International Fashion Showcase Takes London Fashion Week Global

There’s a huge amount to see at London Fashion Week every season, but pausing and pondering regional design talent and forces in countries around the world that shape its designers was a hugely rewarding and enriching experience at this year’s International Fashion Showcase.  IFS was housed in Somerset House, a stone’s throw from the main LFW venue and encompassing the work of over 80 designers from 26 countries, with the theme Local/Global.

The showcase blurb poetically states that “Fashion finds its origins in many places – the agricultural, the provincial, the industrial, the urban – these places deeply influence materials, techniques and the creative process.”  This exhibition’s beauty lies in the fertile ideas and context in which the work is presented and how the local culture and influence is maintained in the presentations of the work.  Once fashion is taken out of its original context and is placed on a generic runway, for example, such a context is lost, so this is a wonderful opportunity to view the work of the designers with their heritage being showcased too.  This exhibition served as a strong reminder of the power of being immersed in the whole story of the work and the designer and understanding how the work had been shaped by its geography and culture.

At the top of my agenda for this blog is finding and unearthing new developments in fashion and technology and exploring materials technology in a fashion context.  This exhibition presented a plethora of stunning design, impossible to cover within the scope of this article, but visible here.

Delving into materials, the Polish designer cohort adopted the theme ‘Waste Not Want Not’, mixing local traditional Polish crafts with global trends such as up-cycling and slow-living.  With Poland being one of the largest European markets for the trade of second-hand clothes (largely sold by the kilo – not the curated Vintage fare Londoners are used to) these designers from Poznan’s School of Form found resourceful ways to re-appropriate second hand materials and garments, aiming to find a balance between contemporary luxe and the communist kitsch rejected by their parents.

Designs by Kasia Kwiatkowska, Natasza Rogozinska, Anna Kujawska, Agniesta Tomczak

Jagoda Fryca is a graduate of Poznan’s School of Form and a current MA Contextual Design student at Design Academy Eindhoven.  She states “I am a designer and a qualified musician.  Often I don’t design, but rather observe the world of objects and the world itself.  I work in between the fields of textile, fashion, scenography and performance’.  To that end, Fryca created up-cycled shoes under her open source DIY initiative named PRYMITWY.

The Polish IFS presentation was supported by the Polish Institute London and coincided with the launch of Chrysalis, An Anthology of Polish Fashion, from the 1930’s to the present day.  Beautifully collaged pages by artist and graphic designer Tymek Borovski fill the book, which charts 90 years of designs, including those of Lola Prusac, who designed for Hermes in Paris between the wars and infused the fashion house with traditional Polish folk designs and created Modrian-inspired prints ’30 years before Yves Saint Lauren’.

Chrysalis

Post-communist fashion is experiencing a renaissance on a global stage, the most famous expressions of this currently being Demna Gvasalia and Lotta Volkova via Balenciaga and Vetements, and Chrysalis offers a view into the origins of these designs and the social and political climate in which they were created.  This newly launched Polish Fashion Stories website accompanies Chrysalis, presenting current and past Polish fashion creatives, including stylist and costume designer Hanka Podraza.

Styling by Hanka Podraza – more on her Facebook fanpage

Transfashional Lab is an exhibition including the work of Polish artists and fashion designers, in collaboration with the Austrian Cultural Forum London, running until 4th April.  More info here.

Chilean architect and designer Elisa Rodriquez created a seaweed textile entitled ‘experimental skin’, which was handmade from seaweed typically found along the coast of Chile: Cochayuyo.  Elisa and her co-founders of brand Sisa seek to utilise natural materials and develop them in an intuitive way: “We believe that this seaweed, which grows along the Chilean coast, exposes the value of our territory, and has an aesthetic potential which we find really inspiring… Collections are born out of concepts that in turn are born from investigations which don’t necessarily have to do with fashion. That’s why we believe SISA does not follow trends. We believe in designing from within, and not in response to what is imposed by the world”.

Chilean Fine Artist Jon Jacobsen, currently an artist in residence at ShowStudio, was a collaborator on the Chile presentation at IFS and introduced me to Elisa, who explained the process involved in creating the seaweed pieces.  The seaweed was collected from the shores of Santiago then thinly sliced and laid in strips alongside each other, placing them on a form to create the final shape before the seaweed dries and hardens.  This process results in a solid final structure which Elisa believes in its current form is most suitable for accessories.  There is potential to develop it into a softer composite material which she is interested in exploring.

Cochayuyo on the beach, collected and sliced cochayuyo, Sisa’s cochayuyo cape

Jon Jacobsen’s arresting fashion film provides an organic and colourful compliment to Elisa’s cultivated and organically shaped seaweed pieces.

Stay tuned for part 2 of my IFS coverage on Techstyler.fashion

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Fyodor Golan’s Pre-SS17 Collection Brings Grown-up fun and a catalyst for post-Brexit change

Fyodor Golan are somewhat of a paradox –  at once intellectual and playful, they traverse the fringe of a fashion industry in a state of flux.  Whilst contemplating the structure and aim of their fashion business, they are questioning the importance of individualism in a sea of rampantly ‘cohesive’ and highly refined fashion.  The designers open the interview with the revelation that they delayed their seasonal trip to their Paris showroom in order to vote in the referendum.  The fallout from the vote in favour of ‘Brexit’ has left them with a sense of resilience in the face of potential EU funding losses.  Many of the projects and initiatives they have undertaken whilst establishing and growing their business have been supported by EU funding and they predict a Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ situation will ensue amongst young independent fashion designers in London who are struggling to create seasonal collections and remain solvent.   

Where this dramatic and uncertain political climate could potentially trigger cautious conservatism, Fyodor and Golan are intellectually and pragmatically assessing all areas of their business and considering the needs of their customers and the best platforms with which to engage them.  They resolve to stay ‘individual’ and adopt an ever more digital and tech-driven approach to their seasonal collections.  Why do a show at London Fashion Week that draws vast energy and finance away from the business and requires the creation of some garments that they know will not be good sellers, but that are necessary in order to create requisite looks simply for the purposes of the show?  If the show is to the clear detriment of their product offering and bottom line, what is the point?  The vast press generated by a fashion show is well documented and, as any fashion designer involved in London, New York, Paris and Milan fashion weeks will tell you, the credibility gained from showing on-schedule during fashion week is immense and affirming – at least ostensibly.  But the rise of social media has taken fashion out of the hands of the few and placed it in the hands of the many global consumers.  Digital platforms have a life beyond a seven-odd minute fashion show during which time it is ‘impossible to see the clothes properly’ as noted by Fyodor.  In summary, fashion shows aren’t fit for purpose and the stigma attached to designers who decide to no longer ‘show’ is waning.

With new presentation platforms comes new opportunities for self-expression and consumer interaction.  Golan explains how insightful and inspiring the dialogue from client to designer is on Instagram.  Their clients post images of their self-styled ‘FG’ looks, thereby contextualising Fyodor and Golan’s seasonal work –  a dialogue that never occurred pre-social media when the only route to market was through wholesale accounts – meaning no direct contact between the designer and the consumer.  That’s all different now and brings me back to questioning the point of ‘cohesiveness’ of a fashion collection.

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The generally accepted framework for the study and application of fashion design that I, and many other designers have experienced at London/UK-based fashion design institutions, hinges on a refined, highly focused – ‘cohesive’ – presentation of a design concept/concepts in order to ensure that a specifiable ‘aesthetic’ is presented.  This occurs to me to be a useful tool for categorisation and identification of a designer or brand for the purposes of critique, but may be at odds with the way fashion is best presented, experienced and consumed in a digital age.

Burberry-Prorsum-Spring-Summer-2013-DECORCohesive uniformity – Burberry Prorsum SS13

Sure, brands like Burberry are built on a largely singular aesthetic/design language and their merchandising depends on a sort of ‘cohesion’, but what of the explosion of Vetements against the backdrop of such ‘cohesiveness’ and singularly focused vision – and what of the conversation about this collaborative, multi-faceted and un-cohesive aesthetic that is starting on social media (of course)?  Will cohesiveness and a singular aesthetic vision be relevant to millennials and Generation Z’ers?   If they’re shopping online and creating individual looks according to their own vision, and Instagram and Snapchat are ultimately more influential and engaging and more readily consumed than fashion shows, what is the point of cohesiveness at the expense of alienating consumers?  And again, if fashion shows continue to lose favour as the predominant presentation format, individuality becomes an even more powerful element of fashion’s presentation.  Fyodor Golan question this uniformity and go on to state that they have never sought ‘cohesiveness’ in their collections, but rather the creation of clothing as a vehicle for self expression and fun for their broad customer base, whose age group spans four decades and is global.  It could be argued that cohesiveness can kill creativity by stamping out individual expression, spontaneity and the charm of the unexpected – a fate unlikely to befall Fyodor Golan.

20 14 8Vetements P/E 16

On the subject of individualism in an increasingly ‘global’ market the duo explain, ‘Our clients come to us to express a different side of themselves… they have serious, professional jobs and wear Fyodor Golan as a way of tapping into their personality and as a visual representation of that (fun) side of themselves’. 


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Fyodor Golan’s creations are seriously fun.  Frothy?  Yes.  Flimsy?  Definitely not.  The products are underpinned by solid, quality-driven construction techniques employed since the launch of their label (which drew heavily on couture techniques initially) in 2011, and have evolved to express a sense of confidence through playfulness.

tumblr_mjul0m2iXs1s4mpljo3_1280Fyodor Golan SS2012

A further discussion that touches on current challenges in the area of fashion tech centres on product design versus fashion design.  Golan expresses the frustration at being restricted to short development times due to the seasonal nature of the fashion industry and longs to be able to explore design concepts in greater depth – as a product designer would, for example.  The approach through product design of creating a perfectly formed, functional and beautiful object is a luxury that just may be possible once Fyodor Golan have broken free of the restrictive cycle and demands that come with staging a fashion show each season.  Fyodor and Golan lament the unresolved design ideas that ping into their minds at that last evolutionary design stage – often the week before their London fashion week show – leaving them no time to see these ideas through to fruition because of limitations caused by show preparation and the restrictive need to create ‘looks’ for the show, rather than individually strong and exciting garments.  Due to the seasonal nature of fashion, the scope to pick up and continue such ideas in following seasons does not always present itself.  There is a serendipitous aspect to such ideas and sometimes, when the moment has passed, the opportunity and magic passes too. Essentially, dropping the traditional fashion show format allows the freedom and time to be more innovative.  It’s during this stage of the interview that Golan mentions the Makerversity, which is situated near their studio in Somerset House, which has clearly provided a point of reflection for the designers where the process of product design and development is concerned, versus that of fashion.

Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 18.34.49 Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 18.34.23Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 18.33.54 Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 18.34.05Fyodor Golan Pre-SS17

In their Pre-SS17 collection, Fyodor Golan have furthered explored a number of concepts initiated in their AW16 collection, including hybrid sportswear with strapping and bows that are silhouette-changing, rather than simply surface details.  This plays into their desire for individuality within the collection – so one garment has many guises depending on the wearer’s styling preferences.  The collection, entitled “Sakura Kawaii’ was inspired by Hatsune Miku – a hologram-generated pop star – resulting in a collection that expresses “romance through plastification”.  It’s surreal to see real live fans at the concert of a holographic pop star screaming and waving glow sticks, but it perfectly illustrates the blurring of lines between reality and artificiality that Fyodor Golan have distilled into this collection.

The animated look book is the perfect expression of this darkly psychedelic-samurai mood, in collaboration with digital artist and animator, Ignasi Monreal.   Part of the joy of Fyodor Golan’s look books is that they seek to excite the imagination, rather than simply sell, and it expresses an aesthetic that the designers describe as resolutely ‘digital’.

Fyodor Golan Pre-SS17

The digitally driven playfulness in the presentation of their Pre-SS17 collection causes me to speculate as to the format of their next fashion presentation for London Fashion Week in September.  ‘We’re still exploring options’ and ‘we’re looking at integrating the process of creation into the presentation’ were the official standpoints at the time of our interview – suffice to say it will be an exciting, experimental and likely experiential offering that will gloriously break with tradition in yet another refreshing Fyodor Golan chapter.  It’s an exciting time in an evolving industry where as many lessons come from Darwinian truth as they do from social media metrics.  If fashion’s future is about creative adaptation, dynamism, freedom of thought and individuality, Fyodor Golan are surging ahead.

Header image:  Fyodor Golan

Fyodor Golan lookbook credits:  Mark Rabadan (Photography), Tati Cotliar (Stylist), Ignasi Monreal (Animation), Michelle Webb (Make up), Johanna Cree Brown (Hair)

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