Think of London Fashion Week and images of creative explosions, traffic-halting show venues, glittering front rows, and carefully crafted viral moments immediately come to mind. However, a new, quietly confident vibe can be felt throughout the city’s bustling design studios as London Fashion Week autumn/winter 2023 gets underway on Friday, February 17 and runs through Monday, February 20.
If you got the email (Sustainable! Responsible!) invite you know that the main event is Daniel Lee’s Burberry debut on Saturday night. What can we anticipate? Well, the recently cleansed Instagram suggests a return to a very British Burberry and the return of the horse and flag-wielding insignia. You can count on seeing at least one trench coat, and if Lee’s Bottega Veneta is any indication, there will be a plethora of incredibly coveted totes as well.
Putting Burberry aside, the next few days in style will undoubtedly be influenced by the climate, both environmental and economic. This is actually a good thing because it forces designers to hone in on what makes their work stand out and improve upon it. After all, nobody in the fashion industry, no matter how big or small, is taking London Fashion Week’s required investment lightly. Once adhering to a strict formula of a maximum 15-minute performance time, a pounding musical backdrop, a glittering front row of VIPs, and an emotional bow, the rulebook has been torn up.
Think about Roksanda Ilini. Both before and after the pandemic, the Serbian-born London stalwart used the city’s most interesting art spots to showcase her expansive collections. Last September, visitors to the Tate Britain’s autumn/winter 2022 exhibition filed through American artist Theaster Gates’ reimagining of the Serpentine Pavilion in the museum’s spacious entrance hall.
The designer, however, will choose a more personal, tactile approach for the fall/winter 2023 season at Claridge’s, the legendary Mayfair hotel. Ilini tells ELLE UK, “I loved the intimacy and emotions that were created within the space of Theaster Gates’ Serpentine Pavilion during my last show.” This was in reference to the show she put on in September. “I felt it was important to keep going with this story.” For this reason, it was decided to decrease the size of the room so that “guests feel closer to the pieces to fully see and appreciate the fabrics as they brush past,” implying a more introspective tone. The loyal Roksanda customers who flock to her front row will no doubt relish the chance to get a literal feel of the clothes first. Whether or not the clothes themselves will be scaled down from the voluminous proportions the designer has championed in recent seasons remains to be seen. Ilinii continues, “It feels like a new exciting connection, a more intimate dialogue with my community.”
Similarly, Molly Goddard, another designer, shares these sentiments. The designer usually shows her collections in a huge sports hall, but for this season she wants to hold the show somewhere smaller and cosier. The goal, as with Roksanda, is to draw attention to the garments themselves. Minimal distracting drama or interruptions. According to sources, it could be reminiscent of the virtual meetings and presentations she hosted during the pandemic from her design studio in a discrete area of Bethnal Green, East London.
It’s not just these two that are turning it down for the upcoming fall/winter of 2023. Showgoers can expect a more salon-like experience across the week’s presentations; ultra-chic labels like The Row and Alaa have been leading the way, with Alaa’s creative director Pieter Mulier recently inviting the press into his actual Antwerp home for a show. The dawn of a new era of closeness is in the air, and while it may bring with it the kind of exclusivity and elitism for which the fashion industry is often criticised, it will also shift the industry’s attention back to the clothes themselves, rather than the “Instagram shot” motivation that has so often driven creative decisions in recent years.
Although this may satisfy the entertainment needs of some, it will not do so for all. Some labels are taking their presentation to the next level this season to reflect their flourishing business and prestigious reputation.
16Arlington, Marco Capaldo’s upcoming novel, looks to fit the bill. The designer, who has had nothing but a stellar SS23, is returning to the venue where he has shown for the past two seasons, but he has a whole new plan for the presentation area. His discussion of the arrangement is dominated by the word “intimacy,” which he uses repeatedly. It’s hard not to feel bad for public relations professionals when they see their clientele dwindling while their firm’s reputation grows.
Capaldo has dropped hints that the bleak settings of recent seasons will give way to something more imaginative in the upcoming episodes. We wanted the set to be more than just a backdrop for the collection; we wanted it to be an integral part of the show. This is all being done to maximise the impact of the collection, so yes, it will work for those attending the Saturday afternoon showing.
Capaldo’s, an independent brand, recognises that the current environment can be “challenging” for businesses like his. But if anyone understands what the client needs, it’s him. To move the brand forward in its evolution, he says, “it is imperative to find a mood and an inspiration that tells an emotional story that resonates with the end consumer.” We want to tell a story with genuine feeling and clear sight, but we want to do it quickly. The journey of discovering the collection’s guiding principle is inspirational in and of itself.
Another designer who is raising the bar is Priya Ahluwalia. She explains to ELLE UK, “This season’s show feels different to me.”
This is my first time presenting shoes and accessories from Ahluwalia, and I must say that it feels great to have complete creative control over an entire ensemble. As for the show itself, it incorporates a degree of performance that we haven’t explored before.
For her eponymous company, Ahluwalia’s research has always been a given. Her unique studies have influenced the design of the AW 2023 show: It’s fascinating to think about how it can shape the whole thing. Everything from the setting to the audio system. This whole thing is so exciting to watch come together. Feelings of eager expectation increase. In a flash, she’s explaining why, beyond simple entertainment value, she and the Ahluwalia brand feel like a show still has a place in their lives. I believe that exhibitions, along with their associated materials, are the most effective means of bringing attention to and facilitating the dissemination of a collection. Still, I believe that everybody should follow their own internal compass. The most exciting aspect of my show to investigate is the extent to which it reflects my unique personality and creative pursuits.
Even without the star power and highly-anticipated debuts, London Fashion Week for fall/winter 2023 could be the most exciting yet. Designers need to take risks, to be unwavering in their commitment to their vision and the means by which it is communicated. This subtle shift will keep attendees on their toes by putting an emphasis on what they’re truly passionate about while also rewarding business savvy. Perhaps Ilini best encapsulated the requirements of this season: I think it’s critical to find your own way in life and have the confidence to follow it.