On the official day one of London Fashion Week, for the past three seasons, I've been roaming the exhibition stands at Somerset House, sniffing out pieces to wear in a Susie Styles It column for LFW Daily.  The point obviously isn't to see me pull ridiculous expressions and kick my legs up in a jaunty fashion but it's to shine a spotlight on the exhibition part of London Fashion Week, where away from razzle dazzle shows, there are serious rails of clothing waiting to be picked up by stockists and noticed by press.      

By and large, the designers and labels I picked out for four outfits to run in the paper all shied away from a show or a presentation and instead concentrated on the business of selling their wares, an astute choice that doesn't make you any less of a designer.  Esteemed consultant Jean Jacques Picart's recent quote in this Business of Fashion article, "‚ÄúFor young brands, success will come if they don‚Äôt pretend to compete with the big names" is a sound reasoning for the slow-and-steady-wins-the-race approach. 

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Day 1 – Yang Du A/W 12-3 cashmere poncho and bag

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Out of all the designers here, Yang Du probably created the biggest stir as the playful knitwear designer staged a Noah's Ark-themed presentation in Paris as part of the ON|OFF initiative.  She's remained true to her calling for all things cartoonish for A/W 12-3, as she puts her own spin on the Bible tale by having swans, crocodiles, owls, flamingos, tigers and giraffes all try and clamber on to this imaginary Noah's Ark.  She relies on enlarged poncho shapes and sleeveless shift dresses to carry her almighty menagerie of animals as well as the stupendously cute leather backpacks that come in an array of species, my favourite being the menacing-looking owl.  It's got a bit of an Angry Birds-demeanour, no?  The fact that a backpack reminds of an iPhone pastime that has killed off MANY hours of productivity, is only going to make me more enamoured with it.    

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(Photographs by Morgan O'Donovan for Dazed Digital)

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Day 2 – Eun Jeong A/W 12-3 printed dress coat, Atalanta Weller for Maarten van der Horst A/W 12-3 shoes

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Eun Jeong was a Fashion Fringe winner back in 2008 but since that winning collection of fluid tailoring, it seems EJ has changed her tact a little by injecting a touch of digital print into her latest A/W 12-3 collection "After Flower".  It pays off as the odd composition of Tetris blocks, polka dots and bouquets of roses really works in this print and for me, one of the strongest pieces was this silk faile printed dress coat that feels like a quirky take on Sunday Best attire.  

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Day 3 – A.Knackfuss A/W 12-3 sheer peach shirt, Vassilisa A/W 12-3 silk skirt, Atalanta Weller for Maarten van der Horst A/W 12-3 shoes

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A.Knackfuss aka Alice Knackfuss took part in the Showroom Belgium initiative, which showed its wares at LFW for the first time.  We all know about Belgian prowess as their schools continue to produce designers that go into employment into houses but there are as yet, not as many independent and solo brands as there are in London.  Knackfuss could well be one of them.  Born in Munich but based in Brussels, Knackfuss began in menswear but has decided to debut a menswear-inspired womenswear line.  She's out to conquer some female-male imbalances as she points out in an interview "What‚Äôs weird is that 80% of fashion school graduates worldwide are girls, while 80% of the best designers are men."  She admires the uniform aspects of menswear that she has translated to this first A/W 12-3 collection, inspired by the story of Sadako Sasaki, who in 1955 made over a thousand paper cranes.  A rough handcrafted paper fabric therefore graces the sheer shirt that I picked out, which felt delicate and tough at the same time, much like the rest of this balanced and well-articulated collection.  

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I've written about Vassilisa's silk scarf designs before and for the past two seasons, she has advanced from silk scarves through to skirts that flare out with the help of some tulle lining.  In her A/W 12-3 collection "Snakes and Foxes", she uses print to convey those animal without resorting to using fur or animal skin, something that a lot of designers have gone down the route of.  Not that it's a santimonious ploy on the part of designer Nadja Solovieva, seeing as pastel snakeskin print and little foxes heads bobbing about on a skirt, are actually far more effective than using the real deal raw materials anyway. 

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Day 4 – Vilshenko A/W 12-3 silk shirt, Hermione de Paula A/W 12-3 embroidered skirt and matching gauntlets, Atalanta Weller for Maarten van der Horst A/W 12-3 shoes

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Vilshenko is also another Russian rooted label that I've written about before.  Designer Olga Vilshenko does a good job of synthesising elements from her Russian roots and bringing them bang up to date, be it through cross stitch prints or tasteful tailoring.  The fan printed shirt that could also have been depicting a bird's plumage was the perfect counterpart to…

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Hermione de Paula's celebration of nature, or rather a highly curated menagerie, belonging to an imaginary collector called Marguerite.  De Paula's A/W 12-3 collection "Marguerite's Menagerie" centres around this fictional character who is a dreamer that allows exotic animal and floral prints to swathe around her body.  Along with the usual dark twisted florals that De Paula has become known for, she adds monkeys, exotic birds, flying fish and bees as well as a 3D dimension of feather embellishments and bead embroideries to adorn her muse.  In a season of seriously "RICH" collections, De Paula really indulges and invests in this Marguerite character and comes up with gold as there are few young designers that chase decadent and fanciful dreams of this nature.  Who else would include 17th century inspired gauntlets and boot chaps as lavish accoutrements to the rest of the collection?  I felt ready to pose for a Fran√ßois Boucher portrait, whilst sitting in Kew Gardens somewhere.  That was when I was only wearing the solitary skirt and the matching gloves.  

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>> Why wear just one or two colours when you can shove seven plus into one outfit?  That's really the only thought process behind this image onslaught, triggered by bits and bobs of the following…

…Christopher Kane's S/S 12 resort collection which then led to the acquisition of a vintage Louis Feraud slip dress from the brilliant Thrifted and Modern, Caran D'ache colouring pencils and felt tip pens all in order in the box, 'Oblivion' by Grimes – her voice sounds like a rainbow, lava lamps, blow-up chairs and rainbow hemp clothing from Camden Market, accessories designer Fred Butler and set designer Andy MacGregor and their approaches to working, House of Holland' S/S 12 resort film by Mariano Vivanco, rainbow cakes, upping the saturation and contrast levels on Photoshop, 'Young Luv' by Christian AIDS, Alexander McQueen's S/S 03 rainbow shipwreck dress, bokah lights…

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Jil Sander floral shirt, vintage Louis Feraud rainbow dress from Thrifted and Modern, Nike trainers

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Jonathan Saunders t-shirt and paisley trousers, Rochas shirt

 

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Tsumori Chisato cardigan, We Are Handsome swimsuit

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House of Holland cap, Peter Jensen lurex jumper, Olmetto silk scarf for Lane Crawford

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Swash illustrated body, vintage rainbow tweed swing skirt, vintage concertina rainbow hat, Goocy platform trainers

(Rainbow hair from AnotherMag, rainbow cake from Broma Bakery, Andy MacGregor ad for Oxfam, rainbow photo taken outside of my house on day of London riots, rainbow pencils, rainbow nails from Tumblr, American Apparel nail polish ad by Sarah May, rainbow swatch from Flickr)

>> I may have ended the last post on Arise Magazine Fashion Week on a bit of a bum note.  No, I'm not saying being inspired by your own culture is in any way a bad thing but sometimes, it can feel like a designers of minority ethnicity are shackled to that and see it as a way of standing out against Caucasian peers.  Relating your own work to personal experience and heritage though obviously yields great things. When a collection reflects a reality that is genuine and exuberant and feels like it's shaking things up a bit, then I duly approve.  I'm a bit late to Kezia Frederick's Central Saint Martins BA collection but these images are the perfect Friday pick-me-up, that segues into a vaguely clunky mode of dressing that I've personally been enjoying – trainers, socks, multiple shirts/jumpers tied around the waist and of course the formidable print/colour clashing that you're so very used to whenever you zoom over to Style Bubble.  Anybody familiar with the 55 bus route in London or if you live in any multi-cultural city, will get where Frederick is coming from.  She explored the idea of "dual citizenship" with her energetic collection that combines photographs of style observed in London as well as of Nigerian women coming out of church (something that I've personally been fascinated as I grew up seeing people come out of Methodist/Baptist churches in Willesden and Hackney on a Sunday, wondering why their outfits were so fancy).  There's something about Frederick's combination of traditional Nigerian dress with more familiar street-derived elements that come together quite beautifully here.  Frederick took her collection out to Arise Fashion Week and the folks at Patternity singled her out as one of their personal faves from the week.  Hopefully she'll be finding her own design niche soon enough.  

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(Photographs by Shiba Huizer)

I'm kicking myself for not taking up the opportunity to head out to Lagos, Nigeria for Arise Magazine Fashion Week, even though technically it overlapped with Paris Fashion Week and I would have been operating at the pace of a sloth even if I did make it out there.  Therefore it's down to the lovely Anna Murray of Patternity, to venture out to Lagos and kindly report back with a vast photo story here that documents both on and off the catwalks and all the patterns that they saw in everything from crazy pavement tiling to Nigerian textiles.  I don't normally allow guest posts on Style Bubble but this was an exceptional exception, where I would have given my two left thumbs to do a body switch with Anna for the week to get out of a fashion comfort zone and into what I perceive to be the great unknown.   

Here, Patternity give us a little account of their experience of the week: 

"It's always exciting to visit a new country, to get a new perspective and to return home inspired.  Patternity's trip to the sprawling metropolis that is the Nigerian Capital Lagos, and host of Nigerian fashion week 2012, was no exception.

Invited to the Arise Magazine Fashion Week, Patternity documented the textures and patterns that made up the week, as well as consulting for British designer David David with his Lagos debut winning him an award for 'Most Innovative Show 2012' .

Capturing on camera both the schedule of seventy-seven African or African-influenced designers on and off stage, and in true Patternity style, getting out and about in Lagos seeing the abundance of pattern everywhere from the mundane to the magnificent, forming a tapestry of where much of the original inspiration comes and where it has ended up. 

Best summed up, it was in essence a week spent observing extreme contrasts, both in and out of the fashion arena. The Lagos landscape sees towering shiny buildings which sit alongside shanty towns. The glitz and glamour of the red carpet frequently descends into darkness owing to intermittent generator power cuts. This is the week where international models walk behind local Nigerian girls and boys who were discovered just 2 weeks ago, some of them winning life changing awards to go to New York. In the pattern and colour rich markets we chatted and laughed with the locals, but always with the slight discomfort that we had to be accompanied by an armed guard. 

Only in it's second year of running, (with thanks to publisher Nduka Obaigbena who funded the whole week) and judging by the high standard of this years design talent, its clear events like this make way for a furthered cultural understanding as the world look towards Lagos for inspiration, well and truly putting Africa on the map for Fashion Weeks to come." 

What's interesting is the schedule of designes that Obaigbena put together from all over the world for the week – some native from countries in Africa, some that have roots in Africa or in some cases, the Caribbean and reside in different countries and then a few that have no connections with Africa at all, other than they are influenced by the aesthetics of African textiles.  I apologise in advance if I'm using Africa as a loose umbrella term but Arise's fashion week event seems to mix it all up into a hot pot, where countries of origin don't seem to be the main focus.  Rather it is about celebrating African derived fashion talent as a whole.  Not surprisingly, the key designers that Patternity singled out as standouts reside outside of Africa but take elements of their own culture to inject into their designs.  

Laurence Chauvin Buthaud of Laurence Airline is someone, who I'd love to investigate more with a possible trip to her native country Ivory Coast, where she has set up a workshop that teaches couture sewing techniques to locals.  Profits from sales of the collection are invested back into the project.  What's better than this bit of do-gooding is that the clothes are really quite lovely.  It's menswear that either sex could get stuck into.  Buthaud has a focused way of mixing textiles with polka dots, Scottish plaids and peacock plumes all occupying the body with geometric lines.  Laurence Airline also has an office in Paris which evidently will help the brand make the connection with sales.

Oheme Ohene and Buki Akib are two other labels which make use of their respective Ghanaian and Nigerian roots in their work but are both based in London.  Then there are the New York-based designers such as Telfar, William Okpo and LaQuan Smith, who pointedly don't incorporate African aesthetics into their work.  Finally you have British designer David David who hosted a retrospective of his work, where the sporty geometrics bear some resemblance to its often tessellated surroundings in Lagos, as photographed by Patternity.  This mighty mix of designers that come from a plethora of backgrounds must have been exciting to witness as a gathering.  

As an outsider, without having seen it all for myself, I still end up asking the same questions though.  Is it absolutely essential to inject recognisable "Africana" codes into the work of designers of African-origin in order for it to be valid and accepted?  Why do these "Africana" aesthetics continue to be perpetuated by European/American designers and does this in turn dillute the work of genuinely Africa-originated designs?  Funnily enough, I've also picked up on an article by Anja Aronowsky Cronberg in the latest issue of Bon Magazine that investigates the fallacy behind so-called African "Real Dutch Wax" prints, as they in originate from textile companies in the Netherlands.  This is a colonial mishap that has led to the assimilation of those eye-catching clashing prints and colours to become part of our vision of "Africanness".  Therefore, I find it more interesting when designers of African origin, don't bind themselves to these perpetually regurgitated aesthetics or feel pressurised to resort to designs that would at the end of the day cater to a Westernised view of all things "ethnic" and "exotic".  

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All photography courtesy of Patternity

What is better than being bowled over by beautiful lookbook images of a designer and then seeing their pieces shot in lovely editorials?  Why, it's spotting the product being worn by real people, impressing you for a second time round.  Immaculate tastemaker Madelaine Levy of Bon Magazine snapped up a shirt from Palmer // Harding S/S 12's collection and ever since I saw her wearing it at Stockholm Fashion Week, I can't quite get the idea out of my head that one of their white shirts will be THE white shirt that will somehow change my life.  Alright, that's a touch too far but honestly, seeing it on real live flesh and in good working condition, it struck me that it's an investment worth making.  Good thing that new ecommerce start-up Avenue32 have bought a number of styles in.

On to Palmer // Harding's sophomore follow up A/W 12-3 collection.  I think Matthew Harding and Levi Palmer are ok for now being known as the "guys who make good white shirts".  It's not exactly a niche, which many designers occupy.  However, they have expanded somewhat this season so that they'r also the "guys who make shirts in cream, mustard and black and do a few good jackets and shirt skirts too"  Ok, that's not very snappy and sounds a little Derek Zoolander.  Suffice to say, the duo haven't veered too far from their niche but have steadily added a few key pieces that enrichen the Palmer // Harding offering.  Their emphasis is still very much injecting sculptural elements into the white shirt but I think they do so with far more subtlety this time round.  They don't like to use lofty references but they mention Bruno Walpoth's wooden sculptures as one starting point, which can be seen in the use of white smudged with an earthy shade of ecru.  Walpoth's sensual figurines can also be seen in the ease of movement created by more of that clever tucking, pleating and foldering that are unexpected and devastatingly subtle.  I say the word devastatingly because I'm always floored by how mathematically complex Palmer and Harding's pattern cutting is.  

For this season, those little nip n' tuck details are even more hidden and are there for wearers to keep to themselves as a secret.  They've also focused on elongated shirt tails as well as one or two pieces of outerwear that undulate in waves at the back, which mixes up the proportions so that it's not all entirely concentrated on the upper half of the body.  Little details like grograin folded into the collars, rope thread into cuffs and muslin panels provide a textural contrast.  Still, it's the core foundations of the white shirt that still prevail in every piece.  That's why Palmer // Harding are still very much the guys to go to for a good white shirt and I doubt you'd want them to do any 180 degree design turns.  After all, why tinker with something that is getting off to such a good start?  

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