In a year that so few of us could have predicted, London Fashion Week felt far more of a reflection and documentation of the past six months than a future vision for 2021 when these clothes will land in stores.
While the spectacle of fashion week was missing this season, with most designers presenting a purely digital offering, it opened up the door for deeper storytelling. The standout productions of the season came from brands who put shared emotions at the heart, created a dialogue on our current times and explored the collective ups and downs we have been through this year. It was altogether a more human side to fashion.
Here are the designers who captured the pandemic experience best:
Michael Halpern chose keyworkers to model his SS21 collection titled “Heroines of the Front Line”. A nurse, a train manager, a hospital cleaner, an OBGYN, a bus station controller, a healthcare assistant, a train operator and a volunteer PPE manufacturer star in this feel-good film which celebrates the power of dressing up to feel good.
In the show notes, Halpern said: “To me, times of re-emergence call for pure creation: the most uplifting feeling I can think of. I didn’t design this collection with cocktail parties or ballrooms in mind, but purely from the desire to capture in dressmaking the individuality embodied by savoir-fair, and the joy it brings to those who wear it. This collection was created in celebration of the women on the frontline, and for anyone it may inspire and uplift.”
This season, Scottish designer Christopher Kane has scaled back. The new collection, titled “Home Alone” is made up of a limited number of designs inspired by the artwork he created over lockdown. Instead of a glossy branded film, Christopher Kane talks to journalist Kirsty Wark in a private view about his time in lockdown, his concerns that retailers won’t be able to buy a big collection and returning to a childhood pastime of glitter painting. An interview format might sound dull, but Kane’s raw, un-airbrushed honesty is incredibly moving and engaging.
In the collection release, Kane added: “Painting during lock down replaced the void of making collections. It became a way to escape my own mind – no rules, deadlines, or pressures…. The mindscapes are a glimpse of my mental state and feelings: frustration, joy, fear, love, boredom, exhilaration, and chaos. Lock down has changed the way I want to work. For SS21 I had zero desire to create a large collection, I want to simplify and reduce output.”
Hill & Friends
Former Mulberry star designer Emma Hill celebrated five years of her own-name accessories label with a playful retrospective. Shot at Hill’s home using stop-motion animation, it’s a witty and charming film that perfectly reflects her brand’s identity.
As Hill & Friends’ bags dance around the house, popping up in ovens, as plant pots and having Zoom chats with their other bag friends, it’s one of the few lighter reflections on the past few months designed to raise a smile.
“For this fashion week, we felt it seemed wrong to try and gloss over the fact that this has been such a challenging year for everyone, and instead tried to produce a film that reflects our hopeful view that we will all come out the other side stronger, better and happier,” explained Hill.
A resounding theme of the spring/summer 21 films was unconventional model choices. For Palmer//Harding’s showcase, members of the two designers’ own families wore the new collection while being interviewed about their family, their style and their experience of the pandemic. While this is clearly a very personal project, it still feels highly relatable to anyone who has missed family at this time.
The release for the collection concludes: “While the duo would have cherished the opportunity to bring their family together for such an event, the process of coordinating this shoot from across the world has deepened their relationships and highlighted the connection that they continue to share, even if social distancing keeps them just out of arm’s length.”
Coronavirus hasn’t been the only thing on the designers’ minds this year. In “Here To Stay”, Osman Yousefzada puts forward a powerful message about race set to a poem he co-wrote with artist Makayla Forde. The refrain “Here To Stay” is from a chant Yousefzada’s uncle and elder cousins used in the 80s in the face of racism, and feels relevant once more against the Black Lives Matter movement.
This collection is the debut of Yousefzada’s new label under his full name after taking a season’s break from his old label, Osman, and parting with his old backers. This film feels like a battle-cry after coming out of a period of reflection for Yousefzada as both a person and a business. “The last nine months have been a moment of pause and reflection, not only for me but for the whole world. To keep the world safe from Coronavirus. To understand privilege, to look for allyship, and to understand the biases and racism ingrained in our societies and institutions,” Yousefzada says in the collection notes. “This period has given me space to manifest the way I would like to do business and collaborate with people.”