There was an increased spotlight on the Fashion East show for A/W 16. Marc Jacobs sat front row. Mega models Edie Campbell, Anna Cleveland, Georgia May Jagger and Molly Bair - girls more likely to be found on the theatrical catwalk of an established brand like Jacobs than taking part in a talent showcase for recent graduates - walked. Why? Because Jacobs, and his right-hand woman Katie Grand, are championing new label A.V Robertson, the work of Manchester-born Central Saint Martins graduate Amie Robertson, a former design assistant at Jacobs. And in this digital game, where designers are encouraged to offer up ‘Instagram-able moments’ at their shows, big models and front row buzz get people talking. So did the clothes live up to the hype? Just about. Ironically, given such a nod of approval from the fashion establishment, Robertson’s given inspiration was oddly naive. She cited the stories she used to pen as a child, hence the sweet scattered flower embellishments that littered coats, skirts and the fronts of silk shirts and t-shirts. They helped lift the collection - adding another Instagram friendly detail. Without them, the focus would have been on the inky palette of navy, red, green and purple - grown-up hues that offered an antidote to the glittering buds and leaves - and the asymmetric cuts and wonky fastenings that added intrigue to the dramatic floor length dresses and oversized coats. Indeed, while the inspiration may have sounded sweet and fresh, there was already an air of adult luxury about this collection. It’s good that Robertson aimed high - if this hung on the rails at a Jacobs store it would surely sell. But, part of the appeal of Fashion East is designers challenging the contemporary commercial landscape of high fashion, presenting clothes that offer a new, modern, urgent view of femininity, gender, sexuality and desire. The trick for Robertson will be getting the balance between offering polished collections - ones that live up to the monumental buzz around this first season caused by her casting and FROW pals - and work that challenges, excites and, however subtly, bucks the systems rather than just playing it.
That’s what Caitlin Price does. Her collections are about fulfilling her teenage dreams, rejecting the passivity we often see in womenswear collections - see the endless conservative cocktail dresses - and championing clothes for an active female, one who clubs with her gang, one who runs around the city, one who is in control. You get the sense that Price is creating the girl she always wanted to be - she’s talked before about referencing the tracksuits she always wish her mother had bought her - and for A/W 16, when explaining the silver jewellery collaboration with Maria Francesca Pepe, mentioned that common right of passage for young woman, an expensive trinket for one’s 16th birthday, that she missed out on first time round. This is Price’s last season with Fashion East, and one got the impression she was solidifying her aesthetic and hammering home her point of view. A bit like Price, Richard Malone (the third Fashion East designer to present a runway collection for A/W 16) sees beauty in the everyday. His stripes may have looked playful or coquettish, but he’d arrived at them by researching ’working-class’ (to quote him) streetwear and workwear and pondering the clumped mascara and cosmetic choices of local girl gangs. Sounds like high fashion poverty porn? It wasn’t. You almost didn’t need to know that starting point - Malone’s final garments were cheerful, optimist and full of a strange jolie laide appeal.
Outside the catwalk was a cinematic presentation by newbie Mimi Wade, which drew on film classics such as Bonnie and Clyde, Girl on a Motorcycle and Belle de Jour. Perhaps that’s why the results felt a bit old fashioned - a hark back to an era when women dressed for men. Maybe this was about subverting or reclaiming that. Maybe it was just a bit of fun. Either way it once again proved that young London designers have an obsession with sassy, ‘slutty’ - to use that term with a pinch of salt - garments that equally parody and promote the traditional bastions of conventional, glamorous feminine dressing; mini dresses, furs, leathers and silk satin.