London Fashion Week has always provided drama and dark edge that the preceding New York Fashion Week traditionally lacks. Indeed, LFW has garnered a reputation for showcasing clothes with a darker, mysterious undercurrent. The late Alexander McQueen was an authority in this — just remember the A/W 1998 collection, dedicated to the martyrdom of Joan of Arc and the Romanoff family.
A young successor to the tradition of eccentric British design is Phoebe English, who, like McQueen, was a student of the brilliant Louise Wilson. English “grew up in a very small house 100 meters away from Shakespeare’s birth place”, but with a mother who was “an ex-punk, everything-is-always-black abstract painter”. These conflicting early influences are clear in her poetic vision of fashion. She loves using featherweight tulle, but her colour of choice is black. English’s minimalist colour palette means that the spotlight is on the shape and structure of the clothes themselves, which are beautifully draped and intricately layered.
At first glance, English’s SS18 looks seem like a marked departure from her AW17 collection. However, if you look past the staging and at the similarities between the forms and the garments, it’s clear this is an evolution rather than a re-invention. Her new collection, was created in collaboration with puppet-maker Judith Hope, who made white wooden marionettes for the presentation. The reason for the marionettes? English wanted to reference the couture tradition of duplicating all garments in quarter scale. The result was a dramatic showcase, with models and marionettes wearing matching garments. Eeriness aside, you can’t ignore the beauty of the designs, the carefully chosen fabrics, and the artful details. There were layers of mesh, voluminous tulle garments and hand-knotted strips of fabric, wrapped around clear-cut poplin shirts and muslin dresses.
Marrying the Helmut Lang-esque elements to the fairytale-like ones, English has achieved what young designers are only rarely good at: producing refreshingly unorthodox but wearable clothes.