The mad month of fashion weeks has begun, and London Fashion Week, which starts this Friday, has always been seen as a week of uber-cool independent designers. One of the first fashion weeks to address issues of sustainability and also embrace the “see now buy now” system, LFW understands cultural shifts. It is also one of the youngest global fashion weeks – with the first LFW being held in 1984, in a car park.
Arab reporter Jamila Halfichi, fashion and style editor of Asharq-Al-Awsat, has been covering LFW for 20 years now. “You cannot ignore the abundance of creative talent that exists here, which starts from the fashion schools,” she says. “Everybody knows that the UK has some of the best fashion universities in the world, which means there is always a new bunch of young designers emerging from it.” Among the London-educated designers who have made their debut on this platform are John Galliano, Alexander McQueen and Mary Katrantzou. Burberry shifted their show from Milan to their home base London a few years ago, but it is the independents that give LFW its appeal.
Of course the MENA region has a very relationship with London, it being the preferred shopping destination for most Middle Easterners. “Arabs always liked creativity and newness. They love all that unique, quirky and sometimes daring style and that is what British designers like Mary Katranzou and others offer. Their appetite to discover new brands and be more avant-garde has only gotten stronger,” says Halfichi.
As Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Council, which organizes LFW, says: “London is a multicultural and diverse city that proudly celebrates its inclusivity, and this is what makes London Fashion Week so special. Over the years, we hosted a few Middle Eastern brands showing as part of London Fashion Week, including the popular heritage fashion label Qasimi.”
And this is what has made LFW stand apart for Laila Hamdaoui, a fashion and beauty editor based in London for 20 years who has covered the shows for various Arab publications. “I think the Brits were never afraid to offer their fashion to the diversity of women,” she says. “Every body and shape express themselves, from eccentric to elegant. British designers want to see their catwalk looks on the streets, so I think that is on their mind during their design process.” And this is probably the reason that London-based designers have always been known for an inclusive and diverse approach to fashion.
British designers also understand the spending power of the Arab consumer. A report that came out pre-pandemic by London-based real estate company Knight Frank found that Arabs accounted for 19.6% buyers in 2019. The GCC is also known to have among the highest per capita spending on fashion. British brand Ralph & Russo opened their first international flagship in Dubai, and with designers like Alice Temperley, Mary Katranzou and Roksanda Ilinčić all making trips to the region to connect with their local client base, LFW designers have a good understanding of what the Arab woman wants. “Equally, British designers are more and more present in the Middle East, where their forward-thinking aesthetic and high-quality garments are hugely appreciated,” says Rush. And of course, with LFW now being digital, it is easy to tune and see the collections. Here are three designers to watch.
Molly Goddard: The Central St. Martins alumni made her debut seven years ago and has now become one of London’s hottest labels. There has always been a laid-back feel to her clothes, and her love of breezy volume along with artisanal details, such as smocking and shirring, make her designs more relevant than ever. (Show on Saturday, February 20 at 5pm GMT.)
Christopher Kane: Scottish designer Christopher Kane celebrates 15 years since he started his line this year. The brand was once owned by fashion conglomerate Kering, but is now independent again. His “More Joy” slogan T-shirts became the cool fashion girl’s go-to during lockdown, though the label is known for its eclectic take on eveningwear and for artistic inspirations. He has been relaxing his silhouettes since the outbreak of the virus.
Erdem: Canadian-born Erdem Moralioglu is half-British and half-Turkish. He moved to London to pursue a career in fashion. With a flagship store in London’s Mayfair, he has a romantic take on fashion and recently launched “The While Collection,” dresses with a modern and pared-down take on bridal wear. His designs often have a touch of Victoriana, yet there is something very contemporary about his designs. Erdem’s floral midi dresses with ruffle details have gained iconic status.