This season's London Fashion Week was advertised as the industry's first real homecoming since the pandemic: a celebration, a return to the community at the heart of it all. But a week out from its opening night, an unprecedented event took place: the death of its longest reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.
The country immediately entered into an official 10-day mourning period and soon after the announcement, the British Fashion Council sent out an address canceling all parties and non-essential events. Weighty names, such as Burberry and Raf Simons, then put the pin on their shows, prompting an emergency over-200-person industry Zoom call to discuss whether the week should be canned entirely to avoid the backlash that would undoubtedly come from the likes of The Daily Mail for continuing on. But ultimately, the decision made, arrived upon through separate WhatsApp chats between designers in the hours following, to present a united front in support of London's debut and young talent: the ones who'd organized sponsors, spent beyond their means, and rallied the help of friends, relatives and volunteers to bring their collections together, all amid the backdrop of a looming recession.
This spirit embodies that of London Fashion Week: inclusive, supportive and anti-establishment (respectfully so). It might've lost Burberry and Raf, but it still had the buzz around Christopher Kane, who hadn't shown in years, and JW Anderson, who was returning home after showing recent collections overseas. It had Simone Rocha, Michael Halpern, Molly Goddard and Erdem. But in a quintessentially London way, what made the week most exciting was exactly who those big names stepped in for: the new wave of designers, who continue to breathe energy into the city and its industry, and who make it stand out from all of the rest when it comes to creativity, experimentation and, most notably, its unparalleled vibes.
London Fashion Week is often overlooked internationally, overshadowed by the pull of big-name houses elsewhere: Chanel, Miu Miu and Balenciaga in Paris, Milan's Fendi, Versace and Gucci. New York may be making a play for London's crown of cool with Telfar continuing to grow its cult each season and Marc Jacobs' Heaven enlisting Doja Cat and Charli XCX. But London's low-budget equivalent feels more authentic. As Tom Rasmussen put it for Dazed, "It's the only fashion week where proper mad creativity is at its center."
Unlike the other cities it's sandwiched by, any gatekeeping of the schedule is almost non-existent in London. The roster is packed with young, up-and-coming talent, sitting right beside long-established houses, due to a slew of initiatives created for this very reason, including Lulu Kennedy's Fashion East. The nonprofit began over 20 years ago and jumpstarted the likes of Rocha, Anderson, Charles Jeffrey, Martine Rose, Mowalola, Knwls and Maximillian Davis. This season, participant Karoline Vitto's creations, alongside her celebration of women's bodies — she used exclusively plus-sized models — was one of the week's standouts.
Fittingly, the opening show of LFW was that of Harris Reed, the experimental 26-year-old designer who graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2020 and has since been named creative director at Nina Ricci. And people were buzzing the most about Sinéad O'Dwyer, Feben, Masha Popova, Paolo Carzana, Chet Lo and Chopova Lowena. On day two, a friend in New York attempted to roast me when I was posting runway images from each, writing, "These brands all sound made-up." The joke was on him: These exact unknown, made-up-sounding names happened to be the hottest tickets of the week.
The support for these designers far exceeds their industry mentors and peers propping them up, too (though a special mention to Reed, who, unable to make Chet Lo's Tuesday show, had a friend FaceTime him from the front row to watch the entire thing live — screaming — from afar). Attendees will go all out, and even those who aren't dressed by the brand will still wear their own items from previous collections: On Knwls day, her serpent boots and print-flared trousers lined the front row and the amount of Chopova Lowena pleated tartan skirts at the designer's debut on Friday night almost exceeded those on the runway. Recently, a friend pointed out that Paris is dubbed the most stylish city in the world mostly due to its clean and chic uniform being one that's easy to replicate en masse. But it's in London where true personal style shines: The city is a melting pot of individualism; it's colorful; it's experimental; and, thanks to the weather, its people are experts in layering.
The runway, too, is constantly evolving. At Sinéad O'Dwyer, it was the first time wheelchairs — two of them, in fact — have been on the runway at a major fashion show in London (in April, Australia was leaps and bounds ahead, holding an entire show dedicated to adaptive fashion). At SS Daley, there were not only larger women walking, but men as well.
Molly Goddard's show was full of fashion students invited by the designer herself and, of course, there were odes to the Queen, none more poignant than Richard Quinn's closing show, which featured 22 opening runway looks created by the designer in just 10 days.
In contrast to Paris, in London, it's embarrassing if you take yourself too seriously. I watched Alexa Chung ditching an organized car with other FROW invitees to instead have a cigarette outside the tube station solo and jump on a packed one home. Mia Regan, Gen Z's new favorite It-girl, help pull the missed dog hairs off someone's jumper in the elevator up to Rejina Pyo's show. Inside venues, people seated next to one another actually talk (though I did still see two separate emails sent to PRs complaining about being seated second row) — and when a designer makes an appearance during the finale, the cheers are loud. At the Old Bailey for Simone Rocha, where the Irish designer debuted her first menswear collection, a visibly emotional Rocha even received a standing ovation.
Though (most) parties were, indeed, canceled, the mood was still as silly as it should be when your week is made up of catching the tube across the city to watch the beginning of the butt crack-baring trend (at Poster Girl). Everyone dipped into The Standard in between shows for cocktails and frequented pubs, like West London's iconic The Cow, where Sam Smith was already drinking pints when the fashion crowd rocked up on Friday afternoon.
The 30-hour queues in central London to view the Queen's coffin might've been in complete juxtaposition to the tulle and tartan lines taking place outside shows; but in the face of it all, London proved it doesn't need parties, celebrity performances or any outside energy quite literally at all, to be the most exciting fashion city in the world.
Browse highlights from London Fashion Week's most promising up-and-coming designers in the gallery below.