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This Friday, feeling not-so-fresh from a week in New York, a mass of journalists, models, designers, bloggers and street-style stars will descend upon London for Fashion Week. They might be caught by surprise. The week will not be opened by a fanfare of glamour, but by London-based label Teatum Jones, who have taken their inspiration from the backstreets of Glasgow. If audiences are surprised, they shouldn’t be. British fashion is notorious for its eschewal of elitism and its defiance of convention.
At the heart of the British fashion industry lies a collection of independent brands: agile, spirited, and defined by their propensity for innovation. Here are the labels helping London maintain its reputation as the capital of creativity.
Just a few years ago, following the seismic crashing of the Celtic Tiger, Ireland found itself in spiralling economic decline. Today, equipped with a fortified economy and a renewed sense of optimism, its fortunes have changed. Fusing technology with tradition, and heritage with innovation, it has seen an extraordinary flourishing across the spheres of art, design and fashion. At the forefront of this movement, alongside Simone Rocha and JW Anderson, is Dublin-born Danielle Romeril. Initially, she started making clothes to solve a simple, teenage problem: she needed something to wear out clubbing and nothing in the shops inspired her. Years on, her label has grown in stature and size but, with its whimsical silhouettes and slouching fabrics, it is still imbued with a twist of teenage nostalgia.
Romeril first attracted international intrigue when she was awarded the coveted NEWGEN prize, which the British Fashion Council reserve for the only the most talented of emerging designers. Previous recipients include Alexander McQueen, Erdem and Mary Katrantzou. It was only when Romeril joined the ranks of these designers that she finally felt established. Before that, she had found the industry intimidating. “I thought fashion design was for ‘Other People’,” she explains. “I didn’t realise what you need is ideas. Ideas are such an underrated commodity.”
For Romeril, it is ideas that animate London’s famed fashion scene. “London is the most creative of the fashion capitals, and there is a scrappy can-do attitude. Amazing things happen here on no money. Amazing brands are built from nothing.” Who, in her mind, are the scrappiest brands around, then? The ones forging their own identities, and challenging the status-quo? Le Kilt, she thinks, who are re-interpreting traditional Scottish staples, and Faustine Steinmetz, for their hand-woven pieces. But it is Rocha upon whom she bestows the highest praise. “She is also Irish, and makes beautiful things.”
What happens now? Now that Romeril has broken through the boundaries that so daunted her and found herself, suddenly, established? “We are entering a new phase,” she says, mysteriously. “We are thinking outside the box.
“[Expect] collaborations and installations that take place outside the traditional fashion calendar.”
Hannah Weiland, the founder of Shrimps, named her label after her childhood nickname. Apparently, when she was born, she was small and pink, just like a prawn. “I loved the surreal idea of naming a colourful faux-fur coat after a crunchy, hard crustacean.”
Once the name was established, Weiland designed her first piece. It was a brightly coloured, stripy, fake-fur coat that completely re-wrote the rules of fur (or faux fur) wearing. It was a sell-out. Suddenly London was filled with the likes of Laura Bailey and Alexa Chung marching the streets cocooned in candy coloured swathes of Shrimps. “I have never worn real fur, so I wanted to create something as soft and luxurious that was animal friendly,” says Weiland.
Today, the label has expanded beyond just jackets. But it has lost none of the playful surrealism from which it was born. Its latest collections feature shirts printed with rows of Fornasetti-like faces, oversized fluffy scarves and glittering jumpers with body parts printed across the chest.
It is not surprising, then, that Weiland studied art history. Her degree significantly informs her aesthetic. Influenced by the impressionist works of Matisse and Picasso, as well Paula Rego and Cindy Sherman, she constantly refers back to her old essays. But Weiland seeks inspiration in the present, too. She loves London’s museums and libraries and, strangely, seeks solace in Wormwood Scrubs. “There’s a protected area of wild flowers and elderberry bushes,” she explains. ”You often forget you’re in London. I love it.”
Charlotte Beecham, 25, better known as the London-based brand Charlotte Simone, was initially inspired by Paris. Wandering its streets, like thousands of tourists before her, she couldn’t work out why all the women looked so chic. Then it struck her – their outfits were effortlessly built around a single accessory. Her solution? To return home and start an accessories label, of course.
Founded in her shared room at university, the brand has now transitioned into an office, with six people working on the colourful scarves for which she is known. “I’ve learnt that determination and self-motivation are key to starting your own brand,” she says, reflecting on her hard-won success.
Although Beecham’s idea was sparked by the glamour of Paris, it is London that now informs her design. “I have a favourite spot in Soho that I like to sit at and sketch passers-by.”
Alice Archer works in an industry notorious for its faults. But she is not particularly interested in the downfalls of the fashion industry. “I prefer to focus on making the most beautiful clothes that I can,” she says.
A graduate in sculpture and fine art, it is beauty that lies at the core of her brand, and she goes to great lengths to achieve it. Approaching fashion through the prism of her artist’s eye, she has made a name for herself by painstakingly stitching climbing patterns of flora and festooning bursts of fauna onto dresses and jackets. Archer’s first big break was when she was spotted by Simon Burstein, then the CEO of Browns, who was so enamoured with a stitched boot that she had made, that he commissioned her to create a capsule collection for the department store.
The rising of Archer’s star echoes the emergence of a broader cultural movement: pointing to the growing popularity of making, and craft. Increasingly, people want to buy pieces that will last, and that are imbued with a story. Naturally, then, customers gravitate to Archer, who describes her style as “intricate, but spontaneous.” Many of the pieces that she makes are bespoke. What has been the most unusual? “Embroidering a magnolia tree for the archbishop of Canterbury to give to prince William and Kate Middleton as a wedding present.”
A couple of years ago, nightwear evoked images of a thigh length t-shirt accompanied by a borrowed pair of boxers. No longer. The term has taken on a new meaning; not only does it now refer to silky two-pieces but, confusingly, it has also merged with daywear, with revamped pyjamas taking to the streets.
The duo at the forefront of this transition are Ella Ringner and Anna Williamson, who met when they were both working at Temperley. Collectively, they are known as Yolke, a lifestyle brand who have established a reputation for their sumptuously printed pyjamas distinguished by a bold use of colour and pattern. Their last collection saw suits printed entirely with glaring evil eyes, while their Arizona collection is dotted with multicoloured cacti.
Although the pair are inspired by established designers – they cite Erdem as a brand that particularly informs their design – they always look to street style when they start to think about a new season. “We love seeing how creative people can be mixing textures and colour. You don’t always get from a single designer show,” they explain. “It’s the greatest compliment to see someone take a pyjama shirt or trousers and mix them up with their own wardrobe pieces.”
But, as with any trend, there is a danger that nightwear might soon be relegated back to the bedroom. But Williamson and Ringrer seem unphased. “The British fashion scene feels like a very open market – there is still plenty of room for new brands doing different things.”
The pair plan to expand overseas, but also to embellish their design aesthetic even further. “This Christmas we have several styles including gold and silver hammered silk sets and sequin pyjama suits that are really made for party dressing.”
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