London fashion can quite succinctly fit into three categories: the good, the bad and the ugly. Such is our enthusiasm for new talent, we'll quite happily clap along to even the most outlandish creations, however heinous, because we're just happy that someone, somewhere in this cluttered global fashion landscape is doing something with a little feeling. Fashion East, Lulu Kennedy's talent factory for eager young grads keen to start their own labels, is the go-to place for such people. Luckily today the ugly was nowhere to be seen - it was all about the good and the bad, and by bad I mean wicked.
Downstairs at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Central Saint Martins graduate Charles Jeffrey was celebrating all that is naughty, freeing and liberating about clubbing. His generation don't remember Leigh Bowery, Taboo, perhaps not even Boombox, so to them to possibilities of some body paint and a dance floor seem endless, creative and fresh - they still see it as the ultimate place for rebellion. In a sweaty, darkened room, furnished with a stage and a DJ booth, Jeffrey restaged one of his 'Loverboy’ club nights - a party he and his friends put on down Vogue Fabrics in East London. There, they borrow from the best of counterculture and pop culture, playing modern icons in the DJ booth while mimicking Bowery and Trojan in their Pakis from Outer Space period. Appropriation was a theme at today's show - nodding to the way he and his generation pull and mix references and ideas from a whole mix of sources, Jeffrey gave a new lease of life to tired old garb. A vintage chandelier was taken apart and reworked into a neckscarf, while jeans were given an update with lashings of paint. In a nod to the sense of diversity that underpins any good club, where nerdy city slickers can dance alongside art school freaks, Jeffrey clashed his more nutty elements (the bandeaus and raggedy dresses) with more traditional tailoring, created with the help of Savile Row’s Chittleborough & Morgan. All in all, this was cliquey and inward-looking enough to feel aspirational, but joyous enough to feel relevant - something of a breath of fresh air, despite the sweat.
Floating above this ode to primitive desires and youthful revelry was Wales Bonner's serene, heavenly, cerebral display. If Charles Jeffrey is the devil on your shoulder, telling you to stay out just a little bit later and peel off just one more of those layers, fellow CSM graduate Grace Wales Bonner is the angel telling you to take care, to consider, to reflect and to think. Indeed, ‘care’ is the best word for her type of design - you feel like she's poured her heart and mind into her work. There’s a lot of heart in London fashion, sometimes not enough mind. This presentation was more about continuing a conversation than presenting a definitive statement. She talked of drawing inspiration from 16th century Africa-born India ruler Malik Ambar and his journey from poverty in Ethiopia to power in Western India, posing questions about not only the black male in history and visual culture, but also cross-cultural identity, power and postures and signatures of authority. The themes ran through her new publication, Everything’s for Real: Volume 2, created with the help of Ditto Press, that premiered at the presentation. The lightness of Wales Bonner’s faded checks, linen, terry cloth shirts and battered silks, which seamlessly unite historical costume and contemporary dress, compliments but contradicts the sheer depth of Wales Bonner’s ideas. There is truly no one doing something like her. Within today's fashion landscape, where despite our claims of innovation we can be conservative to the point of awful prejudice, Wales Bonner's work stands out - it's impeccable, relevant and, given its roots, urgent.