A quick glance at the schedule for the latest London Fashion Week would leave many with questions. The June 2023 men’s edition was highly limited compared to seasons prior, yet came in a format that still seemed more hybrid than ever. Over the course of the weekend, from June 9 to 12, London played host to a series of physical catwalks, digital presentations and a selection of talks and panels, despite just six designers taking part.
While the city’s large-scale fashion weeks are typically scheduled in February and September, the four-day event is now acting as more of an experiment for the future, combining technology and culture while also continuing to bolster emerging British names. It comes as the British Fashion Council (BFC) repositions itself towards local talent in a bid to amplify the UK’s own industry, a move that was outlined last week prior to the event in a letter to BFC members from chairman David Pemsel.
In the letter, Pemsel, who was appointed last October, said he wanted to aid UK-based brands in navigating the challenging environment they currently face, much of which has been brought on by Brexit regulations, the aftermath of the pandemic and other socioeconomic factors. His main focus points centred around commercial and cultural innovation, evolving the UK’s fashion narrative and fuelling responsible growth through accessible opportunities for next generation talent.
Pemsel’s emphasis on backing new designers was already seen in the June edition with the inclusion of three universities, including University of Westminster, Ravensbourne University London and University of East London, each of which presented their own graduate shows. Next to this was two educational panels, one centred around the future of menswear, the other on The Asian Man, dubbed ‘An exploration into the forgotten style tribe’.
Genderless fashion prevails
In terms of the designer roster, the reduced schedule was purposefully dedicated to smaller brands and a broader audience, with less exclusive in-person events available in a bid to further democratise the platform. In keeping with its last rebrand in 2020, the showcase continued a gender neutral approach to menswear with the select participants opting to exhibit unisex and androgynous styles.
The first to take to the event was Hoor Al Qasimi, creative director of Qasimi, whose men’s and women’s collection drew inspiration from Sudanese artist Kamala Ibrahim Ishaq, as reflected in the use of earth tones, traditional silk printing and intricate craftsmanship. Qasimi also used her opportunity to showcase the work of two designers from her ‘Qasimi Rising’ fashion incubator, Omer Asim and Salim Azzam.
The same day also saw Los Angeles-based menswear brand Justin Cassin return to the schedule after having previously shown his AW23 collection in London. For AW24, however, the designer opted for an evening show at Soho’s The Vinyl Factory, where he once again presented his own take on British tailoring through structured silhouettes and experimental techniques.
In contrast to Cassin’s clean cut line, Sagaboi brought an alternative tongue-in-cheek take on genderless fashion. Combining Trinidadian heritage with streetwear, the label, founded by Geoff Cooper, drew on its link to ‘saga boy’, a Caribbean subculture that formed in the 30s as a rebellion to overtly masculine ideals. Printed tees with phrases emblazoned on them, such as ‘Lawd ‘ave Mercy’, were paired with retro-inspired pants, while other references to fashion eras of the past were seen in co-ord suits and crochet knitwear.
The designer line up was rounded out by Woolmark International Prize winner and NewGen recipient Saul Nash, who stepped out onto the beach for his SS24 line. The ‘Intersection’ collection saw the designer pay tribute to the heritage of his parents, combining Guyanese, English and Mauritian roots to form a laid back curation of looks. Speedos were paired with matching knits and skin-tight tops contrasted embroidered sailor jackets, all in bold contrasting hues.
With this short edition wrapped up, the BFC is now looking to the seasons ahead – the new strategy in mind. While the large-scale womenswear editions are likely to remain an integral part of the organisation’s operations, and therefore stay largely unchanged, CEO Caroline Rush told WWD in an interview prior to the June edition that the council was considering significant changes to its menswear schedule in light of the shifting needs of designers.
Rush labelled this past weekend’s fashion week a “transition period”, noting that the next would look very different. She added that such changes could see the introduction of a new platform designed around the incorporation of menswear businesses that typically stray from the fashion show set up, such as Savile Row designers, many of which tend to favour events like Pitti Uomo over LFW. While not yet confirmed, measures could be drastic enough that LFW’s January edition, initially focused on menswear, never returns.
Such efforts to bolster the industry were again backed up by Pemsel in his letter, where he stated: “We have unwavering belief in the UK fashion industry, its creative heart beat and London as a global fashion capital. Our businesses are innovators, challengers and provocateurs and our ambitions are too great to be constrained by the small team at the BFC. We as an industry showed our strength as a community through the pandemic, and harnessing that strength in community to collectively do what we all can to contribute to retaining and strengthening our pre-eminent position as creators, innovators and industry trailblazers.”