For London’s rising talents, there are a whole series of milestones in place to help navigate the road to success. After college, first up is Fashion East, the schedule’s legendary launchpad for fresh talent, offering graduates a showcase for up to three seasons; next is the NewGen initiative, now in its 25th year, which has provided mentoring and support to everyone from Alexander McQueen to Simone Rocha. And since 2008 there’s been the BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund, which boosts its business support with a hefty £200,000 prize.
DAVID KOMA FW18 show in London. Photo by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION.
It’s a combination that’s helped steer previous winners like Christopher Kane, Jonathan Saunders, and Mary Katrantzou to international stardom. And the Fund offers an intriguing insight into how the fashion industry (represented this time out by Vogue’s Edward Enninful and Sarah Mower, former winner Erdem Moralioglu, and retail heavyweights from Topshop, JD.com, and Harrods) is thinking – and where, amongst all the talent and hype, real potential lies.
David Koma is the most established of the class of 2018, by some stretch. He’s been showing his collections at London Fashion Week for eight years (the last five of which have been spent, in part, in Paris, thanks to his role as creative director of Mugler.) In late 2017, though, Koma stepped down from the French brand to refocus on his own label. And that focus showed, with a collection that felt edited, polished, and mature. Shapes were sharply confident, from shearling-panelled biker jackets and trenches to sinuous knit separates, whilst oversized metal discs gave the show’s black-and-white palette a bold graphic accent. There were still some nods to Koma’s more exuberant side – glistening embroidered feathers, structured tailoring offset with contrast fringe, minidresses in blasts of maroon and purple. The show notes spoke about starting over, and the impression given was certainly that of a fresh chapter; one that stayed true to the designer’s established language, but gave his vision a new sense of purpose.
HUISHAN ZHANG FW18 show in London. Photo by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION.
There was less restraint – and, perhaps, less need of it – at Huishan Zhang, a label for whom success has come more quietly till now. True, there was the same predominantly monochrome spectrum as Koma (here jolted with fuchsia, violet, and jade) but the collection’s textures told a very different story. Zhang’s whites were formed from strings of pearls and delicately iridescent sequins, and his blacks from wet-look leather and crystal-studded mesh. The overall effect was of clothing designed for a life lived at night, and one of sensual extravagance – elegantly muted, but unmistakable in its opulence.
REJINA PYO FW18 show in London. Photo by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION.
Occupying an entirely different aesthetic space, Rejina Pyo lined up her guests down either side of the Burlington Arcade, an elegantly nostalgic setting for Pyo’s elegantly nostalgic garments – ruffled shirts, tapered leather skirts, languid dresses, and long coats in off-whites and faded blues. The collection’s shapes were softly distorted and warped, a subtly unsettled sensibility reflected in vivid contrast sleeves and rippling and candy-coloured prints. But it was also wearable, in the truest sense; the kind of relaxed-but-smart, minimal-but-interesting wardrobe that the women who fill fashion week’s audiences actually wear – not for red carpets or fantasy photoshoots, but for the reality of day-to-day modern life.
MOLLY GODDARD FW18 show in London. Photo by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION.
So who’s the most likely winner? Industry darlings Molly Goddard or Marques’Almeida would be guaranteed crowd-pleasers; Zhang and Pyo both offer very clear, differentiated areas of specialism. And Koma, with his maturity and clarity, is perhaps most obviously the safest bet. But the answer could just as easily be someone who’s not showing at all this season – like Samantha McCoach, the RCA graduate who left her position as Fred Perry menswear designer to set up a label inspired by her kilt-making grandmother. Three years in, Le Kilt has stealthily built an impressive reputation (and stockist list) for its sharply modern approach to a quintessentially British heritage staple. It would be, at the very least, an intriguing way to go.
See the full FW18 collection of DAVID KOMA here.
See the full FW18 collection of HUISHAN ZHANG here.
See the full FW18 collection of REJINA PYO here.
See the full FW18 collection of MOLLY GODDARD here.