It's tempting to call Fashion Fringe the London equivalent of Project Runway. But that diminishes the event—it's a fashion design competition, yes, but there are no snide judging panels, no sponsor-driven "challenges," no histrionics for the camera. That's because there are no cameras. What Fashion Fringe has is designers, and clothes. (And Burberry creative director Christopher Bailey, judging from the front row.) There's a purity to it: The fashion comes first, because the fashion is all there is.
All three of the Fashion Fringe finalists this year were innovative and full of promise, and each one a completely viable winner. (That fact alone seems to demonstrate something important about the difference between reality show "reality" and life.) The most immediately commercial vision belonged to Teija Eilola—unsurprising, given that the Royal College of Art grad was, until recently, one of the heads of womenswear design at Ted Baker. Her collection was composed of accessible pieces, like a trench-inspired jacket, that boasted unusual details and sculptural construction. At the other end of the spectrum, at least where fashion industry experience is concerned, was Vita Gottlieb, who did graduate from Central Saint Martins, but with a degree in Fine Art. And prior to heading to CSM for her master's, Gottlieb spent eight years in the film industry, a background that seems to have contributed to the narrative quality of her clothes. Her dramatic textiles were a highlight of the evening, overall.
But ultimately, the night belonged to Haizhen Wang. You might have guessed it would, given Wang's CV—M.A. hons in Womenswear at Central Saint Martins, followed by stints at MaxMara, Boudicca, and AllSaints that would appear to have given his design skill set a good rounding off. His collection's 3-D prints, engineered materials, and architectural construction were all genuinely remarkable. Even more remarkably, Wang put his technical prowess to work making street-smart, wearable clothes. Expect to see more of this young man.