Last season Louise Gray went spectacularly onto another level as a designer with a show that her former Central Saint Martins M.A. tutor, Louise Wilson, said was like "something from the Paris catwalk." Wilson is the fearsome doyenne of London (and in many ways global) fashion, so great has been her influence on successive generations of major fashion designers whom she has taught and still supports. What she meant with her comment was that Gray's Fall collection combined the slickness and creativity that the French capital is famed for and from which it derives its mythological status in the fashion mind.
In actuality it's London that is exploding right now with a talent that is hard to contain: a peer group of designers—mostly taught by Wilson—who in the last two days have produced their fair share of powerful moments. Like Paris in one of its creative peaks, or indeed, like London in one of its own. Louise Gray cemented her place within that group today with a collection that had far more to do with London than Paris. "I wanted to look back to look forward," she said after the show, which she titled Now What. "It was about all the things I like, basically," she continued. "I thought, I just like this, and I am going to do it." That has been the métier for many London designers this season—a sense of "to thine own self be true."
In Gray's collection that idea made for a compelling display, featuring a dizzying array of techniques in print and textile innovation. The graphic approach that has been surfacing throughout this season was present in spades here, in newspaper-print prints and even a specially woven newsprint cloth. Again there was an illustrated woman—it's a trend we've seen on other runways—this time delineated quite literally in her makeup and cartoonlike in her getup: fun, but serious nonetheless. That cartoon-y feel was accentuated by Stephen Jones' hats, Tatty Divine's jewelry, and at one point, a sincere nod to Barbie. Gray's bricolage approach to "liking things" gave the collection a punk and new-wave spirit that reflected figures such as Stephen Sprouse and Rachel Auburn—who are no doubt present on the designer's list of likes—although Gray defined the mood as "art school." Really, it was Saint Martins experimentation all grown up and ready for the wider world.