LONDON BEAT: THE NEW NAMES
Byline: James Fallon
LONDON — London Fashion Week is just around the corner, with more runway shows than ever this season. But, as always, buyers will spend as much time scouring the back streets of the city trying to find new design talent as they will at the shows, which run from Sept. 25 to Oct. 1.
Here, a look at four designers generating interest in their hometown.
In July, Dawn Mello, president of Bergdorf Goodman, flew to London to see the collection of Elspeth Gibson.
Ordinarily it wouldn’t be that remarkable, but Mello was pressed for time and could only spare a day. The problem was, that day was when Yves Saint Laurent was holding his couture show. But such is the buzz about Gibson that Mello skipped Saint Laurent.
Gibson, 34, has been attracting attention ever since her first collection three seasons ago, which had all the British Voguettes cooing and ordering. She’s known for her delicate designs with beading and embroidery, but for spring she’s pushing into daywear with knitwear tops and stretch wool suits.
She’ll show at the exhibition accompanying London Fashion Week.
“Usually when I do a collection I choose the fabrics first,” said Gibson, whose company has wholesale sales of about $240,000 (150,000 pounds) per season. “I guess I’m known for doing very romantic things, which I thought I would move away from this season. But I found myself wanting to do beading and embroidery again.”
Her 70-piece spring collection has a Russian Empire feeling, with gold embroidery on silk chiffon or beaded chiffon dresses in deep jewel colors. Wholesale prices range from $136 (85 pounds) for a black jersey dress to $480 (300 pounds) for a long, hand-beaded chiffon evening dress.
For fall, Gibson sold to A la Mode, Liberty and Harrods in London, but not to any U.S. stores.
“I think what I do is evolving and coming more together,” said Gibson, who started in fashion nine years ago with stints at Monix and Zandra Rhodes before launching her own line. “I love to spend time on the finishing. I think those details are why people come to me.”
Christa Davis has had a stall in Portobello Market for almost a decade, but only in the last two years have her creations begun to attract the attention of the cool Notting Hill set, as well as international fashion editors.
But the spotlight worries her.
“I don’t want to be a name; it disgusts me,” said Davis, 29, standing in her cluttered studio in west London.
Davis is becoming known for her vintage-chic looks, which cover tops, skirts, dresses, knitwear and coats. She buys interesting fabrics from wherever she can find them and then redyes them to get the look she wants.
It’s a development of her early days in Portobello, when she used to buy and sell antique clothes. When she could no longer find what she wanted, she began to design her own.
Her collection includes multicolored recycled cashmere sweaters; tie-dyed silk, bias-cut evening dresses; skimpy cotton knit tops with lace trim, and stretch Empire-line dresses trimmed with braid.
Prices range from $96 (60 pounds) for a stretch skirt to $168 (105 pounds) for a long silk dress. Davis has been selling her line in Japan the last four years, but most of her domestic business up to now has been with private clients. She just began selling to the Notting Hill shop The Cross and is looking to open her own shop.
“Everything I do is kind of Thirties- or Forties-inspired because those are the clothes I loved when I was selling antique ones,” said Davis, who trained as an artist but gave it up to concentrate on fashion. “My designs work off of going into a shop and seeing a great fabric.”
“I’m determined not to be pigeon-holed,” said Matthew Williamson, whose floaty dresses and skirts with Indian beading and embroidery have grabbed attention ever since he launched his line two seasons ago.
But Williamson doesn’t want to be known as Mr. Bead. While his 30-piece collection for spring 1998 has beading and embroidery, he’s deliberately lightened them and made them part of the design rather than the design itself. He’s also added cashmere knitwear in deep sorbet colors, tailoring and several plain, strappy silk tops and bias-cut dresses in Day-Glo shades.
The result is a sexier, broader collection than those he’s produced in the past. As for the beading and embroidery, it ranges from delicate leaves on the sides of black silk dresses to allover cobweb designs on nude-colored silk chiffon. Wholesale prices range from $72 (45 pounds) for a silk top to $560 (350 pounds) for a beaded silk dress.
Williamson, who trained at Central St. Martin’s and worked at the British fashion company Monsoon before launching his collection, is taking another big stride forward this season by holding his first-ever runway presentation. He believes the time is right after selling to such stores as Barneys and Saks Fifth Avenue in the U.S. and Brown’s and A la Mode in London.
“The move I made from last season to this is a much braver one than ever because it is so different,” said Williamson, 26, who set up his company with partner Joseph Velosa. “I was adamant it would be that way. I had this big list of don’ts on the wall as I was designing it.”
Tracey Boyd has seen the fashion world from almost all angles, first as an illustrator, then a magazine editor, then a buyer and, for the last two seasons, as designer of her own label called Boyd. Now she believes Boyd is getting ready to take off.
“It’s my third season and I think it’s now more of a total look rather than just a few pieces,” said Boyd. “I have a lot more confidence now.”
The collection was “inspired by the not-so-demure English rose,” Boyd said. “I like a little sense of humor in clothes and that’s what I try to do. It’s an English rose, but one who’s drunk. She’s gone off the rails a bit.”
The 60-piece collection includes clinging stretch chiffon tops with delicately embroidered chiffon skirts; Irish linen skirts with petticoats peeking out; sheer georgette blouses with lace-trimmed collars, and long, slinky black dresses. Prices range from $28.80 (18 pounds) for a top to $264 (165 pounds) for a long black dress.
Boyd, who worked at the trendy boutique Tokio until last year, sells to it as well as to Mimi and The Cross in London and Colette in Paris. Now she’s getting ready for London Fashion Week, when she’ll have a stand at the accompanying exhibition.
“I’m making it look like an English garden and have been sewing daisies on to Astroturf all day,” she said.