Review: London Emerging Designers Awards

It’s that time of year again. The high street, eventually tired of racks of sale bikinis and kaftans, is once again replete in new collection clothing. The glossies are focusing on coats, pre-season knitwear and investment leather. I love September, with fashion week just around the corner, and excited as I am about the unveiling of the major SS16 trends, it’s also a good time of year to focus on new talent in the fashion world.

Early August saw the launch of the London Emerging Designers Awards, held not far away from fashion week’s traditional Somerset House haunt. Directed by textiles graduate Aisha Ferozee, who also founded and is now CEO of her own womenswear label, Ferozee Yung, the initiative showcases young and emerging designers in front of a panel of industry expert judges. In the same vein as London Fashion Week’s Topshop-sponsored NEWGEN event, which similarly champions up-and-coming labels, it is, as the first of its kind, not as prestigious, and armed with our press passes which were our ticket to the evening, we little knew what to expect. 

As yet an unestablished event, the front row comprised a motley collection of photographers, student journalists and beauty queens, but Ferozee’s team are to be highly commended for the organization required to pull the event together. It would be churlish to dwell on the felt-tipped VIP passes, the glitches with the sound system, the shortage of models which led to long and increasingly impatient waits between each show, and which left a slight matte on the gloss I feel Ferozee had envisaged from the evening. The response from the guests was overwhelmingly positive, many expressing admiration and echoing the sentiment that the event needed merely time to mature and acquire polish.

The twelve desingers fell into roughly two camps; those with an eye for commercialism, whose designs, although more outlandish than the high street, were certainly adaptable, and those whose collections had taken a far more artistic licence. Maurice Whittingham menswear, with its heavy Victoriana influences and a muted palette of navies and greys, was sharply tailored enough to be worn in the city, albeit minus the dockman-style boots.

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The winner of the evening’s ‘Crystal Award’, House of Herrera by John Herrera, was awarded the title due the judges’ view that the dresses were  ‘accessible’, and with largely bodycon styles in black and shades of neon, the womenswear collection was certainly familiar to those accquanited with panic-Saturday-afternoon high street shopping. Despite its seemingly local origins, the collection, according to Herrera, was inspired by Philippine folklore, and the collection was particularly noteworthy for its excellent embellishment and textile effects, which lent certain garments a scaley, aquatic look. 

Not limited to mens’ and womenswear, the Awards also showcased the work of accessories label Halleluyeah. With an admirable approach to ethical business values, the label aims to reduce the environmental impact of the leather tanning process. As well as some impressively crafted slouchy backpacks, McQueen-esque headpeices dominated the catwalk, displaying intricate metalwork. A running theme of delicate gold enabled the collection to maintain an excellent level of continuity throughout.

Falling unmistakably into the artistic camp, the standout show of the evening was stolen by Joon-Sik Shin. Rising head and shoulders above the competition, his show amalgamated soundtrack, clothing and accessories in a way none of the other designers pulled off with quite the same panache. Perhaps Maison Martin Margiela- like to the point where the lines between inspiration and flat-out imitation were blurred, the models wore face-pieces which masked their features. Kimono-like gowns were constructed from layers of origami silks in varying shades of the same colour and which swirled around the models’ limbs as they walked in a manner reminiscent of waves. Reproducible on the high street? No. Would I wear it? Certainly not. Hence the judges’ decision to overlook Shin was validated with regards to his aesthetics as a womenswear designer. But as an exercise in creativity and craftsmanship, Shin has undoubtedly marked himself as a deft new talent. Indeed, the London College of Fashion graduate has not gone unnoticed since the event, having recently been selected to showcase at Fashion Scout’s One to Watch pogramme for SS16.

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Fashion Week’s recent move from its regal pile at Somerset House to Brewer Street car park in Soho is part of an increasing pressure to keep London edgy, gritty and fun. Younger than its equivalents in Paris, Milan and New York, it’s exactly this kind of event, and through supporting emerging labels such as these, that we can keep London on the map as one of the world’s top fashion capitals.