nora Wong, Arabella Williams, Eden Loweth, Francis Williams, Frida Agren, Jackie Lyall, David Lyall, Jess Kerntiff, Joe Williams, Joseph Horton, Justin Mansfield, Rachel Pelly, The team at IPR and all my family and friends, Stephanie Achonwa, Flavia Abbud, Emily Collier, Emily Coveney, Maddie Denman, Jennifer Drouguett, Florence Hutchings, Nadria Khan, Danielle Kidd, Lola Odumosu, Natalia Niclau, Clara Ormieres, Esther Richardson, Justin Rivera, Christina Ryu, Raiesa Salum, Aasia D’Vaz-Sterling, Nick De Vine, Sophia Messina, Dave Olu Ogunnaike, Hetty Mahlich and Eloise Andrews.

Marta Jakubowski and Sadie Williams are recipients of the Topshop NEWGEN award.

Header:  Marta Jakubowski AW17

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London Fashion Week Mens Gets Political – Designers Create Fashion Antidotes to Brexit and Trump

I’ve made the claim previously that fashion is most powerful when it has something to say, and London Fashion Week Mens shouted angrily to this end.  

Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as the US president have resonated with a swathe of London-based mens fashion designers, including Liam Hodges and Christopher Shannon, resulting in their angry bid to assert their voices of creativity, diversity and civil rights via fashion.  They channelled the UK’s (and perhaps the world’s) bleak political canvas into a colourful, textural backlash, with Liam Hodges asking where to find a “vocation in the decline of civilisation” (in this sector, fashion tech and materials science?) and an emblazoned sweatshirt with the parental warning “Our following EVENTS have been approved for ALL AUDIENCES by the International campaign for fear and Hysteria… PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned” via his Dystopia Lives! collection.  

The opening pastel-tinged denim of Christopher Shannon’s AW17 show lulled me into a false sense of security (in the form of appreciation of the neat jean) before the flag-laden faces in collaboration with Rottingdean Bazaar and the slogan sweats transforming benign fashion branding into statements on the current political state of affairs – Boss became “Loss” and Timberland became “Tumbleweed” – showed Shannon’s serious and stinging intent, ramping the show up to an outspoken and bold level.

Defiant slogans they might be, but that wasn’t at the expense of wearability and seriously well made clothes.  I won’t venture into critic territory about garment structure, textiles and details, not because I didn’t think they were extremely well constructed, but because fashion is subjective and this is simply commentary and reflection, I’m not a critic, rather a designer, writer and appreciator, and I’d wear the lot.   

Christopher Shannon’s AW17 collection in conjunction with Village, Hi-Tec, Revlon and Topman

Shannon’s show notes cite photographer Oliviero Toscani and art director Tibor Kalman, “founding editor of the pioneering COLORS magazine, which was at the forefront of embracing diversity in fashion” as sources of inspiration.  Judith Joy Ross’s Living with War also influenced the collection. 

          Photography: Oliviero Toscani Studio


Colours Magazine, Editor Tibor Kalman and United Colors of Benetton campaign, featured in Colors

Photograph: Judith Joy Ross. Living With War

I’m thinking back to Ashish’s brave and passionate political show at LFW for Spring Summer 2017 and hoping that this resonates through womens fashion week this coming season, as it has mens.  I contemplate the upcoming New York Fashion Week and wonder whether there will be any similar sentiment shared by designers there facing an era of challenging, nasty politics under the new Trump administration.  Will Putin get a (not so honourable) mention?

It’s brave for a designer to be so gobby, especially with the pressure of commercial sales targets and constant burden of turning a profit and keeping the wheels turning, but Shannon’s line of thoughtful and clever sloganeering is somewhat proven, with his current and previous collections bearing a corruption of Sports Direct as “Lovers Direct” and “Haters Direct”, currently in store at Selfridges.  

Fashion that provokes questioning and contemplation and contributes to social and political discourse gets my vote.  Slogan up! 

Christopher Shannon show credits:

Styling: Max Clark assisted by Julie Velut and Louis Prier
Hair: John Vial at UNIT 30 for Revlon at SALON SLOANE
Makeup: Andrew Gallimore and team at CLM Hair & Makeup
Face: Rottingdean Bazaar
Footwear: Christopher Shannon for Hi-Tec
Soundtrack: Maxwell Sterling
Models: Select
Special Thanks: Laura Davidson at Marks & Spencer

Dedicated to Richard Nicoll

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Edda’s Illustrative Fancies Make for Fashion Week Fun

I wrote about the work of fashion designer Edda Gimnes on Techstyler back in February and was curious to see where her penchant for large, sweeping illustrated textiles had taken her for this season.  Edda is an emerging designer beginning to navigate her way into the fashion industry, grabbing onto opportunities arising from winning the bronze award at Designer’s Remix in Milan in March and Germany’s ‘Designer of Tomorrow‘ award in July, following the launch of her label EDDA at Fashion Scout  seven months ago during London Fashion Week.

Edda’s speciality is her celebration of ‘naive’ illustration (she draws with her non-dominant hand) and her willingness to be led into creative territory by mistakes and asymmetry in pattern cutting.  Most western-trained fashion graduates are schooled to strive for balance in pattern cutting, with a focus on fit and silhouette.  Edda’s patterns are a canvas – at times literally – for her fun and figurative broad-brush stroke designs which are digitally printed onto textiles.  The result is graphic, bold and a whole lot of fun.

screen-shot-2016-10-09-at-15-08-54 screen-shot-2016-10-09-at-15-07-18 screen-shot-2016-10-09-at-15-07-10screen-shot-2016-10-09-at-15-11-43screen-shot-2016-10-09-at-15-12-36screen-shot-2016-10-09-at-15-17-34Edda’s SS16 Illustrations, research and development

Winning the ‘Designer of Tomorrow’ award following her SS16 collection launch has earned Edda the tutelage of Alber Elbaz, commencing in 2017.  She will create collections in Germany and expand her practice and understanding of commerciality and manufacturing during the year-long award, supported by Peek and Cloppenburg.  I joined Edda to view her SS17 collection in East London, following her presentation at Fashion Scout during London Fashion Week.  She talked me through her ambitions to develop more wearable pieces in this collection and create structured dresses with softer prints to balance her signature graphics whilst maintaining the fun and naive construction and idiosyncratic details.  She peppered the new collection with colour and also introduced cute illustrated canvas handbags.

s02_0798s07_1115 s12_1998s06_0926s11_1669Edda SS17  Photos: Yoo Sun

I was especially drawn to the graphic prints in this collection.  Trying on Edda’s clothes transports me into a Quentin Blake-illustrated Roald Dahl-esque world, exciting my imagination and wrapping me in fantastical childhood memories.  Who wants to be a grown up anyway?

Edda SS17 London Fashion Week presentation

Edda and I discuss fashion magic and she wholeheartedly believes in keeping the spirit and fun in her designs from concept through to the final product.  Arguably, fashion is most successful when it offers familiarity and fantasy at the same time – there is something that feels right (nostalgic or familiar) and something new about it.  Edda’s creations deliver that.  They are so authentic – like a child’s frank honesty – and carry with them the designer’s charm, making the clothes highly personal for both her and the wearer.

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I’m placing a personal order and look forward to experiencing this feeling every time I wear one of Edda’s designs.  I also look forward to seeing the response it elicits from others.  After all, fashion is a language best celebrated in dialogue and Edda’s graphic stories are the perfect conversation starter.

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Fyodor Golan’s 3D Simulated Fashion Presentation Heralds The Symbiosis of Fashion Design and Tech

These are some of the words I frantically tapped into my iPhone notes during Fyodor Golan’s stunning London Fashion Week presentation: ‘tender, ferocious, glitchy, primal, diverse’.  The words hit me in digital waves, a helpful metaphor for a presentation that opened with a CGI film in collaboration with Miximaliste that cast avatar models hovering above water and interacting with each other in a tender and glitchy way, creating a warm and poetic narrative about nature, technology and design.  

This piece of CGI fashion film art, entitled ‘Change of Paradigm’ portrays a fantasy world described in the show notes as “an artificial FG paradise”, and is the first step in Fyodor Golan’s journey to fully digital design and specification of garments pre-sampling, removing the need to toile.  Ultimately, they would no longer sketch the designs and make a paper pattern and mock up a the garment in fabric – this would be done digitally – streamlining and speeding up their design and development process and allowing their creativity to run wild.  This new digital process will also enable Fyodor Golan to create seasonal experiences, testing the relationship between fashion, fantasy and reality.

Fyodor Golan X Miximaliste ‘Change of Paradigm’

The multicoloured avatars gave way to a live presentation of the SS17 collection on models packing a serious punch that left the marks primal, attitude and fearlessness in their wake.  This was an expression of the beauty of diversity as much as it was about fashion, technology and new presentation formats.  Fyodor Golan are pushing all sorts of boundaries – I viewed their presentation twice to take it all in.  A fashion journalist from the Czech Republic was enjoying his third viewing when we struck up a conversation.

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Amongst my aforementioned frantically typed notes I also wrote ‘so much direction here’, which, simplistic as it is, serves to remind me that the strength of vision in the film-making, use of colour, styling, casting, set design and sound made this presentation a force of fashion, technology and nature.  The collection is an extension of pre-SS17, which I wrote about previously on Techstyler, with its inspiration rooted in holographic pop star Hatsune Miku, making their avatar model concept a ‘natural’ extension of their pre-season inspiration.

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The hybrid hiking trainers by Salomon led me to imagine a place where these models might scale epic heights, conquering the next frontier of fashion tech and leading an intrepid journey forward into digital fashion’s future.  I can’t wait to see how Fyodor Golan bend tech to their will to present the next installation on their fashion tech journey.


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Golan Frydman, Fyodor Podgorny and a presentation guest, backstage

Show Credits

Stylist: Tati Cotliar

Collection Manager: Billie McKenna

Video Direction: Fyodor Golan

Video Animation: Thomas Makryniotis for Miximaliste

Show Production: NP+CO

Video Production: Miximaliste

Hair: Syd Hayes for Babyliss Pro

Makeup: Andrew Gallimore and Team @ CLM using Maybelline NY

Nails: Sabrina Gayle using Orly

Shoes: Salomon

Music Director: Rohan Budd

PR: Village

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Makers House: What Point Is Burberry Trying to Make?

It’s all Greek to me as I enter the Burberry Makers House venue via a heavily scented and clay sculpture-adorned corridor (reminiscent of Aesop – the fragrances, and the Greek story teller) by Thomas Merrett, scholar of the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust.  Thomas is one of a number of craftspeople and artists under The New Craftsmen collective, lending their talent and artistic practice in the form of live installations – they work in Makers House as members of the public look on and learn about the art of craft.


dsc03004Thomas Merrett’s sculptures at Makers House

I spoke with Rose de Borman about her hand-painted silk screen prints as she worked away, blending paints inspired by a nearby pots of flowers she had collected from her garden and brought in as colour inspiration for her prints.  When I asked her about the designs she said she freestyles them, and hanging behind her are examples of pieces drying before being sold in the Makers House shop.  I thought perhaps Rose designed prints for Burberry, but she explains to me that she has not and that much of her work is for interiors.

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I also met a trio of students from the Royal School of Needlework who were spending the weekend cross-stitching designs provided to them by Burberry.  Items from the RSN Handling Collection were displayed and available to touch via gloved hands, which was an interesting addition to the passive nature of the other displays.  I chatted to one of the students about her craft and asked whether fashion tech or conductive yarns, for example, are on her radar.  They aren’t, as the course at RSN focusses solely on traditional craft – there are no machines, all work is done by hand – and the threads and yarns are all traditional natural materials.

dsc03029dsc03031dsc03032dsc03035Royal School of Needlework students and Handling collection samples

When I first entered Makers House, I assumed there was a connection between the work of The New Craftsmen and the creation of the Burberry September collection.  The collection, shown at London Fashion Week on Monday 19th September, is on display at Maker’s House alongside the craftspeople, but it transpires that these makers are unrelated to the making of the Burberry collection.

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This is where Makers House feels more like an exercise in creating an experience by association rather than telling the story of the Burberry September collection and its relationship with craft.  That’s not to say there isn’t the inclusion of craft in the collection – there is – but the beading, to my eye, could very easily be the work of Indian embroiderers. Burberry’s printed fabrics have historically been made in Italy, so unless there has been a sudden change, this collection is likely to have been printed there too.  This is no bad thing, it just jars with the romanticised and earnest display of English craftsmanship accompanying the collection at Makers House.

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This is also against the backdrop of Burberry recently halting plans to open a factory under the title ‘Project Artisan’ in Leeds to make their iconic trench coats.  Sadly, an aura of faking rather than making is cast over this experience.  Contrived mood boards of highly symbolic and literal inspiration for the collection sit alongside the makers, which adds to the feeling I can’t shake that this is all a bit forced.

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I found the opportunity to get up close, walk around the clothes, feel the fabrics and see the silhouettes and layering in detail far more interesting and engaging.  It is another example of a strong argument for presentation formats that allow buyers/the public to inspect and absorb the details and beauty of the clothes at their own pace, in contrast to a blistering dash on the runway.  This space had a showroom feeling, with buyers replaced by members of the public.  With the “see now, buy now” launch  (the collection is already for sale to the public) this makes perfect sense.  

dsc03040 dsc03048dsc03054dsc03064Burberry September Collection and Christopher Bailey, Chief Creative Officer, Burberry

Burberry has been a digital pioneer, incorporating technology into every facet of the presentation and sale of its collections for years and always leading the fashion pack – that’s why this feels somewhat like reverting to analog.  Put this in the context of a London fashion week that saw the first holographic fashion presentation by Martine Jarlgaard London and Fyodor Golan’s CGI avatar model fashion presentation and it is suddenly feeling like retreat rather than innovation; not withstanding the live streaming on Facebook with chatbots on Facebook messenger to answer questions during the show itself and support online sales.

Pondering the absence of tech, I notice the longest queue in the building leading to The Studio space and after enquiring what the fuss was all about, I learn it’s the queue for the Instagram booth made famous by a number of celebrities in videos messing around amongst the aforementioned clay sculptures.  The urge for social media and sharing the Makers House experience is strong, and Instagram is an extremely powerful marketing tool for Burberry.  The current count of followers is 7.6 million.

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Attendees of Makers House queued for Instagram photos in the same studio as the celebrities above 

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The current Burberry campaign featuring Burberry Artisans alongside the September collection

Whilst compiling this article I discovered via the Burberry online store that the collection is made in Italy.  The mens beaded waistcoat is not for sale, so appears to be a one-off show piece.  This leads me to wonder what the purpose of placing English craft next to Italian manufacturing was, if not to dupe the Makers House audience into thinking English craftsmanship and Burberry go hand in hand. 

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Ashish Responds to Anti-Immigrant Sentiment by Celebrating his Indian Heritage at London Fashion Week

If fashion is a language, Ashish’s Spring Summer 17 collection at London Fashion Week spoke of multi-cultural defiance in reaction to the post-Brexit toxic anti-immigrant sentiment and violence reverberating throughout Britain and more broadly, much of the western world.  In this collection Ashish celebrated his Indian heritage and proudly declared immigrant status in Great Britain.

#LondonIsOpen was the closing mood, following a luscious procession of adorned Hindu-god-like models, men and women, swept along by an elegantly ambiguous sexuality, at least in this western context.

It was a celebration of craft and colour and a reminder that fashion is most powerful when it has something to say.  In the spirit of that, I’ll let Ashish’s SS17 collection do the talking.

Show credits:

Makeup: Isamaya Ffrench at Streeters with Maybelline

Hair:  Ali Pirzadeh and team at CLM Hair & Makeup (hair products by Toni and Guy)

Manicurist:  Michelle Humphrey and team at LMC for Nailsinc London

Set Design:  Thomas Petherick at CLM

Music:  Baluji Shrivastav OBE

Casting:  Troy Fearn and Mischa Notcutt at TM Casting

Animal Handler:  Andrew Stephenson at Zoolab

Press:  Village

“Special Thanks to my mum”

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From Delivering Louboutins to Devising an Injury Detection Suit – This is Fashion Tech

It’s a refreshing start to the day to chat to an entrepreneur with two startups on the go just six months after graduating from an MA in Global Innovation Design at the Royal College of Art.  Dan Garrett is a do-er – and a resolutely practical one at that.  His recent collaboration with fashion designer Mary Benson is testament to his dynamic and collaborative approach to design.  ‘Fashion design is magical’ he says, reminiscing about his job as a bike courier ferrying Louboutins to devotees in London.  He recalls seeing women trying on the shoes in the store and paying handsome sums for what he describes as an uncomfortable and impractical object that paradoxically is utterly desirable.  Yep, that’s fashion!  Magical, sometimes confusing and utterly spellbinding.

We talk a little more about the magic of fashion and why Dan and his collaborators Elena Dieckmann, Ming Kong and Lucy Jong worked with Mary on their fascinating piece of wearable tech – the Bruise Suit. 

static1.squarespaceMary Benson’s graduate collection, University of Westminster, 2014

The bruise suit was borne out of a collaborative project at the RCA which saw Dan and his team find a problem that needed to be solved and then design and make the solution.  The project, supported by Rio Tinto, had an open brief.  The team decided to design a piece for use at the Sochi winter olympics and interviewed disabled athletes with the hope of devising a solution to a problem.  Paralympic sit-skiier Talan Skeels-Piggins complained of being injured but unaware of his injuries due to his disability and that’s when (after rejection of a number of wearables related concepts) the ‘bruise suit’ concept was borne.  The concept was that on sufficient impact likely to result in an injury, the suit would respond with a visual notification for the athlete.  Weeks of R & D in conjunction with a specialist research team at Imperial College London and collaboration with pattern cutter Raj Mistry resulted in a suit with removable sections of a polyurethane coated textile containing microcapsules of dye that shattered on sufficient impact, therefore signalling a chance of injury.  It’s best demonstrated by the video and images below.

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Bruise suit 1

The design won additional funding from Rio Tinto and the James Dyson Foundation, leading to a second phase which saw the team collaborate with fashion designer Mary Benson whose work incorporates vinyl applications on a multitude of textiles.  Dan explained to me that having researched (and launched a startup in product manufacturing for the healthcare market) he remains frustrated by the ugliness and lack of design in healthcare equipment.  There is little if any consideration for aesthetics in the creation of products for those with disabilities and the complicated process of procurement for such devices (usually by councils on behalf of those with disabilities and without their direct input) means those using the products aren’t choosing them.  The cold, beige hallmarks of medical devices and institutions carry through, he says.  Why? He asks.  Having worked in the NHS for over a decade and being a designer myself I have asked this question (in my own head and audibly) countless times.  Dan is determined to do something about it.  I sense this comes from a fascination for design, in particular fashion, having completed a stint at the Pratt Institute alongside studying at the RCA, however Dan confirms that his practical problem-solving brain’s hard wiring prevents him from moments of Mary Benson-like magic.  He delights in seeing designers, like Mary, create imaginative aesthetics but remains focussed on primarily solving problems with his design and engineering projects.    

output_xAfuF9Mary Benson’s AW14 Cruise collection

Mary, Dan and I live a stone’s throw from each other in Bethnal Green, East London, but it proved impossible to get together due to scheduling conflicts, s0 Dan explains to me that Mary devised the surface design for the Bruise suit by exploiting her much used technique of vinyl applications, which takes the suit into a different (multi-coloured) realm.  Mary’s surface design turns the suit into a fashion object in addition to a piece of technical clothing with a serious purpose.  The process of creating the microcapsule filled polyurethane strips that slide into discrete pockets strategically placed on the most at risk areas of the body (the long bones and knees, for example) was complex.  It utilised newspaper print press roller technology to ensure the two layers of film with the microcapsules were correctly structured to function on sufficient (injury causing) impact.  What Dan worked on specifically with Mary was creating pockets with teflon in between the vinyl and the film which could then be filled with the microcapsules.  Dan explains the satisfaction in developing design that serves the body and cites biomimicry as a motivator for his particular approach to such design projects.  Mirroring the structure of the body and supporting human anatomy is at the core of another of Dan’s projects, for which currently has an advisory role – Aergo, the pioneering modular disability support system. 

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Azure-DX-SmarterFasterTougher-15The Bruise Suit in collaboration with Mary Benson

Dan’s other projects have included TasteWorks, a VR sensory study focussing on appetite and dementia at Keio University and his most current undertaking, Farewill, which launches in earnest soon.  For now, I leave Dan with a buzz and heightened curiosity over what problems he might propose to solve through design next and hope they incorporate the magic of fashion.

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