Just as fashion can offer a stark reflection of reality, it can also provide aspirational escapism. This week, designers brought a mix.
It’s almost impossible to witness fashion these days without being confronted by the state of the world. Each new trend is seemingly born out of our desire to grapple with cultural events, from the ongoing war in Ukraine and the natural disasters in Turkey and Syria to the uneasiness accompanying a looming recession. As such, throughout London Fashion Week Fall 2023, viral moments were either firmly rooted in reality or inspired by fanciful storytelling. Ultimately, it’s up to us to decide which is which.
From cinematic productions to political statements weaved into garments, designers at London Fashion Week came ready to offer their own takes on the world today. Throughout the days-long event, there was a theme: resilience. Ukrainian designers Frovlov, Kseniaschnaider and Paskal, who could not return to their home country, were invited by the British Fashion Council to show as part of London Fashion Week Fall 2023. And on the streets, we saw a joyous sartorial love letter to the talent that makes up the style zeitgeist in the British capital. All in all, London Fashion Week Fall 2023 was a celebration of clothing, creativity, and our ability to keep going in the face of turbulence. Read on to see which moments stood out most.
Harris Reed: Florence Pugh performs
Florence Pugh knows how to make an entrance. So who better than the bona fide red carpet star herself to open Harris Reed’s theatrical Fall 2023 show? Wearing a harlequin sequin skirt with a thigh-high slit, a black corset top and a massive halo headpiece, Pugh set the tone of the event with a speech written by Reed about the transformative power of clothes. “In a sometimes judgmental world, our costumes can change who we want to be seen as, and who we are destined to be,” she said. “I invite you to embrace the lamé and sequins of life, because all the world’s a stage.” With that motto in mind, the British-American designer offered ten exquisitely detailed looks dripping in sartorial drama. Showcasing extravagant proportions, gilded beauty looks, and a consistent colour palette of gold, black and silver, the collection was nothing short of a cinematic experience. Encore!
Sinéad O’Dwyer: This is what inclusivity looks like
The industry standard of exclusivity means that many people — namely those who are wheelchair users, plus-size, or gender non-conforming — feel like fashion isn’t for them. But thanks to designers like Sinéad O’Dwyer, this stuffy narrative is being rewritten. Case in point: at her Fall 2023 show, a pregnant model graced the runway in a cut-out-filled catsuit that celebrated the changing of the body instead of trying to hide it. Similarly, throughout the presentation, models of different skin colours, sizes and abilities donned fishnet textiles, body-con silhouettes and neon hues. By now, it’s expected that O’Dwyer’s shows will offer daring fashion for everyone, not just those who fit the traditional mould of a model. And with this Fall 2023 show, the designer has proven yet again that representation should never be up for discussion. It should be a given.
David Koma: Killer accessories
Has any inanimate object been quite as aestheticized as a cigarette? They’re objectively bad for you. And yet, this inherent danger seems only to add to their mystique and glamorous Old Hollywood appeal. Just ask David Koma, who tapped jewellery designer Emily Frances Barrett to create bedazzled cigarettes as hand-held accessories. “The image of a smoking actress has always fascinated me, and in the ’30s it was considered vulgar,” Koma told WWD. This air of provocative femininity seeped through the presentation. Walking down an electric red runway, models’ ensembles were accentuated with leather rosettes, opulent opera gloves and bejewelled accessories. Traditional menswear pieces like suit jackets were cropped and worn sans undershirts or pants. Statement coats, flashy thigh-high boots and fur-lined dresses seemed to confidently say, “I don’t care what you think.” And nothing communicates this irreverence quite like a cigarette covered in crystals.
Burberry: Daniel Lee’s debut
Since the shocking announcement that Daniel Lee would be taking over as Burberry’s creative director in September 2022, anticipation for the British brand’s latest reinvention has been building. Following his transformative tenure at Bottega Veneta — where he introduced the coveted Bottega green shade — Lee went back to the heritage brand’s roots with a Fall 2023 collection that modernized Burberry’s signature check. In a dimly lit venue, many models wore tartan motifs in regal tones like forest green, deep red, mustard yellow and royal blue. With blanket trenches, faux fur coats, hot water bottles as accessories, and even a duck hat, the collection was an ode to British cold-weather dressing with a hint of Gen Z playfulness and a recognizable Daniel Lee twist. It’s even led some to wonder: Are we headed for an era of Burberry blue?
S.S. Daley: Ian McKellen takes to the sea
Lord of the Rings fans, rejoice. Before the S.S. Daley runway show began on February 19, legendary actor Sir Ian McKellen (a.k.a. Gandalf) took the stage to once again wrap audiences in a blanket of whimsical lore. Wearing a sailor hat, a striped tie and a navy peacoat, McKellen recited the poem “The Coming of Arthur” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson — detailing a foreboding stormy sea — in a commanding voice that set the tone for the turbulent theme to follow. In front of a wall that pictured a moving body of water, models donned tattered knits, loose-hanging seams and unbuttoned dress shirts. All in all, it mused the image of being lost at sea. But thanks to sensual designs like a naked body motif and a pantless ensemble, the collection also presented the possibility for exploration.
Dilara Fındıkoğlu: Dressing for revenge
At an echoey chapel in East London, models sauntered solemnly past seated guests to a soundtrack of water dripping slowly from a tap. Entitled “Not a Man’s Territory,” Turkish designer Dilara Fındıkoğlu’s show explored bodily autonomy with restrictive accents like spiked chokers, boned corsets and safety pin-punctured nails. Inspired by gender power dynamics and weighted by the recent devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, the tension of the event could be cut with a knife. Fittingly, the collection’s final statement was a dress covered entirely in vintage-looking butter knives. Reportedly based on the concept of Joan of Arc’s reincarnation after having been burned at the stake, the shielded frock gave a whole new meaning to clothing as a type of armour — and a weapon.