The Fashion East platform is the playpen for nascent talent in London. But what was surprising today was how mature some young designers' ideas can be without losing any of their edge.
It is hard to pass judgment on designers at this stage in their careers; people who start off in one place can turn around in a few years and shock the hell out of you—both for good and for bad. But the Lulu Kennedy-run showcase has a good track record.
Ryan Lo produced a candy-floss confection of looks, where the experiments in texture were fine—he is known for his fabric innovation—but the taste left something to be desired. It seemed like glam house was back again and that marabou was de rigueur; references to this period are popping up all over the place in London. Overall, the collection had a syrupy flavor, when it felt like it needed to be spiked with something stronger. Or maybe that's just this reviewer's palate.
On the other hand, there was Claire Barrow, the recent Westminster graduate whose collection had a literal debt to the strong stuff: Garments were inspired by and named after tequila, bourbon, martini, gin, and absinthe. Here, there was a fifties rockabilly sensibility that actually pointed to the designer's interest in punk. "Punk looked back to this time to get those basic rhythms back," she said of her music choice. Equally, she looked back to go forward in the fashion she has been making. Skipping nostalgia for something more sinister and enigmatic, Barrow put her boys and girls in rubber dungarees, hand-illustrated leather jackets, and odd rainwear. She hoped her gang defied some easy explanation, and it worked, in a good way.
After enjoying two previous seasons of Fashion East, Maarten van der Horst was the only designer to have his output on the catwalk (the other two presented in a tableau format). Not surprisingly, his work felt the most ready to leave the playpen's confines, and yet it had lost none of its youthful bravado. Much spun around the detritus of consumer corporate culture, particularly the motif of the carrier bag. And the cheap carrier bag at that—the kind you get from the supermarket or the market stall, not the designer kind. Tesco bags were a particularly prominent part of the collection. Of course, there was a debt to punk and pop here, particularly from the school of Sprouse, and yet the appropriation felt entirely contemporary, as opposed to being tinged with nostalgia. The manic handmade screen prints, the Swarovski stickers, the ready-made workwear shapes of corporate uniforms—"I am not a big fan of hiding behind craftsmanship," said the designer—gave an honesty and democracy to the entire thing. In London this season, Fashion East really did point the way forward to something different in fashion today.