“Where is the dress that could ease my heart like a satin gown?” – adapted from Dorothy Parker
A beautiful flight of fantasy couture gown that has taken hundreds of hours to dream up, construct, deconstruct or meticulously embellish with wit, ingenuity and a thousand twinkling pailettes or sensuous, hand-stitched petals is no different to a great work of art.
How a woman longs for such a dress! Dear reader I am not ashamed to say I have shed a tear when sinuous models stalk the catwalk in such dresses. And yet amid all the excitement at London Fashion Week (LWF) about the return of the corset, red, red lips and perilous heels, where is the Ethical Fashion Designer who can summon up such longing and desire?
One day in late September, amid the historic splendour and refinement of Somerset House – the new home of LWF – there was a sense that fashion’s emerging green movement has finally begun to grow up and grasp the idea that beauty is equally valid as compassion and ethics, and that without those twin attributes there will be no vibrant and successful sustainable fashion industry.
Now we are about to see our first Ethical Fashion Superstars in the making and they are all homegrown. Here is my pick of the bunch.
My first tip is the lovely and rather ethereal designer Ada Zanditon. Cultured, thoughtful and thoroughly engaging, Ada graduated with a first class degree from the London College of Fashion in 2007 and there is no doubt she will be a star. It is just a question of when. Ada was one of only four designers chosen this season by Vauxhall Talent Scout to show her work in the lofty setting of the Freemason’s Hall in Covent Garden. “Thrilling and amazing,” is how Zanditon describes the experience of designing and staging her first proper show. Even better, the audience included scouts from Vogue.com and key buyers from Browns Focus who are renowned for picking the fashion stars of tomorrow.
Ada’s collection titled The Colony doesn’t disappoint. In fact it shows a confident and alluring grasp of skilled pattern cutting techniques, a palette of delicious primary colours and above all a sense of sleek, wearable theatre. Inspired by a recent reading of A World Without Bees, Ada tells me that she was going to design the collection around the idea of ‘complete colony collapse disorder’, then she giggles and confesses that she woke up and realised that this sounded far too depressing. ” Then I began to think about how complex and amazing bees are, and I became interested in how they construct their colony using the principle of the hexagon.”
Ada’s work is sculptural, tactile and sexy – take her svelte and sassy ‘Star ship Enterprise’ power suits – homage to her idols Thierry Mugler and Azzedine Alaia. Or her sassy power dresses in true red and wonderfully slouchy, jersey harem pants in chintz linen (fit for any modern Sheherazade). While for sheer drama and a hot red carpet date who could resist her playful ruffle top in red, white and blue to celebrate her English and American heritage and new alliance with French linen. This sensuous masterpiece took a week to make and is constructed from hundreds and hundreds of tiny, cone shaped hexagons in silk organza – and this is the inspired ecological bit – ” we pleated and ruffled them and stitched them together using up absolutely every scrap of fabric and off cut, so nothing is wasted,” says Ada proudly.
Zanditon is definitely one to watch. She is pushing expectations by showing an ethical collection that is unashamedly luxurious and covetable. This year she found sponsorship with CELC Masters of Linen in France and the Spring/Summer Collection provides a brilliant showcase for the next generation of super natural fabrics and shows just how tactile, desirable and sexy they can be. Linen production requires little or no intervention, keeps the body comfortable in high summer and has been used as a form of cloth for as long as bees have provided pollination – around four thousand years to be precise.
One more thing. Ada loves the model and icon Grace Jones. “She is a big influence on me. I love her bold sense of femininity. She’s a really strong personality; but she is also incredibly elegant. I would love to see her wearing my clothes.”
Let’s hope Grace meets the lovely and talented Ada soon.
From the coffee houses of Baghdad and a melting pot heritage of ancient Babylon, to a magpie’s nest studio in an Oast House in Kent – designer Reem exudes a wild and eclectic heart. Reem was the most wonderful discovery of LFW and her magical stand more Arabian souk than plain old fashion atelier. It didn’t take long for word of mouth to spread and soon Planet Reem became a magnet for savvy buyers and fashionistas of any age who were queuing up for an excuse and opportunity to be transported, dress up not down and be extraordinary! This is Reem’s gift.
It is difficult to know where to look when you first enter the fertile and eclectic maximalism of Reem. Even better she is destined to make recycling and reworking bespoke tailoring, vintage lace, old leather gloves, cast off cashmere and just about everything, including the kitchen sink into the coolest thing on the planet. I can just see Sienna wearing one of Reem’s twinkling, Ms Haversham frocks to Glastonbury or the Bestival next year.
Enter Reem’s shop of curiosities and you discover row upon row of dresses that resemble exquisite, embellished rags, parka jackets transformed into the most adorable, witty, embellished capes, ‘because everyone needs a sequin parka’, Laura Ashley meets the union jack in a T-shirt dress, and a waterfall of glittering, oversized pearl and lace corsage necklaces which would delight a magpie and make Madame Coco Chanel sigh with envy.
Reem declares that her inspiration is “All the places I have ever travelled to and the people I have met along the way. There is a lot of culture; I am product of my travels and different worlds.”
As a result, her ideas and inspiration are in a constant state of flux. “Last season I was inspired by Charlie Chaplin and the collection was all black. We cut up a lot of men’s suits and transformed them into beautiful couture evening dresses.” She points out that “winter and Spring/Summer is more colourful, with more yellow and acid dyed wool in rainbow colours from a farm in Yorkshire.”
This season Reem faced an important dilemma. Should she remain in Estethica, the green showcase set up in 2006 to give ethical designers a voice at LFW? Or accept the invitation to show in the mainstream-buying arena. After much thought, she chose the latter.
She is frank too about the politics of high fashion.” At the moment fashion buyers are still not too interested in whether you are ethical or organic; what they want is something beautiful and different.”
The decision to go mainstream has made a huge difference. Reem caught the eye of American Vogue, and the magazine is now planning an exclusive feature on her Woodstock inspired dresses, and she has been inundated with orders from some stellar department stores in London and New York.
“What we offer is something different; but we are also ethical. I know that, and if the buyer who comes to me doesn’t know that yet, that is okay. I want the opportunity to reach everyone; then I can work on changing the world – because this is my passion, this is who I am.”
Last season I quite lost my heart to Lucy Tammam’s alluring, gold embellished evening coat. The coat is hand tailored in organic, natural dyed cotton and has a sensuous silk lining which feels wonderfully luxuriant against bare skin. This season it comes with even more delicately crafted detail in lustrous banana fibre, which takes two weeks to complete.
The coat pays homage to Dior’s revolutionary ‘New Look’ of the fifties and it’s the kind of piece Kim Novak might have worn in Rear Window with platform heels and molten lips. Yes! I am already daydreaming about icy Hitchcock heroines. Even better, this lovely garment fits the new mood of grown up, polished, ladylike allure. This is a coat for blondes who crave movie star glamour. Think of it as an heirloom piece to save up for, treasure and flaunt all over town, while looking out for a modern Cary Grant.
Lucy’s god given talent is tailoring and making women feel wildly feminine. This season she has finally listened to her fan club and designed a small, perfectly formed collection of immaculate bias cut, goddess silk evening dresses and the dress you will long to get married in – a shimmering gold and cream hourglass gown with an all over peacock appliqué design which slithers down the body to finish in a sensuous puddle train.
The dress takes a week to hand appliqué and has a wonderful lustrous look and feel thanks to the natural qualities of peace silk and organic cotton satin, and the embroidered trimmings which feature a combination of peace silk, bamboo and organic cotton. Lucy carefully sources all her own fabrics from her own ethical manufacturers in India and Nepal.
“Wedding dresses and evening dresses are a lovely way to be creative,” suggests Lucy who has just become a first time mum to baby Eudora. “I love working on the tailoring and the construction of a beautiful gown, and the peacock is an important emblem for the House of Tammam. It’s a very 1920s symbol and we love the glamour and allure of the ‘twenties.”
The Peacock wedding gown is available to order from £1,600, which represents extraordinary value for a couture piece, designed in England and handmade in India. Please allow at least six months for delivery.
More discoveries from London Fashion Week including Minna Hepburn’s darling dresses and sensuous capes in Scottish lace. Think of a demure Catherine Deneuve in shift dresses and patent Mary Jane’s in the film Belle du Jour.Alluring, gossamer knitted shifts and cardigans from Makepeace in Todmorden, Yorkshire;Anatomy’s hourglass tailoring and gorgeous giant bow dresses; and I’m going to tell you all about Mark Liu – the Professor of fashion who has designs on crating Zero Waste with his wonderfully ethereal Unicorn Collection. His red carpet dresses are pretty divine and let me tell you a secret – Bonnie from Harry Potter is a fan.