The Fashion East presentation was a crowd pleaser for A/W 17. Lulu Kennedy was prioritising quality over quantity so had selected just two upcoming labels to showcase; the jokers-cum-designers Rottingdean Bazaar (the brain child of couple and collaborators James Theseus Buck and Luke Brooks) and newbies Art School, who’s name sums up the youthful energy that dominates Fashion East’s lineup.
The former trade on their 'outsider’s perspective' - grown through a decision to eschew the high rents of the capital in favour of life in the seaside village of Rottingdean in East Sussex. They query fashion and clothing - why we wear what we do, why we assign value to things, why we pay more for certain pieces. In fact, I’d argue they trade in questions, rather than clothing. Part of their presentation included precious optic textile fragments from circa 5th-7th Century AD, purchased for £750 from Bonhams, sealed onto black t-shirts. What a waste of a historical artefact, some would argue. But is it? Will these textiles have a better life, and be appreciated by a wider audience when fixed to the front of a t-shirt? The duo also created what is likely to be the Instagram hit of the season - no matter how much the big brands will pour budget into social media friendly sets and gimmicks over the coming weeks. These were clothing labels, cased in plastic like tricks in a joke shop, and furnished with barely semi-facile, semi-poignant suggestions; 'Cut a piece off a shirt each time you wear it,' 'Pick a pair of trousers and don’t speak when you wear them,' 'Attach this label to your favourite piece of clothing. Give it away.' There seemed to be hundreds altogether and they served as apt mascots for a label that seems to be all about challenging our relationship with clothing - with 'stuff' in general - and asking us to rethink our values. So is Rottingdean Bazaar an art project or a viable fashion label? Probably the former, but it’s better for it. It’s hard to question things when you’re too embedded in the system. Rottingdean Bazaar should always still a bit far from the madding crowd - a bit outside of the London melee.
Art School follow in the footsteps of Meadham Kirchhoff, Ed Marler, Charles Jeffrey and the many many many other London upstarts who both embraced maximalism and have traded on their youth as a means of suggesting eccentricity and edge. So far so similar? Not quite. It’s the trans body and gender politics that interest designer Eden Loweth and art criticism graduate Tom Barratt, the duo behind this label. That topic’s in vogue at the moment, which one hopes doesn’t cause this young label to be dismissed as a fad, as the issues they champion are important ones. This presentation was a starting point, as a Fashion East debut should be, but I wasn’t bowled over by an urgent political message or fresh perspective. But such things take time. The clothes were fun enough though. They were showcased by a performance created in collaboration with Theo Adams, which featured actors and players in rehearsal. At one point the soundtrack called out, 'When I was 18 I could do anything.' How apt - this label will thrive because of the perceived precociousness of its protagonists.