Warehouse has enjoyed a renaissance since Emma Cook joined as design director in 2015. Expect even more love for the old high-street favourite this season, thanks to a collection of 90s references and vibrant prints. “It was the way British girls dressed then, putting together things that didn’t necessarily go,” Cook says of summer’s Zoom lolly stripes. “In the early 90s I had a hammered silk dress and a neon T-shirt from Warehouse. It was very cool.” Nostalgia is not an option, though: “I want it to feel modern and relevant. I have a team of women who design things they want to wear – I think that’s a good sign.”
Between the ages of 27 and 29, the astrological theory goes, is Saturn’s Return: a period of questioning your place in the universe and looking forward to the next phase of life. Designer Ashley Williams, 28, seems in the thick of it. “You look back on your work and think: ‘That was great, this was horrible,’” she says. “It’s make or break time now.”
Williams studied fashion at the University of Westminster and was picked up by Fashion East – the young talent initiative at London fashion week – on graduating in 2012. Her shows featured model friends such as Pixie Geldof and her prints of ice-creams and speedboats soon found celebrity fans in Harry Styles and Rihanna. She launched her label in 2014 and is focused on creating a brand “true to me – something that’s a mix of designer and streetwear for women”.
Her S/S 17 collection, a love letter to her 90s high-school days, is arguably her strongest yet. It has the poptastic, playful branding her fans love, but with a confidence that comes from knowing your strengths. Angel-covered pyjamas, frilled blouses and varsity jackets were high points, as were T-shirts and hoodies featuring that fallen angel of 90s youth culture, River Phoenix. “I find it really interesting that someone who seemed to have it all had another side to him,” says Williams, whose world centres around cult references. Past mood boards have featured John Waters, the Beastie Boys and alternative piercing; next up, for A/W 17, is the paninaro scene of 80s Milan. “They wore Fiorucci, Armani jeans and cowboy hats. I did my dissertation on them.” Even under Saturn’s influence, some things in the past are worth revisiting.
Jonathan Saunders shines at DVF
Life happens when you’re making other plans. Just as Jonathan Saunders was setting up a furniture line after the closure of his fashion label in 2015, Diane von Furstenberg came calling: “She wanted to do more philanthropy and was looking for someone who understood the ethos of her brand.”
Fast-forward a year and the 39-year-old has moved to New York with his beloved dog Amber and is chief creative officer for DVF. He was drawn, he says, by the label’s legacy of louche 70s glamour, epitomised by the sexy appeal of the wrap dress: “It has an emotional response from women. There’s a depth beyond just the clothes, an optimism and a sense of ease.”
It was Saunders’ task to translate those qualities into clothes for 2017. While the signature wrap was there, his first collection for DVF wasn’t retro; it was a modern update on its 70s heritage, using his talent for print and colour. His aim was to capture “the nomadic spirit Diane founded the brand on. I was thinking about the archive from a philosophical point of view: how do these ideas work for today?” Two years ago, Saunders wouldn’t have dreamed he’d be here asking these questions, but plans change. And, on the evidence so far, he’s more than up to the task.
Brandon Maxwell’s power play
He might be Lady Gaga’s fashion director, with a spot at New York fashion week, but Brandon Maxwell wants to thank his grandma for introducing him to fashion. “She ran a local boutique in Longview, Texas, that sold furs and pearls, the upscale designs of the time,” he explains. “My thought process is based around strong women who use clothes to get through the day. No matter what they’re going through, they hold their head up high.” For S/S 17 that means clothes designed for stomping into the room and getting noticed, from tailored dresses and flares to a jumpsuit with a cape.
His fans include Michelle Obama and Solange Knowles, but, to Maxwell, “all customers are celebrities – like the woman who tags me on Instagram after wearing my top to a party. It’s a win when I hear a woman feels special”. His grandmother must be proud.
Getting a taste for Ryan Lo
Ryan Lo is tired of being misunderstood. “Critics see me as part of this girly movement happening in London now, but my work is like katsu curry. It looks like Indian curry – but taste it and you find it’s unique.” The Hong Kong-born Fashion East alumnus is right to be riled. His sparkly, frilly clothes are ostensibly a saccharine take on classic feminine dressing – “It’s that Coco Chanel, Sonia Rykiel, Whitney Houston thing,” he says, “I’m every woman!” – but his designs come with a twist. Lo taught himself to knit and sew from YouTube and that DIY feel adds edge to his collections. There is also a sense of humour. In his new collection, inspired by the anime and Cantonese pop videos of his youth, oversized jumpers and exaggerated silhouettes give a fascinating oddball element. Lo’s favourite look? “A clown jumpsuit with a Stephen Jones Lurex tricorn pirate hat.” The curry analogy is a good one. Lo’s work has a kick.
Brother Vellies: fancy foot forward
Aurora James is the kind of suitcase-packing global traveller it’s impossible not to envy. Her Instagram feed details a life lived in Morocco, New York, Palm Springs. She also has a very strong shoe game, being the creative director of Brother Vellies, whose fancy footwear is made by artisans in Morocco, South Africa and Kenya. We’ll be investing in the flamingo boot this season, and continuing to stalk James on social media.
The genius of Cristóbal Balenciaga
While Coco Chanel was fantastic at snappy one-liners and Christian Dior excelled at explaining his designs, the man known as the ‘king of fashion’ in 50s Paris was an engima. Spanish designer Cristóbal Balenciaga only ever gave one press interview and hated socialising, but his work spoke for itself. No other designer has created so many enduring womenswear styles, from tunic and sack to babydoll and shift.
This spring, to mark 100 years since the start of his career, the V&A hosts the first UK show on the man and his legacy. As well as his own work, his influence will be shown in pieces on display by André Courrèges, Givenchy, Nicolas Ghesquière and current Balenciaga creative director Demna Gvasalia.
V&A curator Cassie Davies-Strodder says: “His exquisite craftsmanship, pioneering use of fabric and innovative cutting set the tone for the modernity of late 20th-century fashion.” The show includes some fancy x-ray displays, so you can get to know his work inside out.
Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion is at the V&A from 27 May
Why Anna Sui loves good (and bad) girls
Since her label’s launch in 1991, Anna Sui has used disparate influences – from Warhol to punk – with thrilling results. Now the designer, who sees the Anna Sui woman as “both the good and bad girl”, is having a retrospective in London. “Her work is infused with pop culture spirit,” says curator Dennis Nothdruft. “She redefined American fashion.”
The World Of Anna Sui is at the Fashion and Textile museum from 26 May; ftmlondon.org
Sonia Rykiel: chic knits for ever
The grande dame of French fashion, designer and intellectual Sonia Rykiel, died in August last year, at the age of 86. One fitting tribute to her contribution to womenswear comes from the label she founded in the 60s. A special caspule collection called Rykiel Forever will showcase designs taken from the archive and reinterpreted by the label’s current artistic director, Julie de Libran. Expect homage to Rykiel’s signature stripes and knits – including sweater dresses and the classic fitted, ribbed Poor Boy knit. And, of course, the sense of humour and chic styles that saw her dubbed Queen of Knitwear. Long may her designs reign.
If the cap fits
While the baseball cap in pop culture says “celebrity trying to hide from paparazzi”, fashion has a different take. At Chanel it was worn to the side – against a futuristic background of robots, wires and uptight secretaries from 2055. At Balenciaga it was accessorised with an oversized bag. Moschino and Versus used it for branding, and the Off-White cap bore the elliptical “Woman”. Thank goodness we’re on to the next iteration, after the “Make America Great Again” cap of doom.
Fashion’s coming up roses
Fashion has never been afraid of saying it with flowers. In recent seasons, off-kilter floral prints on grungy dresses have been present and correct in most Vetements collections, while Gucci’s Alessandro Michele is an advocate of the generous overflow of petals. But this season one distinct bee-friendly theme has dominated: the sort of floral print you’d see on a lawn chair in an episode of The Good Life. Yes, the Laura Ashley-on-poppers vibe hangs over the fashion zeitgeist for spring. These 70s-style prints could be seen in the Michael Kors collection, whimsical at Chloé and at Balenciaga in Kermit greens.
The floral return feels quaint, familiar and slightly unhinged – how better to denote subversive femininity than with a visual reference to that unreconstructed decade? The 70s have given generously to pop culture recently, with the return of the porntasche and the Emmanuelle wicker chair on Drake’s album. In this instance, “saying it with flowers” is the most on-point way for fashion to communicate.
Martine Rose makes new friends
Before super-oversizing, deconstructed sportswear and wry gender clothes-play became the norm in fashion, Martine Rose was doing it all. The south London-raised menswear designer has worked for a decade to create clothes inspired by suburban subversion and says 20th-century pop culture drives her work. Notable looks have drawn on S&M, skinheads and the rave movement, while her A/W 16 collection was inspired by Mark E Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe and the 70s gay scene. S/S 17 features snakeskin suits, grandad jumpers and high-heeled loafers – and nods to one of the quirks of secondhand clothes: its’ previous owners. “I was interested in clothing in charity bundles, and how pieces taken out of context have a different meaning,” Rose says. Each item has the name Susie sewn into it: “Susie’s my oldest friend and this was part of the story, finding a piece personalised by someone else, that then becomes precious.”
In their unexpectedness, the pieces highlight her aesthetic connection to Demna Gvasalia, for whom she consults at Balenciaga. “Unusual combinations are oddly beautiful,” she says. “They create an awkwardness that’s really interesting.”
Loverboy shows off in style
These days, anyone who’s anyone is a multihyphenate. Charles Jeffrey Loverboy is an illustrator-club entrepreneur-fashion force to be reckoned with. His S/S 17 show was a highlight of London Collections Men, mixing the outre with the conventional: Union Jack facepaint came with oversize silhouettes and tapered waists; chokers and corsets with 80s-cut jackets and Leigh Bowery-style headdresses. “Louis XIV of France, couture on boys, ascending from the club basement to a place of glory,” was how the 26-year-old brightly described the range. Asked to sum up the label’s ethos in one word, he says: “Queer. I like the rules of men’s and women’s clothes, and how they enhance a certain body shape. It’s nice to know that, then spin it on its head.”
It’s something he learned under disco lights. In 2014 (partly to fund his degree), he ran the Loverboy club night in east London – a mix of Studio 54, Central St Martins and grot rockers. “Being around people wanting to move and be happy inspires me,” Jeffrey says. You can’t argue with that.
Levi’s orange is the new black
Here’s one for the retro denim heads: Levi’s has brought back its much-collected orange tab range, originally introduced in the 60s for the youthquake generation and now featuring patchworked jeans, A-line skirts, chambray shirts, striped tees and cropped 517s with a hint of boot cut. Think clothes Sally Draper’s friends might wear and you’re halfway there.
This article appears in the spring/summer 2017 edition of The Fashion, the Guardian and the Observer’s biannual fashion supplement
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