‘It’s so surreal’: How London Fashion Week’s new faces are ruling the roost

When it comes to celebrating fresh talent, London Fashion Week has form.

Unlike its counterparts in New York, Milan and Paris, which are all about established brands, LFW is renowned for embracing emerging designers with open arms.

This is largely thanks to the British Fashion Council’s Newgen initiative, which offers financial support and mentoring opportunities to new designers while also giving them a LFW slot at its dedicated showspace, which, this year, is located at the Old Selfridges Hotel near Bond Street.

Previous recipients (Molly Goddard, JW Anderson and Simone Rocha) have gone on to become highlights on the LFW schedule.

Despite the fact that Newgen itself is nothing revolutionary – the programme has been running since 1996 – there has been a significant shift in terms of where its designers sit on the lineup.

While in previous years, they might have served as a sprightly side dish in a schedule headlined by heritage brands (think Burberry and Christopher Kane), Newgen’s emerging talents are slowly becoming the main event.

Last season, for example, all eyes were on Newgen recipient Nensi Dojaka. The Albanian designer made her solo debut at LFW shortly after it was announced she had won the prestigious LVMH prize for young designers for her slinky, lingerie-inspired designs, loved by the likes of Dua Lipa, Zendaya and Bella Hadid.

Despite sitting amongst some of British Fashion’s biggest names on the schedule, Dojaka was who the style set couldn’t stop fawning over, with American Vogue dubbing her “one of the freshest forces in womenswear for a long time to emerge from London, or perhaps internationally”.

This time around, there are a handful of new faces on the LFW lineup creating a similar buzz. Take Conner Ives, the 25-year-old Central Saint Martins graduate, who was among the Newgen recipients for 2021/2022.

It’s the first time the Bedford-born New Yorker is showing at LFW, despite having made his mark on the industry all the way back in 2017 when Adwoa Aboah wore one of his dresses to the Met Gala.

Ives was in his first year at CSM when he got the call up, with Aboah commissioning an iteration of one of his student creations: a show-stopping ​​deconstructed tuxedo with a four-foot train embellished with swans.

From there, Ives was in high-demand, going on to work for none other than Rihanna at her LVMH-owned brand, Fenty, for a year-long placement.

Now, having graduated in 2020 (with a collection hailed by American Vogue, no less), Ives has finally made his way onto the official LFW schedule, with a show titled Hudson River School, which draws on the Mid-19th Century art movement that began in Ives’ hometown of Hudson Valley, New York.

Every look has been named after an iconic character, archetypes and pop culture figures Ives was inspired by as a teenager.

They include ‘The Vogue Girl’, which takes its cues from Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of Andrea Sacks in The Devil Wears Prada. There’s also ‘The Cool Girl’, a reimagining of Gillian Flynn’s famous trope as depicted in her bestselling novel, Gone Girl. However, none of these ensembles are quite what you’d expect.

Paloma Elsesser walking in the Conner Ives show

Take the “Vogue Girl” look, modelled by none other than Edie Campbell, which saw the British fashion star walk the runway in a yellow checked coat with a matching Baker Boy hat and a pair of bright red knee-high boots.

Each element is easily identifiable as taken from Hathaway’s character – “are those the Chanel boots?” rings a bell – but seeing them thrown together in this unexpected ensemble is testament to Ives’ creativity. It’s this theme that underpins the entire collection.

Even niche characters are made accessible, like “The Carmen Miranda Raver Girl”, described in the show notes as “the girl you meet between sweaty breaths on the dance floor of your summer rave” and “The Laurel Canyon girl” aka “a 60s-era hitch-hiker”.

Of course, there are trend-driven pieces – think coordinating patterned tops worn only with knickers and low-rise jeans with frayed edges – but Ives’ skill lies in his ability to make even these items seem like they could be worn by the everyday person.

Edie Campbell as Ives’ ‘Vogue Girl’

Wide-leg suiting is an SS Daley signature look.

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