Fashion East is arguably one of the most important shows at LFW. It cements what we as a city are known for individualism, unbridled creativity, attitude. Fashion East reminds the international press that London is where you come for expression, for the rule-breakers, for the new rule-makers. Do you want diverse casting? Fashion East has the best. Do you want a riot of culture and heritage? Look no further than Lulu Kennedy's crew. Where else can you be as experimental as you wish? Without a house to tailor to, or a brand's looming guidelines, Fashion East allows one to be true to oneself and the designers that showed this season were just that - incredibly personal, incredibly true.
A Sai Ta re-appropriates his heritage and second generation culture; Vietnamese, Chinese and British influences were all at play here, with the return of his nunchuck bags and the introduction of HRH headscarves and neckties - the latter given the A Sai twist with studs. His signature sheer, almost tie-dye tops and loose stranded hems were seen poking out from under belted macs and cross-body jackets, and his blue and white China motifs from last season had been given a textural fabricated full-look update. A Sai’s women are inquisitive traveller’s, finding themselves on a long, explorative journey. But this was no 'Gap Yah' gal, A Sai’s women are feisty, they’re probably a Sagittarius, they’re elegant and rugged all at once. Looking to the water in which these women travel and across the pond where they land; life-jacket shapes were given a jazzy neon shaggy trim, upturned jeans were given a cowboy-esque hem (these were just brilliant) and his netting returned with great success. What a growth, what a maturity!
This maturity could be felt in both Supriya Lele and A Sai’s collections, this will be their last show under the Fashion East umbrella and it’s clear both are ready to fly the coop. Lele had done away with the plastics and party that she had been using since her MA show, and instead was looking to old pictures of her father in striking hunting garb. Nods to a strong safari-style jacket silhouette could be found throughout, and were harmonised with softer stylings now synonymous with Lele’s work; trousers peeking under skirt, slinky asymmetrics, a sparkle of diamond that flashed on slingback kitten heel and dripping lobe. Fret not, the wild raver in Lele was not gone forever - ‘I used to be quite wild,’ says Lele backstage - the pangs of acid yellow appeared on floating tops, on Indian-inspired check dresses and polo necks, and on the final look - a dress that sang against the model’s dark skin-tone. The texture that previous plastics had provided was replaced with sheeny leathers; playing with the elements of hard and soft is Lele’s strong suit. This was a knockout collection, it would work for all body shapes and all walks, ‘I’m not making a sari, I’m making a great dress, a great jacket…This collection is the first one where I can genuinely say I would wear all of it,’ says Lele.
Not so ideal for every body shape, but a strong collection too, was that of Fashion East runway newcomer Charlotte Knowles. Known for her delicate sculptural bodices and lingerie-inspired silhouettes, Knowles, and her partner Alexandre Arsenault have been on the ones-to-watch list for some time. This show explained why. Referencing her grandmother and her penchant for tortoiseshell, this collection saw Knowles introduce the pattern on sheer gloves, balconette bras, and bustiers. Ochres, khaki’s and twangs of orange let the tortoiseshell take on an almost jewel-like camo effect. This and the introduction of cycling shorts were a move to something sportier. Knowles’ women are achingly cool. If I met these girls in a bar I would be incredibly intimidated - anyone who can pull off sheer bodices, bralettes and mysterious coats like Knowles’ is not someone to mess with. Likewise, the dagger-like lucite skirts incited a sense of exciting danger.
Suprise guests Symonds Pearmain were an interesting addition to the usual Fashion East trio. While the first three designers had offered deep, rich hues, Symonds Pearmain was coloured as if a pack of cards; whites, blues, blacks, reds. The design duo’s runway debut was a comment on the banal; models, including Edie Campbell, wore t-shirt turbans, embroidered bags, and logo socks. Paper-bag waisted trousers had ‘World’s Famous Supreme Team’ comically emblazoned across the back and striped and corduroy two-pieces were met with baroque swirls and graphic cubed patterns. There is a real buzz about this duo and their art-meets-fashion offerings. I was less enthused about this as the other shows that we had seen, but I will put that down to hype and over-expectation. On reflection, really this was just as strong. They're exciting and unexpected and I look forward to seeing what comes next. That goes for soon-to-be-solo A Sai Ta and Supriya Lele too. As for next season? Two new slots to fill - I can't wait - Kennedy sure knows how to pick 'em.