While this was the first ever London Fashion Week to feature all digital shows due to lockdown restrictions, the designers were embracing dreams of post-pandemic dressing up for Autumn/Winter 2021. Presented via striking lookbooks and creative films, designers made the case for embracing joy, optimism and planning for freedom with clothes that exude confidence.
From the modern tailoring of Emilia Wickstead and Harris Reed to the over-the-top stylings of Duro Olowu and 16Arlington, London’s fashion set debuted collections that blend fantasy with craftsmanship to brilliant effect. Here, we’ve rounded up the most exciting Autumn/Winter 2021 collections that have us dreaming of post-lockdown adventures.
A love of ballet was at the heart of Erdem Moralıoğlu’s latest collection, with the designer enlisting principal ballerinas past and present to model his clothes for the virtual show. Inspired by the partnership of dancers Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn, Erdem drew on his experience working for the Royal Opera House to create a romantic collection that was meant to capture the moments where dancers are dashing about backstage, half in their everyday dance wear, half in their costumes. The result is a stunning selection — trench coats with Swan Lake-appropriate feathered skirts peeking through, body-conscious knits paired with dramatic headpieces and elaborately embellished evening dresses. Beyond the clothes, the AW21 show also drew the attention of beauty editors who noted the use of dramatic winged liquid liner, perhaps anticipating the bold beauty looks we can expect post-pandemic.
Art, confidence and optimism were at the centre of Duro Olowu’s AW21 show, which blended the Nigerian-born British fashion designer’s famed sharp silhouettes and vibrant patterns with a fresh vigour. For this collection, Olowu was inspired by two painters, Barkley L. Hendricks and Édouard Vuillard, who shared with Olowu a love for clashing prints and colours. The designer used their colour palettes of fuchsia, burnt orange, turquoise and more to create a collection of sharply tailored coats, dresses and skirt suits. Colour and pattern are equally high octane, with neon pink stripes over a black and white monochromatic print, and a dramatic floral print jacket with billowing sleeves in purple and gold.
Ahead of her upcoming collaboration with H&M, Simone Rocha went back to her roots for her AW21 collection, with a subversive, punk femininity that saw tulle skirts paired with leather jackets and biker boots. Her classic style, however, also featured a new perspective — a nod to her outlook as a mother during lockdown, the clothes had a few school uniform references, from the crisp white button-down shirts to the grown-up take on pinafore dresses. Contrasting textures and details added to the richness of the collection, which was filmed as an audience-free runway show in a church, with creeping roses a repeated motif, hand-painted onto pearls and embroidered onto tulle. The attention to detail encompassed the accessories too, including the crumpled leather rose bags, hair braids entwined with rows of ruby red beads, and heavy patent boots laced with pearls.
This season, Emilia Wickstead took inspiration from two sources — the first, not surprisingly, was the lockdown life of women at home, while the second, more surprisingly, was the Alfred Hitchcock film, Rear Window. Mirroring the film’s concept of peering into a neighbour’s home, the presentation saw models wearing tailored looks down a set of corridors and doorframes that digital viewers could only peek through. In Wickstead’s new take on evening wear, fitted items such as a pencil-skirted dress were paired with an oversized wrap, mixing tailored styles with more casual notes, while classic items were given a modern update with clean lines, dramatic slits and graphic cutouts. While most of the Grace Kelly-inspired collection featured muted tones of charcoal grey, pale blue and plum, there were a number of statement pieces too, including a dramatic selection of gold jacquard dresses and coats.
Already Harry Styles’ go-to designer, this season saw Reed debut his first full post-grad collection, and it was a gender-fluid dream. A meditation on the malleability of identity, each piece was handmade by Reed and his team from a combination of new and upcycled textiles. As has come to be Reed’s signature, the demi-couture show blended Savile Row-style tailoring with a flamboyant flair — an ombré orange tulle mermaid skirt moves to reveal tailored black trousers, while a sharp blazer has a dripping blue fabric hanging like the side of a skirt from its waist. A star of the show is Reed’s take on a wedding dress, for which the designer repurposed a charity shop find, turning the dress’ bodice into high waist trousers and adding a tulle skirt to drape over the shoulder.
The bold label offered one of the most creative presentations this season — instead of filming of photographing models for a lookbook, Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida, the Portuguese husband and wife team behind Marques’Almeida, invited teen rapper Nenny to be the star of the show. The Lisbon-based artist provided the first look at the designs, alongside a mini concert and a look inside the rising talent’s world. The clothes, a characteristically fun take on home and party wear, are the label’s most sustainable yet, using natural vegetable dyes, cutting out petroleum-based fibres completely and embracing recycled, biodegradable and organic materials instead. Infused with a youthful spirit and an interest in sculptural silhouettes, the collection ranges from rainbow-dyed oversized shirts with billowing sleeves to a new range of their signature draped lightweight knits.
For her AW21 presentation, Roksanda Ilinčić decided to escape to a countryside house, and turned to actress Vanessa Redgrave, along with Redgrave’s daughter Joely Richardson and granddaughter Daisy Bevan, to help communicate fashion’s link to familial bonds. In a short film shot via iPhone during lockdown, the lens captures intimate family moments, from Daisy exploring the wintery garden in voluminous gowns to the three women playing card games at a kitchen table in richly hued dresses, all while Redgrave softly recites Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73. Roksanda’s billowing, oversized dresses with dramatic sleeves are given an artistic twist with vibrant patterns and still life compositions printed on silk, while the more tailored looks — modelled by Redgrave — serve equal impact with their bold colours and modular sleeves.
This season, the queen of maximalism returned with her party-ready assortment of dresses overloaded with tulle and colour. Set to a soundtrack of classical piano over dance beats, Molly Goddard’s show in her Bethnal Green studio saw a characteristically kitsch collection of taffeta dresses with oversized bows, tartan kilts and clashing knits. Her traditional tulle dresses got a 2021 update, resurrected in mint green with an oversized skirt and a strapless electric blue number. Accessorised with ruched shoulder bags, gold platform boots and bow lace-up stilettos, it’s a much-needed burst of fun that conjures dreams of post-lockdown revelry.
The Italian label continued its trend for over-the-top glamour for its latest collection, with rhinestones, ostrich feathers and skin-showing mesh all featured in its pieces. Ironically, given how each design seems destined for a club dancefloor, the designers were inspired by the restriction of lockdown — referencing artist Hubert Durprat’s ‘Caddis’ collection, which depicted larvae in cocoons of gold leaf, opals, and diamonds,16Arlington’s Marco Capaldo and Kikka Cavenati’s explored confinement in all forms, with transparent mesh tops overlaid with rhinestone spiderwebs and skin-tight dresses in burnt orange velvet. Infused with a Nineties rebellious spirit, the collection unusually included a few daytime staples with a 16Arlington twist, including a pencil skirt trimmed with blue ostrich feathers, and a trouser suit in brown snakeskin leather.
The young menswear designer kicked off her season with a bang, becoming the latest recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Award for Design for her commitment to sustainable practices and design excellence, two tributes equally present in her latest collection. In addition to a striking lookbook captured by photographer Laurence Ellis, Ahluwalia presented her collection via a short film, Traces, made in collaboration with filmmaker Stephen Isaac-Wilson, musician cktrl and choreographer Holly Blakey. Inspired by the Harlem Renaissance, Ahluwalia wanted her clothing to track the many threads of African and Indian history, which she felt was left out of her education in a British classroom. Emblems worn by Black sorority members that were photographed during the Harlem Renaissance were reimagined as Priya’s own motifs, while migration maps are echoed in some garments’ cut-lines. Rich colour palettes of reds and blues are inspired by Kerry James Marshall’s artworks, and the jewel tones used in the track pants and hoodies reflect those of the gems taken during the Empire era to sit in British museums.
Sensuality and sustainability were at the core of the punk designer’s latest collection. Inspired by the work of French artist François Boucher, specifically his erotic 1743 painting, Daphnis and Chloe, which was last featured in the famous corsets from Westwood’s 1990 collection, the latest unisex line reimagines a number of her classic pieces. From the peep-hole cleavage knits to the tartan trousers and mini kilts, the collection — lavishly photographed by Alice Dellal — blends archival gems with an updated commitment to being eco-conscious. Over 90% of the collection is made from sustainably sourced materials, including recycled denim, forest positive viscose, organic silks, with a result that is both sustainable and characteristically anti-establishment.
Husband and wife team Justin Thornton and Thea Bregazzi embraced the madness of lockdown with their Grey Gardens-inspired collection of pieces designed for dressing up at home. In tribute to the famous documentary about the bizarre everyday lives of Jackie Kennedy’s eccentric aunt and first cousin, the duo created an imaginative mix of cosy knits and warm coats with theatrical dresses and the brand’s signature floral prints. Relaxed, folksy lounge dresses were shown in vibrant, monochromatic styles as well as maximalist patterns, and a number of looks were accessorised with Grey Gardens-appropriate headscarves. Titled Unhinged, the collection perfectly encapsulated the cosiness and comfort that life at home has us craving, as well as the creative frustrations that it creates.
Not only did lockdown impact Osman Yousefzada’s design approach, it also inspired him to entirely restructure his business. The Osman Yousefzada line, which showed at LFW, is his art-house brand through which he collaborates with artists to create sustainable, socially and politically minded clothing. Separate to this will be Osman Aljebra, a direct-to-consumer, more affordable line of Osman classics that is launching in June. For the unveiling of the AW21 collection, Osman created a subversive film via Zoom, with collaborators including London-based trans activist and dancer, Sakeema Peng Crook and Caribbean-based musician Eniye Daisy Kagbala. From the tailored jackets with metallic embroidery to the sensual silk slip dresses, all pieces make use of deadstock material gathered during inspiration trips the designer took in pre-Covid times, and are designed to take wearers from the comfort of home to the parties that are sure to come.
Designed to inspire hopes for a bolder and brighter future, Alice Temperley looked to the rebellious decades of the 1960s and 1970s for her AW21 collection. An homage to the decades’ musical icons, the clothing blends rock’n’roll and bohemian spirits, with flowing Woodstock-style dresses alongside Studio 54-appropriate evening wear of metallic jumpsuits and clashing print gowns. Seventies colours take centre stage, with velvet trouser suits in deep purple and knitwear in camel and forest green. Modelled by the likes of Keith Richards’ granddaughter, Ella Richards, the clothing conjures dreams of the return of live music as well as the opportunity to invest in new wardrobe staples, such as the label’s new flared white trousers and camel blazer.
Soft tailoring was central to Palmer//Harding’s autumnal collection, offering an abundance of relaxed yet sophisticated styles that would create the perfect wardrobe for transitioning from WFH to office life. While the wide-legged trousers, long pleated dresses and billowing shirts are certainly work-appropriate, they also have a romantic spirit, reflecting the creative directors Levi Palmer and Matthew Harding’s desire to capture the vulnerable, nervous mood of the first moments of falling in love. Featuring almost exclusively muted tones of creams, taupes and greys, the designs embrace voluminous shapes that are delicately shaped with gently cinched waists and ties around wrists.