It's a measure of how inclusive London fashion week has become that the fashion council's HQ, Somerset House, has found space for Fashion East. The exact location was its vaults, fitting for what was formerly an underground group show. Georgian coal holes and dripping pipes notwithstanding, the convenience of merely tottering down a couple flights of algae-lined steps for a frisson of edge—rather than spending 45 minutes in traffic and 20 in a seething crowd, as was the case previously—can't be argued with.
The thing is, though, that London isn't so edgy anymore. The renegade, aggressive atmosphere that spawned Alexander McQueen is a thing of the past. These days the city is better at producing preternaturally honed specialists, a fact reflected in this season's lineup, which includes a milliner, Nasir Mazhar; a sportswear designer, Heikki Salonen; and Michael Van Der Ham. The last's collaged eveningwear is already virtually sold out at Liberty, which took a risk on him in his first season.
Of the three, Mazhar, who came to making headgear via hairdressing, is the raw newcomer—though through his association with the stylist Nicola Formichetti, he's already a favorite of Lady Gaga and Madonna. The hair-to-hat connection was easy enough to read in his opening updo of scrolled black leather "curlers" and the falls of pink nylon wig that cascaded from the back of a Tudor wimple. Some of his influences—the Rude Boys and Rude Girls he quoted in his program notes—come from his daily observations of living and working in the multicultural East End. But Mazhar is developing an artistic flair for a distinctive geometric structure (as in the peaks of his mean leather men's caps, set back on the head), and that could one day turn into a brand proposition for a smart streetwear company.
Both Salonen and Van Der Ham, on the other hand, are Northern Europeans who have set up businesses in London after gaining master's degrees at the Royal College of Art and Central Saint Martins, respectively. Salonen, a Finn, continued his straight-up-and-down tomboyish silhouette, steering it into slightly darker territory with tailored suede shifts and a great pair of black jeans appliquéd with raw-edge triangles.
The Dutchman Van Der Ham was the one under the most pressure to perform. He responded by continuing in the same vein as last season, collaging fabrics into dresses and separates—with the addition, this time, of rosebud-scattered Liberty prints donated by the store. True, he steered his collection more in the way of day-appropriate pieces and made a cautious step into patchworked knitwear, which potentially opens up a new product category for him. Still, it's the same look, and it left some questions hanging. Is the essential charm of his work the amateurism of the handmade product? Would it look better if it was made to purist standards of dressmaking skills? And is he sailing too close at times to territory Nicolas Ghesquière marked out years back? Van Der Ham's final dress—a lovely hybrid of long, flowing navy silk and crystal-encrusted beige wool—was outstanding enough to erase such worries for a second. But when the time comes for him to leave the Fashion East nest next season, he's going to find himself needing to face these issues head-on.