When it comes to London Fashion Week's SS23 show season, the expectation was for it to be a shiny and bold, all-singing, all-dancing return to form, with some of the biggest British household names, such as JW Anderson and Raf Simmons bringing their shows back to the captial and Christopher Kane showing again after a hiatus of some years. With news of the Queen's passing, however, some of the sheen and sparkle necessarily had to dim, as the nation entered its mourning period.
The only upshot? The secession of some of the bigger elements made way for smaller brands to shine and a few of them brought incredible meaning to their runways.
Here, ELLE takes a look at the designers that unexpectedly brought London Fashion week to a standstill.
Ancuta Sarca's Kardashian Collaboration
Romanian-born designer Ancuta Sarca isn’t one to shy away from collaboration and for this collection, she sought a partnership which would help further her clothes' appreciation for the forms of the female body. After one of her A-list admirers, Kim Kardashian, purchased a pair of her chic trainer hybrid heels, she DM’d the entrepreneur and ended up turning deadstock SKIMS pieces into sheer, deconstructed dresses and bodysuits for her Spring/Summer 2023 collection.
‘I love the diversity of SKIMS garments and the appreciation of women’s bodies. It works perfectly with this collection.’
The rest of the collection was informed by an eclectic range of inspirations, from renowned French rally driver Michèle Mouton, to the objets d'art of French artist Marcel Duchamp. A nod to the multi-facetedness of post-pandemic life, her summer footwear was as versatile and wide-ranging. Sarca’s signature spliced upcycled mules and boots featured, but there were new additions too. ‘I created clogs, which we've never done before. We've spent so much time developing them to get the shape and the proportion right – I went to Italy and worked directly with local artisans.’ Plus, there were pink thong slippers peppered into the mix, which could easily slot into Greta Gerwig’s reimagined Barbie flick if she were an avid Formula One fan.
Sarca also made a point to reference the relationship between femininity, identity and hair. ‘Both my sister and I had had long hair growing up. I created handbags made of wigs to reflect how hair was seen as a symbol of empowerment and strength during our childhood.’
Chopova Lowena's homage to The Bulgarian Rose Festival
Emma Chopova and Laura Lowena’s debut London Fashion Week show was a glorious, rambunctious sight to behold. Late on Friday night, the duo had a bustling crowd gathered inside Porchester Hall (a venue which has hosted the likes of Pink Floyd and the late Amy Winehouse) for their anticipated show. A quick glance around revealed a throng of disciples already dressed in the signature pleated kilts and voluminous dresses of the brand. The British-Bulgarian duo already have loyal fans among stars including Dua Lipa and Bella Hadid.
For Spring/Summer 2023 the designers, who initially connected over their love of handmade craftsmanship, looked to a centuries-old tradition in Europe this season: The Bulgarian Rose Festival.
According to tradition, as summer nears in the village of Kazanlak, young women crown an annual Rose Queen and welcome the pageantry that accompanies the multi-day festival. Chopova, who is American-born and has Bulgarian parents, wanted the collection to reflect the DNA of the brand by incorporating Bulgarian textiles, she explained. ‘The collection was Rose Queen-inspired and touched on high school and college lacrosse, with material sourced even more heavily from Bulgaria.’
Each outfit was more head-turning than the last. With a sense of ‘going somewhere’ on the former Central Saint Martins’ alumina’s mood board, showgoers were transported to The Rose Valley and models came bounding down the catwalk in tinsel sweater vests and boots, charm-laden shoes, busy kilts, dresses layered over trousers, graphic print swimsuits and a generous helping of attitude. Soundtracked to a Bulgarian choir with cross chanting and heavy metal music added to the atmosphere, concludes UK-raised Lowena: ‘We wanted to create an intense energy and emotional experience’.
Dilara Findikoglu on the importance of rebirth and freedom
During the pandemic, Dilara Findikoglu found herself back in her birthplace, Istanbul, Turkey. ‘When I was there, I had a lot of thoughts and feelings stemming back to my childhood and experience living there and waiting for a UK Visa. Feelings of being trapped in a room; trapped in religion; trapped in tradition.’
It was at this point that the designer began working on her collection, which took a little over six months to fashion. For the designer, whose earliest introduction to fashion was drawing women in dresses and presenting them to her mother as a toddler, returning to the catwalk, her first in-person show since February 2020, was an opportunity to focus on something which represented a rebirth of sorts, while weaving in her usual couture sensibility.
‘In the Spring/Summer 2023 there is a lot of body and skin [on show] because it's representative of the freedom of my body and mind,’ she says. The show was a theatrical, intriguing affair. Models walked down a silent catwalk wrapped in tulle, tightly tied corsets or exaggerated feather dresses. There was raw denim and even a nod to the late Queen Elizabeth in the form of a Union Jack number.
Known for less typical show locations (back in 2016, Findikoglu presented her ready-to-wear line in a Soho strip club), the Central Saint Martins graduate, who cut her teeth at Jeremy Scott and Margiela, this time chose a derelict West London hotel. ‘If ever there was a Maison Dilara, it would be this space!’ she laughs.
The 32-year-old split the collection into four themes: childhood, rebellious teenager, the mourning of the past and couture. For the last section, she experimented with real human hair and ancient Victorian techniques. ‘Hair reminds me of being immortal. Incorporating hair is a part of a mourning technique from the Victorian ages,’ she adds. ‘The use of feathers represents being reborn,’
Yuhan Wang was inspired by historical female pilots
Sisterhood was the driving force behind Yuhan Wang’s latest collection. The eponymous brand, which was launched under prestigious talent incubator Fashion East back in 2018, celebrated revolutionary pilots through a ready-to-wear collection that was equal parts delicate, elegant and disruptive. ‘I wanted to celebrate the persistence and courage of women. I focused on three prolific female pilots: Ya-Ching (the first Chinese woman to be granted a civil aviation license in China), Hazel Ying Lee, (an American pilot who, during WWII, flew for the Women Airforce Service Pilots), and Amelia Earhart, (the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean). These women helped shake the negative stereotypes of women being incapable.’
The important message of Wang’s Spring/Summer 2023 mood permeated the entire collection. Easy on the eye delicate lace hats and ruffled floral garments were offset with pointed lace-up boots, motorcycle jackets with blooming buckles paired with wisps of silk organza spun into miniskirts and deconstructed frilly boudoir-esque separates working in tandem with printed socks and dove jewellery. Weihai-born London-based Wang, who began working on her SS23 eponymous line in the summer (June to be specific), upped her level of intricacy this season. ‘The knitted dresses were the most difficult because they are so detailed, so it took a lot of time to get those right,’ she told ELLE UK.
No doubt she’ll be starting her next collection in the coming months, but until then what is she looking forward to? ‘I’m going back to Paris at the end of the month; I haven’t been since the beginning of 2020 so I’m excited to go back.’
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