Good things come in threes - this seems to be Lulu Kennedy's reasoning, as each season she highlights three of London's best up-and-comers in her Fashion East showcase. For the second season running, Fashion East came west to Somerset House, but lest you forget that Kennedy's affair is decidedly underground she took to the vaults beneath the building, tunnel walls reverberating with the beats of what is undoubtedly one of the week's best soundtracks.
First up was Nasir Mazhar, a milliner rather than designer, although his work defies both labels. This season, his models were trussed in House of Harlot latex and elongated fishnet bodystockings, but his headwear confections managed to top them in every sense of the term. His first exits were witty takes on wigs crafted to mimic the elaborate teased coiffures of African women - the details were where the wit lay, fashioned from flat leather curls sometimes finished with brass buckles. Added to this was something of the Harajuku Ganguro girl, with distinctly kawaii ruffled organza and lace hats tufted with multicoloured hair. Mazhar's instinct is to fuse millinery with sculpture, fashion and perhaps fancy-dress: all these elements were there in towering abstract swirls and a deeply veiled pillbox that functioned as substitute skimpy frock - but as yet, his distinct instinct is for costume rather than fashion.
The second show, from Finnish designer Heikki Salonen, was a change of pace - gone, indeed, were all fancy dress elements, replaced instead with a willfully wearable collection of dark seperates grounded on flat suede and velvet chukka boots. It had hints of the early 1990s throughout, most evidently Junior Gaultier in round sunglasses, utility detailing on boiled wool, and reconfigured MA 1 flight jackets in shearling and felt. Every piece looked fantastic, both by themselves and within the collection's strong and directional look , with a focus and maturity that belied Salonen's relative youth. He also seems to have harnessed his talent to impressive means of production - if a hem was unfinished, it was impeccably controlled, and every detail was perfect. Case in point: the double-breasted coat dress with forest green contrast suede sleeves could have stood up and stood out on any international catwalk, likewise his refined but raw touches of tonal embroidery and crystal-strewn black-on-black patchwork.
Patchwork leads us inevitably to Michael Van Der Ham, the last of Lulu's bunch for Autumn/Winter. Patchwork is very much Van Der Ham's territory - both his graduation show and last season's collection revolved around it, inspired by Warholian conceits of chopping up designer frocks and reconfiguring them into new garments. Still hardly a year out of college, Van Der Ham somewhat understandably stayed within his comfort zone - those collage techniques were this time extended to knits and experiments with texture, there were fuller shapes, and sometimes he left out pieces of the jigsaw to open up windows on the body. It pretty much ended there. It's difficult to see how Van Der Ham wants his aesthetic to develop: instead of refining a look, the pieces that looked new in this collection simply threw up comparisons to the early-noughties collage knits of Nicolas Ghesquiere for Balenciaga (inevitably unflattering for Van Der Ham). Likewise his fluttering printed chiffons looked limp, especially as everyone else seems to be tightening and firming up their act. What was interesting was when Van Der Ham started to consider the body more - those cutouts looked great snaking around a midriff, while a flash of Liberty floral delineating a waistline or rose-print satin nested in the small of the back was subtly erotic. If he's looking for an interesting place to take his talent, this might well be it.