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Ones to Watch: The Young Stars of London Fashion Week 2022 September Edition


LONDON — London Fashion Week is still going on despite the national mourning for Queen Elizabeth II, who died Sept. 8 at age 96.

The shakeup caused by her death has seen numerous designers cancel or reschedule their shows, including Burberry, Raf Simons, and Roksanda. 

“We are asking that designers respect the mood of the nation and period of national mourning by considering the timing of their image release,” said a statement from the British Fashion Council, which has approved the continuation of shows and presentations.

Before the queen’s death, this was set to be one of London’s buzziest seasons yet with big names returning and staging spectacles. While many of those have postponed their shows, London still is doing what it does best: Producing a slew of young, up-and-coming designers worth noting.

Here, WWD highlights four promising newcomers who are making their London Fashion Week debuts.

The Canadian-Chinese designer Susan Fang, who was shortlisted in the 2019 edition of the LVMH Prize, achieved enviable success in China during the pandemic.

She took home top prizes at the inaugural Yu Prize and Lane Crawford’s Creative Callout and locked in collaborations with Zara and smartphone maker Oppo. She has also appeared in Piaget’s global campaign alongside Wendy Yu, and put on dreamy fashion shows during Shanghai Fashion Week that had influencer Susie Bubbe praising her from the other side of Eurasia.

Now, as China tightens its COVID-19 rules, the Central Saint Martins alumna, known for cute beaded bags and candy floss-like dresses, is looking to go big on the global stage.

“For the past two years we focused a lot on China because a lot of our international stockists had to close their physical stores during lockdowns. But in China, all the shops were booming, and because they were not going overseas, we got a lot of orders. Not just from accessories; our clothing now takes up 70 percent of the sales. In the past, it was totally the other way around,” she said.

With her London Fashion Week runway debut, Fang hopes that international buyers, who would come to Shanghai to see her shows prior to the pandemic, will place orders again.

A preview of Susan Fang’s spring 2023 collection.

On Tuesday, she will take over the Marshall Street swimming pool in Central London to present her spring 2023 collection at 1 p.m.

“This new collection really embraces love and peace. There are a lot of feelings of restriction and anger. I hope this strong emotion can be used for love, and it’s much harder sometimes to let go of our aggression and seek harmony at upsetting times,” Fang said.

Models will be walking on pontoons, surrounded by giant inflated flower-bomb installations covered with water marble patterns Fang and her mother developed together in Shanghai, where she was stuck for more than two-and-a-half years. Thanks to her Canadian passport, she managed to come back this summer after the two-month-long Shanghai lockdown to prepare for the show.

The collection will feature new looks in psychedelic marble prints, which she narrowed down from over hundreds she made to a dozen, and a range of 3D printed bags, which has already gone viral on social media after influencer Vanessa Hong carried one during New York Fashion Week.

Fang said as the 3D bags are less time-consuming and labor-intensive compared to the beaded ones, even though some of them come with intricate floral ornaments and a glowy gradient hue, both hard to achieve with 3D printers, it enabled her team to focus on more artisanal pieces for the runway, and her fast-growing private clientele.

Buyers rarely touch these pieces due to high price points, but Fang said special orders have been coming in from around the world since the launch of her own e-commerce site right after COVID-19 started.

This new source of revenue safeguarded her business and provided her with firsthand insight into her community.

“From the address, you know that the customer has a big income. What they would order is very different from what the shops order. They would pick those transparent, beaded dresses, or all hand-embroidered dresses.

“We have become very fast [on fulfilling these orders] because the team has been there for a long time. We will ship it out within two weeks and that will arrive to them in three weeks,” she added.

The designer is planning to stay in London until November. After that, she plans to reunite with her family in China and celebrate her birthday there.

London-based Irish designer Sinéad O’Dwyer has already carved out a niche in popular culture. Her delicate and subversive take on body and sex has been worn by the likes of Lara Stone, Paloma Elsesser, Björk, Arca, and Precious Lee, as well as being featured on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” winner Aquaria on season 10 of the reality competition show.

The stakes are high for O’Dwyer as she makes her London Fashion Week runway debut. She has been a champion of body diversity by firmly presenting her collections on all types and she does so unashamedly without sticking to any industry trends.

She’s dedicating her physical show to her mother, who is a cellist. “I am hugely inspired by classical musicians this season,” said O’Dwyer, adding that she even “drew inspiration from an image of myself as a young teenager. I played the cello too and have been reflecting on that time period by looking closely at the silhouette I was wearing in the photographs in juxtaposition with orchestral garments.”

An image of Sinéad O’Dwyer’s mother, Adele, who has inspired the collection. Courtesy of Sinéad O’Dwyer

She will be incorporating music from Cosha, an Irish singer-songwriter; Irish-raised artist Omar O’Reilly, who goes by the alias of Witch Trials, and her mother, Adele O’Dwyer. 

O’Dwyer’s designs don’t shy away from a multiplicity of colors; she’s always favored pastel and strong bright shades. This season she is introducing two natural-dyed hues — one in stone-lilac and the other in a blue-gray. 

“We worked with natural dye specialist Cavan McPherson,” she said, explaining that she’s using new combinations such as black and red; brown and blue, and lilac with red.

She found a mill in Italy to source all of her organic cotton, cotton-silk blend and linen fabrics. The brand uses natural fibers for all their tailoring and shirting; Econyl for swimwear. For the first time she’s introducing knit garments made from mohair, elastic and cotton, also sourced from Italy.

Even though O’Dwyer has found her footing with the popular girls of social media, her ambitions are to be more “visible as a brand, to gain a new audience, buyers, and have an opportunity to show our clothes on many different bodies in movement.”

The most rewarding part of planning a show for O’Dwyer has been working with her fit model, Jade, who she credits as giving “amazing energy and insight into what she likes to wear and how things feel. She makes everything come to life.”

Fashion designer Harikrishnan Keezhathil Surendran Pillai, who goes by the name Harri with his namesake menswear label, is still a bit nervous about his London Fashion Week solo debut on Friday afternoon at the Newgen presentation space at the Old Selfridges Hotel.

Since presenting his work at the London College of Fashion MA Fashion graduation show in 2019, he has gone on a rollercoaster ride to arrive at where he is today.

He was forced to leave the U.K. and return to India upon graduation. He worked in retail for a year to sustain himself during the pandemic, while applying for the exceptional talent visa for fashion, now rebranded as part of the U.K global talent visa. Last September, he finally moved back to London and began to work on a new collection from his one-bed apartment in Woolwich, London.

In the meantime, his signature inflatable latex trousers and beaded tank tops, which quickly went viral on social media after the graduate show, continue to appear on fashion magazine covers. Through APOC store, an online marketplace that connects emerging talents directly with consumers, he also managed to sell a considerable amount of his designs on a made-to-order basis, which did well enough to encourage him to conceive a new collection.

A preview of Harri’s spring 2023 collection

“I thought I would never sell those rubber trousers but yeah, people love it.” the designer said during a Zoom call.

He confessed that he was shocked that the was shortlisted for the British Fashion Council’s talent support program Newgen.

“I never thought I would get it. I just had a very experimental graduate collection with me, which wasn’t a commercial collection. Yes, there was a commercial side to it. But I never got time to dive in and do it properly,” he said.

Harri revealed that the initial idea for his collection was how he imagined his pug Kai, named after his favorite bodybuilder Kai Greene, seeing the world around him. And then he expanded that thought to how will people perceive each other.

For the presentation, the designer, who competed as a professional bodybuilder before, is working with French artist Pierre-Alexandre Fillaire and British latex manufacturer Supatex on a performance that best exemplifies the drastic contrast of body proportion his design brings out.

“This time we’re exploring performance mainly because we’re trying to see how a performer would react to my structure, and the world I create,” he added.

He has also prepared some more market-friendly items in the line sheet, such as printed and textured shirts and trousers carrying elements of his visual identity.

“I want to offer a more accessible reinterpretation, not just from a financial point of view. I don’t think a lot of people would be brave enough, including myself, to wear my trousers. But they still appreciate the craft and imagery,” he said.

London-based designer Abigail Ajobi started her luxury streetwear label in the height of lockdown after graduating from London College of Fashion and having previously studied at Central Saint Martins.

Ajobi made her debut at London Fashion Week last February with a collection based on young love, specifically the story of her parents. Her second presentation is a sequel to that.

“It’s inspired by the love story of my parents, a young couple from two different worlds that met on a flight between Lagos and London,” said Ajobi.

This is Ajobi’s love letter to her parents. “My greatest example of love has been from my parents,” she said, adding that “creating not one but two consecutive collections about them is my way of thanking them for teaching me how to love.”

A preview of Abigail Ajobi’s spring 2023 collection Courtesy of Abigail Ajobi

For her new collection, she scanned through family photo albums to find fabric swatches and colors reminiscent of the time. Ajobi wants to celebrate her cultural identity in a contemporary way by infusing her own “urban London culture” with one of her parents.

She sampled hues of rich blues and greens from the photographs and has used a love letter written by her father to her mother as a print that has been reproduced on to Nigerian denim. The second print she used was a portrait of her parents decorated with passport stamps, which she has called the international love print.

A majority of Ajobi’s fabrics are sourced from Nigeria including the leather. She uses deadstock fabrics on limited quantities of her pieces to give them each an individuality.

Sustainability to the young designer goes beyond being green – she donates a percentage of her profit to a charity that relates to the collection. This season she’s chosen Nigerian-based charity Keeping It Real Foundation, which works to support the lives of “vulnerable children, youth, persons with disabilities, prison inmates, women and local communities.”

She will be taking her collection to Lagos Fashion Week in October. Ajobi’s fall 2022 collection is now stocked at Selfridges with support from Stavros Karelis, founder of Machine-A, and Bosse Myhr, director of womenswear and menswear at the luxury department store.


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