In 1979, the British punk-rock band The Clash released London Calling, a song that would soon became a generational anthem. The line ‘London Calling’ alludes to the BBC World Service’s station identification: This is London calling…, that was used during World War II, often in broadcasts to occupied countries. In Italy, this broadcast was known as Radio Londra and it played a crucial part in the war sending messages to Italian resistance groups. However, the lyrics of The Clash’s London Calling are more about revolution than about resistance and oh do they sound contemporary: “London calling to the faraway towns / Now war is declared and battle come down / London calling to the underworld / Come out of the cupboard, you boys and girls”.
London has always called and its call has always been irresistible – someone is bound to respond. Today, with Brexit being a done deal, London calls again, and Milan responds: boys and girls came out of their cupboards and gathered at the London show Rooms, in Milan for the first time ever. Ten young British fashion designers and five Italian ones showcased alongside installations of three Italian designers studying in British schools.
The British Fashion Council launched London show Rooms in 2008, taking emerging talent to international markets to sell in a showroom environment. Previous London show Rooms have taken place in the US and in Asia, and currently take place in Paris each season. London show Rooms provides an opportunity for emerging British designers – who, for obvious reasons, cannot afford to rent a temporary show space during fashion months – to promote themselves outside of London. The pop-up showroom is a strategic element of the British Fashion Council’s support and mentoring scheme.
This time, London called Milan (or was it Milan who called London?). What is clear is that the British Fashion Council and its Italian equivalent, the Camera Nazionale della Moda, had mutual interest in collaborating. The first one took its talents to Italy –– land of craftsmanship and tailoring –– reminding local buyers and press about British creativity and its commercial potential. The second one was more than happy to welcome such creativity in its home and used the space to promote some of its own talent: Britain and Italy together. A clear anti-Brexit statement, shared both by Carlo Capasa – head of the Camera Nazionale della Moda – and Caroline Rush – head of the British Fashion Council. “Being in the UE has been incredibly beneficial and the fashion industry did not support the idea of leaving it – said Rush – This is a great way to respond, it’s a very strong message that no matter what happens our industries will continue to collaborate. At least now we are out of the limbo, we have the surety that it will happen. Our businesses can now start planning and we can do proactive things like this one.” For Capasa, it’s time to put creativity back at center stage: “Creativity has no borders, it builds bridges and not barriers.”
The Milan edition of the London show Rooms was different than the Paris one, featuring British designers, which may actually work well on the Italian market. Different worlds, different backgrounds, different ideas, similar goals. A recently published article on The Business of Fashion stated that young people today feel more represented by brands who tackle social matters, such as inclusivity and sustainability, than by governments. “Young people believe in sustainability and in inclusivity and they appreciate these kind of discussions” said Capasa. Nice, but what about the non-young ones? “I think that the less young also have similar values, but it’s true that some of the ‘old generation’, my generation actually, are currently not leading the world in that direction”. Entering a multi-label showroom, especially one dedicated to young designers who are still in their developing phase, is like opening a storybook. Everyone has his or hers take on fashion – a narrative style that says a lot about contemporary society.
Glasgow-born Charles Jeffrey Loverboy – rising star of the British fashion world, tells a tale of Scottish subcultures, pagan rituals and club culture. His work breaks the boundaries between fashion and art, drawing inspiration from the floral decors of Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, from his own illustrations, from the teddy-boys and from the Festival of the horse – a centuries-old tradition from the Orkney Islands. Hailed by Business Of Fashion‘s Editor-at-Large Tim Blanks as speaking to young London the way Alexander McQueen spoke to his generation, his message to young people today is all about authenticity: “Anybody can come from any point of view in fashion, but it’s only when you get a feeling of authenticity that the result is going to be contemporary and modern.” Inclusivity, youth culture and freedom of expression, with particular reference to LGBTQ+ identities, fuel Loverboy’s creativity in a way that resonates both to the young audience and to seasoned critics.
Bethany Williams’ story is all about sustainability and kindness. Originally from the Isle of Man, Williams has been experimenting with upcycling since her debut: she uses waste materials, funds charities with what she makes from sales and involves people in need in the production. Her innovative approach to fashion has won her many awards and influenced several designers into making things differently. Her latest collection features waste material donated from the British publishing house Hachette and twenty percent of the revenues will go to the Mobile Library, a charity that allows homeless people to borrow books although they cannot provide the permanent address required for library registrations. “It’s very important that we use fashion as a means to educate people” said Williams. Design inspiration for her latest work surrounds elements of nurturing, comfort and shelter: A-line dresses, soft volumes, clothes made out of old bed-sheets and blankets, delicate prints… The collection was created in collaboration with Magpie – a community offering temporary housing to mothers and children. In her visits to Magpie, Williams brought artist and friend Melissa Kitty Jarram to hear the otherwise untold truths of moms and their small children forced to live in temporary accommodation because they have been deemed to have no recourse to public funds; a joint venture between the artist and the guests of the community led to the artwork showcased with the collection.
The story of Per Gotesson, originally from Sweden, is a subversive one which touches art and the sense of community. John Orton (1933 – 1967) was an English playwright who lived and worked in the borough of Islington together with friends and collaborators – just like Gotesson and his partners in crime today. In 1959, Orton and his lover, Kenneth Halliwell, began surreptitiously to remove books from local public libraries, modifying their covers before returning them to the shelves. A volume of poems by John Betjeman was returned to the library featuring a photograph of a nearly naked, heavily tattooed, middle-aged man. The couple decorated their flat with many of the stolen prints. They were eventually prosecuted in 1962, found guilty, and sentenced to prison for six months. Orton and Halliwell felt that that sentence was unduly harsh because we were queers. Gotesson was inspired by Orton, by his work, by his subversive deeds, and perhaps most particularly by the artistic community he belonged to. “In the light of the climate today (Brexit) I was looking for a sense of community, something which would help me connect to the city once again. I couldn’t help asking myself what am I doing here now? Why am I in this city? For a company my size, when you have to pay for export, does it make the same sense to be in London like it did before? But London is not just a political matter: subverting, like Orton did, is also claiming- marking something as your own. With Orton and with his community of creatives I found a genuine connection.” The style of Gotesson is quintessential Scandinavian, featuring a lot of denim and functional garments, with an elegant twist in the cut – Normcore meets Marigiela. His latest collection shows collages and print cut-outs which recall the modified covers of Orton’s stolen books.
Can knitwear be labeled cool in 2020? Apparently yes. Knitwear brand Vitelli – brainchild of Mauro Simionato and Giulia Bortoli – is nestled in Veneto, homeland of all the best quality knits. The story told by Vitelli’s first unisex collection, Dumbooh, is a proudly Italian one, looking back at the Eighties, at the Cosmic Youth and at iconic Italian brands of those years such as Armani and Romeo Gigli. The Cosmic Youth (Gioventù Cosmica in Italian) was the first Italian clubbing scene: a post-hippy youth movement, bearing the motto Music is culture, and setting roots by specific dance clubs in North Italy – the Cosmic, the Melodj Mecca and the Typhoon. These venues were not big enough for everybody to get in, hence many club-goers spent the weekend between the parking lots and the beach, setting up sound-systems or playing mixtapes in their cars. Doomboh collection is entirely made of reclaimed yarn and padded with salvaged knits, sourced and collected from local factories. The brand combines haute couture techniques with more casual designs – something like a new-generation Missoni, knitting its way into ready-to-wear without compromising on quality nor craftsmanship.
The other British names hosted by the London show Rooms were: Ahluwalia, Art School, Bianca Saunders, Eastwood Danso, Edward Crutchley, E. Tautz, Nicholas Dailey. Other than Vitelli, the Italian brands were Gall, Jordan Luca, Matteo Bigliardi, Milstudio. Onsite installations by Cristiana Alagna, Paolo Caranza, Tancredi Vimercati Severino. The Camera Nazionale della Moda does a great deal to promote young Italy-based designers, often in collaboration with Vogue Italia editor Sara Maino, who scouts in nurtures new talents in the fashion industry worldwide. At the moment however it does not have an equivalent of the London show Rooms. Given the importance of hearing from new voices in the industry, of promoting unity in times of disintegration, and of finding new, healthier practices in the fashion world, we hope to be seeing more of these initiatives in the near future.