If you closed your eyes, you could have been at almost any fashion show, in any time in the last half-century; the tightly-packed seats, the shrieks of delight as guests greeted each other, the quiet hum of gossip in multiple simultaneous languages. But when you opened them, you were unquestionably in 2019 – in the raw concrete, high-ceilinged undercroft of a freshly-built Kings Cross office block, where Alexa Chung (model, presenter, writer, and now designer) was presenting her latest collection.
ALEXACHUNG Fall/Winter 2019 show in London. Photo by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION.
Founding her own label, in retrospect, must have been an obvious step for a woman whose laid-back brand of British cool has helped shift products for brands like Mulberry, Superga, Marks & Spencer, and Longchamp. And Chung’s online store is packed with the tomboy shorts, pretty/prim dresses, logo tees, and retro coats that have long defined her personal style. But on the catwalk, this time out, she took a different direction. Triggered by the notion of women banding together for survival, the outerwear-heavy show was dominated by dark tones – glossy black blousons and trenches, belted leather jackets and navy pinafores, midnight-blue blazers and forest-green suits. Even the softer pieces, like a lace-edged velvet dress, came layered with vinyl leggings. Timely though it may have felt, it wasn’t all doom; there were plenty of high-waisted jeans, prairie dresses, and ruffled blouses in the mix to keep Chung’s fanbase engaged – and the Forties-style tea gown she wore to take her post-show bow showed just how easily the collection’s layers could work on their own.
Katie Ann McGuigan Fall/Winter 2019 presentation in London. Photos: Courtesy of PR.
Back at 180 Strand, another designer was also thinking about layering and survival, albeit in a very different way. Katie Ann McGuigan, winner of Fashion Scout’s Merit Award in 2016, has always had an ambitiously constructed vision – but as she acknowledged, there’s been an evolution since that first post-graduate outing. “Not consciously,” she said reflectively. “I think it’s just me progressing into the real world and growing up a bit; trying to understand the woman who wears my clothes, and making sure things are comfortable and practical.” It’s also a real world, of course, and where McGuigan’s path post-university has had to navigate establishing a working fashion business, building a network of local suppliers, and planning a future through uncertain economic times. That process didn’t seem to have constrained her creativity too much, though. (“Oh, if I looked at my sales reports,” she laughed, “the collection would have been completely different!”) For Winter 2019, she’d looked to the Bōsōzoku biker gangs of Japan, filling the BFC’s presentation space with models clad in layer upon layer of pleating, knit, leather, and tulle, their menacing toughness offset by an unexpectedly soft palette of mauve, green, aqua, and ochre. Jumpsuits were spattered with floral embroideries, and biker jackets came flooded with pastel patterns, piled on top of each other with abandon – forming colourful suits of armour that, McGuigan was quick to point out, could be broken up into simple, sellable separates.
Halpern Fall/Winter 2019 show in London. Photo by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION.
The Art Deco shimmer of the Sheraton Grand on Park Lane made the perfectly escapist location for a collection that engaged far less with 2019’s turbulent mood. Five seasons in, Michael Halpern has built a sturdy reputation on his sequin-heavy, disco-ready approach, and today’s show kept tightly to that formula. Halpern was looking towards Erté, not the end of days – and so his models snaked round the seductively-lit ballroom in halter-neck, jewel-collared column gowns and pleated capes, strapless tops and flowing trousers. There were some spectacular, wildly surreal prints in the mix, as well as liquid-coated ombré separates and gorgeously draped jersey in lemon and fuchsia pink. But it was the relentless, densely-laid sequinned pieces, wrapped and folded round the body, that lingered in the mind after the show. On the surface, they were light-years away from the protective garments Chung and McGuigan proposed. But the purpose of armour has always been as much to dazzle as defend – and Halpern’s gorgeously decadent garments proclaimed a strength and power of their own.
There was far less sparkle on show at the Seymour Leisure Centre an hour later, where Yasuko Furuta sent her models racing round the runway in blunt, uncluttered tailoring. On the surface, the proposition was pretty simple – outsized, mannish blazers in steel greys and deep blues, setting up a defiantly top-heavy silhouette. And the show notes gave little away; just a terse three word summary, ‘SIGHTLINE, CUTLINE, ALIGN.’
But Furuta’s surfaces provided plenty of interest – blazers teamed with mirror-gloss boots and sheer knits, floral-print dresses cinched in with weighty wrestling belts, multicoloured felt-striped knits and coats exploding with feathers. And the constant references to protection, from hooded raincoats to headscarves to waders, recast the iconography of British country clothing – sturdy, nonchalant, quirky, yet pragmatic – into a sleekly visceral new language.
House of Holland Fall/Winter 2019 show in London. Photos by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION.
Henry Holland has always been about keeping with the times, his front rows a barometer for London’s ever-changing line-up of cool kids (once upon a time, Lily Allen and Alexa Chung; now, Lily Allen, her kids, and the cast of Netflix’s Sex Education.) So it was no surprise that his show tapped into Gen Z’s militant mood, with a collection that riffed on rebellion and protest in the breeziest of forms. Holland’s play-revolutionaries stomped along the runway in heavily-laced hiking boots, their army berets and spiked earpieces anchoring quilted nylon greatcoats, denim boilersuits, and cinch-waisted trenches. Up close, there was plenty of detail and texture to add to the story – long-line rainbow-stripe knits, tracksuits in all-over supersized geometrics, clinging skirts in devoré velvet. But the show’s underlying theme was clear, as it had been at shows all through the day. Brace yourselves; stormy times ahead.