Phoebe English’s Chapel of Tyranny, Unity and Hope at London Fashion Week

There’s nothing like forced contemplation to wipe away the London Fashion Week gloss and dole out a little reality.  After the Phoebe English presentation I received a message that my brother-in-law was in hospital (thankfully he’s fine) and as I write this I am sitting in my local pub charging my battery-sapped phone hoping my husband comes home soon (I stupidly left my keys at home this morning).  Reality bites.  Fashion week is a bubble largely devoid of reality.  But what happens when we let a little of the real stuff in?  What happens when fashion absorbs the zeitgeist and spits it back out, rearranged and transformed into the tangible and consumable?

Phoebe English opened one such sobering conversation at her AW17 presentation in the Fitzrovia Chapel – once a place of prayer and quiet contemplation for National Health Service staff and patients of the Middlesex Hospital, which delivered free healthcare to all, regardless of race, religion, nationality or wealth – making this is a fitting venue for Phoebe English’s collection, which was an exploration of tyranny, apathy, fear, voice, courage, unity, repair and ultimately hope – a commentary on our current political climate.   Phoebe English AW17   Images: Techstyler The collection was presented as a number of installations with each model/group of models embodying one of the emboldened words listed above and acting as symbols of strength and resilience, surrounded by flora in collaboration with Maison de Fleurs

Phoebe English AW17   Images: Techstyler

English used textiles to capture her sentiments – an example being trapped glitter between layers of tulle used to create jackets and bags.  She collaborated with heritage knitwear specialists John Smedley for the third season running and took to the knits by twisting and knotting them, lending them a tortuosity in keeping with the tensions of her theme.

  Phoebe English AW17   Images: Techstyler A large crowd gathered throughout the presentation, with Phoebe English amongst them discussing the collection.  The show notes state that the conversation between tyranny and unity throughout the collection “aims to explore both the fragility and the strength of our times”.  Here are the closing words: Tyranny oppresses Fear Divides Apathy rest Voice calls Courage braves Unity binds Repair cures Hope reigns Me.  You.  Them.  US.   Phoebe English AW17   Images: Techstyler My closing thoughts rest on the rising global voices in fashion that originate from vastly different cultures and belief systems, and that speak on behalf of under-represented groups.  I want to sit at shows and presentations alongside men and women representing all colours, faiths and styles.  Where are my hijab wearing sisters?  We know modest style is big business (see Dolce Gabanna’s recent hijab and abaya collection, which missed the mark in many ways but is recognition that the industry knows that women who wear hijabs also wear mainstream high-end fashion) but broadly speaking, this isn’t reflected in the fashion week crowd.  We need diversity, love and unity within the industry as much as we need it around the world.   IMG has just signed Halima Aden, a Muslim model who wears a hijab and this season threw some Kanye-tinged light on the subject of diversity as she was cast in his Yeezy season 5 show. Halima Aden: Top and bottom images by Mario Sorrenti for CR Fashion Book.  Middle image: Yeezy Diversity, unity, love – as long as we’re all represented and have a voice there’s no basis for fear.  Thank you Phoebe. Let’s keep the conversation going. Follow Techstyler on TwitterInstagram and Snapchat

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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