London Fashion Week drew to a close this week and, set against a backdrop of Brexit, the environmental crisis and coronavirus, for many showgoers it was hard to justify its relevance. Do we really have room for such an excessive parade in the current climate? While the British Fashion Council failed to address the industry's environmental responsibility by way of a robust pledge (unlike Copenhagen Fashion Week, whose impressive action plan gave us hope for the future), the institution does play host to designers who are taking action and contributing to a positive fashion industry, from Richard Malone's new regenerative farm to Preen's upcycled and recycled wool and cotton.
While the biannual event feels at odds with where we're at politically and culturally right now, it's unfair to lay the blame at the feet of young designers creating art. As humans we'll always turn to things of beauty in times of strife and their work provides hope, inspiration and creativity for us all. More importantly, though, London Fashion Week's makers are not the ones churning the fast-fashion machine or calling for a relentless carousel of trends. In fact, they're resisting those demands.
Rather than send anything gimmicky down the catwalks (it seems we're all fatigued by the dogged cycle of newness), designers from Victoria Beckham and JW Anderson to Shrimps and Christopher Kane offered us looks we know and love, but cast through a new lens. From robust workwear to timeless party pieces, there were heritage checks in innovative cuts, classic tailoring given new meaning and party season sparkle in a way we've not seen before.
With the fashion industry playing such a huge role in the climate crisis, it's easy to forget the essential joy we get from it; but by defying senseless novelty – and therefore waste – designers proved that fashion isn't the big bad wolf it's accused of being. It's important that, while we continue to question and hold to account the existing modes of displaying fashion, we still find the beauty in dressing up. We'll always need clothes, so we may as well have fun with it.
Arguably the most wearable look to emerge from London Fashion Week, designers leaned into ladylike silhouettes this season. Over at Shrimps, which returned to the official show schedule for AW20, creative director Hannah Weiland looked to Lady Di and the queen, giving us regal aesthetic codes like top-handled bags worn in the crook of models' arms, plenty of pearls and froufrou midi dresses with silk elbow gloves. Rejina Pyo offered a more workwear-appropriate take on femininity, with puff-sleeved blouses tucked into sleek knee-length skirts proving her ability to make everyday pieces feel extra special isn't waning. Erdem's shows always deliver on ladylike looks – it's what makes him such a favourite on the red carpet – but there was a standout get-up that we can see being imitated later this season. An empire-line silk chartreuse midi dress, complete with waist-defining belt and high neckline, will no doubt make its way across the high street just in time for wedding guest season.
On the other end of the spectrum, we saw a healthy dose of gender-defying pieces from designers flexing their tailoring muscles. At Preen, the '70s film adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now was the collection's inspiration, and while flashes of the film's haunting red symbolism were seen throughout, it was the Donald Sutherland-esque suiting that we loved the most: think dagger collars and oversized lapels on suave three-piece get-ups. Among the reworked check and trench coats at Burberry, Riccardo Tisci delivered a surprisingly zingy trouser suit. Just brighter than olive, the green suit felt thoroughly retro thanks to its pairing with a rust shirt and tan leather accessories. Margaret Howell, too, continued to do what she does best: timeless pieces that verge on the androgynous. Our winning look from her AW20 collection was made up of loose pinstriped trousers, an off-centre square-edged tie and utilitarian grey shirt.
Party season always calls for sparkle but for AW20 magpie materials were elevated beyond the dance floor. JW Anderson's collection was an ode to volume and mass, with every piece focused on movement in some way. The Northern Irish designer has always done glitz in a subtle way, but this season we saw sequins with a capital S come down the catwalk, topped with floating feathered shoulders. Go hard or go home, as they say. Erdem, who often references overlooked historical figures, instead drew inspiration from Cecil Beaton. The extravagant British photographer captured the delirious glamour of artists and socialites of the '20s and '30s, and in turn, Erdem's collection was brimming with razzle-dazzle, from metre-tall feathered headdresses to shimmering silver gowns. Perhaps the Roaring Twenties are back, after all. Naturally, at Christopher Kane we got a darker take on sparkle. With a collection exploring the relationship between man, woman and nature, Kane used crystal mesh gowns to allude to corruption in the Garden of Eden. With a gown this glittering, we say hate the sin, not the sinner.
From sand to camel, all manner of neutrals have dominated both on and off the catwalk for the past few seasons (thank Bottega Veneta and Phoebe Philo's dedicated followers), but we're more interested in the brown brigade that's emerging for AW20. The subversion of a shade previously thought of as ugly is far more interesting than the sea of beige we see outside the shows, and a slew of muddy coats proved us right. A.W.A.K.E Mode's velvet quilted coat with exaggerated collar looked like a Cadbury's chocolate bar and will no doubt be the casual coat of the coming winter. Petar Petrov's outerwear offering was mighty impressive but the standout piece was a '90s-inspired leather mac (it wouldn't look out of place on Bella Hadid, if you ask us). At Rejina Pyo, we saw outerwear in corduroy, suede and leather, but our favourite piece was a military-esque almost-khaki jacket with contrasting pockets and collar. We're pairing with slouchy leather boots, as styled on the catwalk.
Thanks to the classic Breton tee, stripes may not feel like the most groundbreaking or thrilling trend to emerge from the catwalks of AW20, but hear us out. We first spotted teenage angst at Prada AW19, where Miuccia sent Wednesday Addams lookalikes down the catwalk; happily, the grunge trend lives on this season, with slubby Kurt Cobain-esque stripes present at both Erdem and Molly Goddard. While the latter went all-out with a frothy black skirt, platform creeper shoes and embroidered patches, the former somehow made grunge glamorous with shimmering trousers, platform mules and a coordinating Alice band. Richard Quinn took a different tack and, in a similar vein to Burberry, gave us a contemporary spin on the striped rugby shirt. Candyfloss pink and olive green in a sumptuous satin shade will ensure no one mistakes you for a Six Nations punter.
Designers have become so infatuated with heritage check over the last few years – maybe Brexit is turning them back on to traditional British craft – that we didn't think we could see the woven fabric done in an innovative way. And yet. As the undisputed champion of check, Burberry gave us a host of tantalising new outerwear in striking pink and black check, rich autumnal check and staid grey check. Cropped, spliced and given faux fur cuffs, new life was breathed into the fabric. Over at Molly Goddard, checks were given art school edges in carnation colours, high pockets and unstructured silhouettes (paired with grey tights and Dr. Martens they were even more brilliant), while Victoria Beckham continued to provide us with aspirational workwear. Who knew we'd be coveting a three-piece look (blazer, skirt and cape) in black, yellow, white and grey check?
BDE (that's Big Dress Energy) first graced the catwalks of London Fashion Week at AW19, with that larger-than-life hot pink Molly Goddard dress leading the charge. Now, though, voluminous pieces aren't just for standout dresses but for every aspect of your wardrobe. Simone Rocha's frothy dresses have earned her a cult following and now she's turning her outerwear XXL, too. The same goes for JW Anderson: last season he gave us enormous balloon sleeves on trench coats, this time around it's the lapels he's supersized. Roksanda, who dresses every Hollywood actress worth their salt, knows that drama is key for red carpet appearances and is no stranger to dresses that make an entrance. She gave new meaning to The Big Purple this season with a layered and frilled showstopper.