The mundane, the heartsick, and the crushed. These were the concerns of the three Fashion East designers Claire Barrow, Ryan Lo, and Ashley Williams, who showed this season. Each one displayed the spirit of heartfelt experimentation in their own individual way, something this showcase is famed for. Above all, these were young people designing for their peers, which always makes for a refreshing change. It also made for a particularly strong lineup overall.
First was Claire Barrow in her sophomore Fashion East outing. This season her focus was the mundane—something the designer made far more interesting than you might expect. "It's how I feel about fashion now," said Barrow backstage. "I just don't want to bang out clothes to a certain brief." Instead, inspired by repeatedly seeing John Constable's The Hay Wain in various charity shops, with its mundane view of nature and the near unpleasant setting of such stores, the designer decided to embark on this collection. Here, the bric-a-brac, thrift-store state of things was apparent: Lampshade-on-head, anyone? There was also a battered doll re-created as a leather handbag, and Billy the Bass made into a purse. This attitude also extended to the clothing, yet the crafted nature of Barrow's output lifted the collection above the borrowed and the bland, particularly in standout items such as her circle-skirted dévoré dresses and black leather evening coat. There was also a black leather bridal outfit for those who fancy a change. And there is much more promised from this designer.
Ryan Lo was also on his second collection for the showcase, and this time his output was greatly improved. He took his interesting approach to textiles and sugarcoated attitude and applied them to the plight of unhappy singletons—yes, Ally McBeal and Bridget Jones were the muses here, combined with the anime heroines of Sailor Moon, defeating evil with the power of love. Lo applied these codes to a cotton-candy confection of outfits that borrowed from the working girl's wardrobe and her bedtime. Here, a baby blue mohair overcoat stood out with its slouchy silhouette that could have also meant extravagant bed wear. There were pussy-bow blouses in transparent fabrics (Lo's women really shouldn't stand near naked flames, there's so much experimentation with both real and artificial fibers), which were combined with vinyl to particularly good effect. The show was purposefully sweet, but at times it could cause problems with insulin levels.
The final designer, Ashley Williams, was making her Fashion East debut. Straight from Westminster's BA fashion course—the same class as Claire Barrow, no less—Williams presented an accomplished offering that almost brought the idea of a fully fledged brand to mind: This was the sort of cute brief that labels like Hysteric Glamour used to fulfill in the nineties. Of course, Williams has grown up with a multitude of brand identities around her, so designing in such a way feels like second nature and never seems forced. "I always think about what would amuse me," said the designer after her show. "I'd wear all of it to the shops; it's about not looking out of place anywhere." Never taking herself too seriously, and dealing with the idea of a mad fan's crush on Elvis Presley, Williams presented a collection full of an almost perky preppiness that was peppered with cuddly-toy clutch bags and fun fur. There was intricately embroidered insignia of her own devising—fulfilled by a military embroiderer—that covered one of the best jackets in the collection. Williams' characteristic, graphic sloganeering prints and sharp, casual silhouettes combined to make a more than worthwhile debut.