London Fashion Week’s SS19 collections fight for the right to party

Ryan Cahill

Ryan Cahill says that the party aesthetic seen on runways this season is a reaction to the slow demise of the UK's nightlife scene

19 September 2018 11:22

And it’s over again. Like a long weekend bender, this season’s London Fashion Week has left us full of good memories and just a few regrets.

The womenswear schedule for SS19 came with a little more hype than usual: Riccardo Tisci unveiled his debut collection as Burberry’s new Chief Creative Officer; Victoria Beckham showed in London for the first time to mark the 10th anniversary of her eponymous brand; and Greek designer Mary Katranzou celebrated a decade of her label with a spectacle at The Roundhouse.

But when you look beyond the hottest names and their fashion forecast for the season to come, there seemed to be a political undercurrent that spoke through many collections. And no, it wasn’t about Brexit Britain or Donald Trump, what was showcased at the SS19 shows addressed London’s nightlife scene – or a lack thereof.

Ludicrous licensing laws and property development-led gentrification have put a stop to new club spaces opening, while preventing the old ones from surviving. Only a couple of weeks ago, a group of protesters descended upon Hackney Town Hall to debate new rules that state any new club or bar opening in the borough have to close by 11pm on weekdays and midnight on weekends. That’s devastating news for both party and fashion fanatics. Nights of partying have been the inspiration behind some of Britain’s best designers for decades. For many, it even acts as the grassroots of their label. Vivienne Westwood honed her aesthetic around the punk rallies of the 70s; self-proclaimed club kid Charles Jeffrey translated his LOVERBOY club night from the dance floor to the runway with his party-animal aesthetic; even original Blitz-Kid-turned-artist Sue Tilley collaborated with Italian brand Fendi. Considering the cultural relevance of club nights to their work, now is the right time for London designers to speak up against the austerity.

Ashish SS19

Ever invested in pushing his political agenda and making a statement via his vibrant, sequinned-covered frocks, Indian designer Ashish Gupta wasn’t subtle when presenting his rave-inspired collection. With giant speakers blasting heavy beats, Gupta turned his SS19 show into a fully functioning underground club, replicating some of London’s best nightlife spaces and paying homage to 1990s rave culture through party wear.

Celebrating a time when the capital’s nightlife had license to be the best in the world, the collection sought to remind us of what we’re missing out on: loads of fun, excess, and opportunities to get really fucking glam for no particular occasion. Backstage between exits, models were sprayed with water, making them look as though they were dripping in sweat after hours of carefree dancing. Reminiscent of nights spent drunk at raves, there were real-life couples making out, topless male dancers adorning make-shift podiums, and a DJ booth served as the catwalk backdrop. Ashish was intent on showing us a good time.

As the models walked out, it was clear Ashish’s signature sequins were back again. Appearing on short party dresses, t-shirts and harem trousers, the glam-grunge look was fit for every kind of party animal. A new lightweight sequin made the clothes feel more breathable, perfect for hours spent dropping it down at your local club. For Gupta, it was all about the normalisation of queerness in London’s nightlife, as well as the idea of it becoming a point of conversation in his home country, India, after the recent decriminalisation of gay sex. But despite the UK’s more progressive attitudes to the LGBTQ+ community, the show still reminded us that London’s queer spaces are being closed down on the regular. If we want an Ashish kind of party in real life, we need to fight for it.

Ashish SS19

No stranger to gay nightlife, Italian designer Nicola Formichetti’s latest show for Nicopanda put him back on track as fashion’s original party-boy. Although sportswear was the focal point of his SS19 collection, it quickly became apparent that the only activity Formichetti and his muses are interested in is hitting the club. Even his press notes opened with: ‘It’s midnight on a Friday night in 1999…’. Formichetti was talking from experience.

‘Divas to the dance floor please,’ the opening track bellowed out, conjuring an army of models to the runway, all clad in 1990s-inspired party wear. Working their way around a basement filled with giant disco-balls, the collection catered to those of us intent on staying out until the early hours. There were tracksuits, jersey tees and even running shorts, all breathable, practical, and ready for action.

Next up, Gareth Pugh. Having frequented the famed fashion parties of the Noughties, Pugh was pretty much at the centre of the second wave of club kid culture, leading those who marched into the infamous BoomBox club night, clad in their own creations and ready to rub shoulders with London’s fashion elite. The pieces from his SS19 collection referenced this creative club-attire, featuring striking metallic materials, chunky lace-up boots and an army of models that championed gender fluidity. It all had a familiar feel, with looks that borrowed inspiration from his early work and even featured original prints from his graduate collection. For the show’s after party, Pugh turned the Old Selfridges Hotel into a vogue-ing ball as a homage to his late friend and mentor Judy Blame, who was a staple figure at some of UK’s most iconic club nights, from Kinki Gerlinki to the world-famous Blitz.

Gareth Pugh SS19

A show that took a more subtle approach to addressing the ever-changing nightlife scene was Erdem — who proved you can still be ultra-luxe while having something to say about the importance of self-expression after dark. The Canadian-Turkish, London-based designer took inspiration from historical party legends Fanny and Stella, who were arrested in the 1800s while leaving The Strand Theatre. The pair were actually called Frederik Park and Ernest Boulton, but their female alter-egos happened to be major nightlife celebrities of the time. The show pinpointed the joy of dressing up and going out, highlighting the importance of this great passion and, with several transgender models walking the catwalk, the collection made a statement that went far beyond the clothing.

However obvious or subtle these nightlife nods may be, it was a great feeling to see creative brains of London’s fashion scene uniting in sending one big message to the world (and Hackney council): we’re here, we’re queer and we want to party.

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