You know it’s been a brilliant show when you are picking glitter out of your hair and clothes hours later. That’s what happened after Ashish Gupta’s spring 2016 runway presentation, since his models threw glitter and sequins around like fairy dust to the crowd, which included M.I.A. and Neelam Gill (the latter, to her credit, queued up with the ordinary people). To us, Ashish perfectly summarizes the spirit of London Fashion Week: youth, energy, eccentricity – and a message.
At the start of the show, cool-girl models threw down their skateboards and skillfully rolled up and down the runway in a blur of pastel and candy-colored glitter, which adorned models' hair and eyes as well as the clothes. But it’s unfair – even lazy – to say, "Oh, Ashish is that sequins guy," because he is far more than that. So when two men in heels strutted hand- in-hand down the runway, one in teeny shorts and a tank top, yes it was camp, it was queer, but it was a sartorial message, which was this: It's fantastic to be gay, trans, or whatever, and one should wear it with pride, not hide away. (Come to think of it, it's surprising a stronger transgender/gay message hasn’t hit the runways more than it has this fashion month, given the amount of press coverage dedicated to Caitlyn Jenner in recent months.) There was also a nod to his own culture: an Indian model who was sent down the runway in a denim embroidered outfit with a saree crossover detail, letting us know that the race issue is never far from his mind, either.
Earlier in the day, Marques’ Almeida showed its first runway collection — so no pressure there. We had two big questions leading into the show: First, would this Portuguese duo come up with something that was as defining as their now-famous fraying denim, which has been so heavily copied? And second, did the €300,000 they won translate into a better production, better show, better collection?
If the latter did, it wasn’t initially naked to this eye. The first three looks didn’t start the collection off with the expected bang; the tyranny of beige on beige couldn’t be saved even with details like a flamenco-ish ruffle and layering. Marques’ Almeida's mainstay — shredded, frayed denim — but very same-ish, though the slashing was a bit riskier, and there were also ruffles. Somehow, it seemed a bit too much, as if the designers were trying too hard to make a statement that they were doing something new. What a relief then when a couple of super-pretty, diaphanous slip dresses with floral embroidery appeared, as well as beautiful looks in a meadow green floral print. And a couple of really well-tailored — yes, you heard it, tailoring at Marques’ Almeida —had editors straining for a harder look.
Ashley Williams has fast gained notoriety as the cool girl that dresses the cool girls: She had Alice Dellal walk the runway last season and she dressed Georgia May Jagger for the Minnie Mouse Exhibit last week. On Tuesday, Neelam Gill appeared in her front row wearing a seriously tight PVC black dress (which was a lot to take in at 9 a.m.). But here is the problem: With her spring 2016 showing, she just went from "cool girl" to serious designer, whether she even knows it or not. Pare back the now trademark cute animal bags, try-too-hard hats, fishnet stockings, the talking t-shirts (“no code of conduct”/”bad mood”), then a lot of it is just sophisticated, elegant, serious work. There were some surprisingly well-cut looks — a super-sexy slip dress, cool fabrics and a totally forward-looking feel. Iris Apfel could easily wear these looks every bit as much as Jagger. It was a big push forward for her and whether by design or by accident, that’s a good thing.
The evening was rounded out by the hugely talented Japanese designer Yasuko Furuta. She lives and works in Tokyo, but showed her spring 2016 runway debut in London because, as her rep Justine Fairgrieve says: “London is just a perfect city for her vibe. We showed in Paris a few times, but the audience for her kind of work is better here, because Londoners are open to things off the track — more experimental and theatrical.” That just summed up the clothes. “Petals, Minerals and Squiggles” was the theme, and Furuta looked to nature for inspiration — especially the sea. A pleated skirt actually felt like the seaweed it was meant to represent when picked up, whilst ruffles on a beautiful plaid skirt were representative of a gentle wave.
She embroidered tulle into shapes like jellyfish and other sea jetsam and flotsam, but the patchwork collaging had us pause. It evoked slight comparisons to Michael van der Ham or early Rodarte: The craftsmanship, the eccentricity, the thought, the handiwork was plain to see. Then, how she double-bonded a viscose into a sturdy leather-like fabric in pleats was pure design magic. Denim represented what she calls her “high-low moment” because as she says: “Every woman wears denim. And I guess I am 'every woman' and it had to be there.” However, this stuff is not for the faint of heart. “I create for a complex woman who can only live in chaos,”she says. Every look requires confidence, because you will be looked at. These are pieces not just to stare at, but to behold – and maybe, eventually, to be framed.