The late, great Dame Vivienne Westwood once said, "Fashion is life-enhancing, and I think it's a lovely, generous thing to do for other people." Never before has that spirit of positivity been more present than with the new guard making Britain's fashion scene buzz once more.
Attending the shows last September was a strange experience. It was supposed to be the first full, "proper" season since COVID-19 hit, but the atmosphere was solemn due to the schedule falling within the nation's period of mourning following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Despite a sombre tone to proceedings, there was still a palpable undercurrent of excitement around a slew of new names that many industry people—including myself—hadn't yet heard of. Editors, stylists and buyers were as hyped up to see these young talents as they were for the big-ticket shows.
"London's position as an international hub, combined with its host of best-in-class creative colleges and the support available here to young creatives, has reaffirmed the city as the home to an incredible new wave of talent. What makes them so exciting is that they each bring their own stories, their diverse and authentic backgrounds and their beliefs to the work that they are producing," says Caroline Rush, CEO of the British Fashion Council. "As we have emerged from the pandemic over the last few years and begun to reintegrate into normal life, there has been a surge of excitement, authenticity and collaboration that can be felt throughout the creative industries and its outputs. We are very proud of the fact that, post-pandemic, we have been able to raise over £2 million in funding through the BFC Foundation to continue to support future generations of creative talent here in the UK, and this year, we are very excited to be celebrating 30 years of our BFC NewGen initiative, one of the first talent-support schemes of its kind globally."
To Westwood's point, it's taken a fresh batch of Gen Z talent to eschew the consumerist fashion models of old, and they're using their creative processes, burgeoning profiles and networks to establish a new and more meaningful way of doing things. Sustainability, inclusivity and diversity are not marketing boxes to be ticked. They inform the starting points for their designs and are considered at every step along the way. Never before have I seen better representation on the runways—not just one plus-size model here or there to fulfill a baseline quota, but whole collections modelled by a variety of people who make up a far more accurate depiction of the general public. Many of us love clothes, getting dressed up and defining our identities through daily wardrobe choices, but never before have the high-fashion options felt so reachable and so varied. From artful column gowns to Victorian-inspired corsetry, ultra-luxe sportswear to gender-neutral tailoring, the up-and-coming designers below all offer a unique aesthetic and set of values to stand behind. Keep scrolling to learn more.
Photo:@elliebamber_; Courtesy of Standing Ground; Chris Yates/Chris Yates Media; Getty Images
If there was a debut collection that dominated Instagram during last September's London Fashion Week, it was that of Michael Stewart's brand Standing Ground. His intricately crafted and striking column dresses provided a new take on minimalism that you couldn't help but photograph. Rendered in slinky jersey fabrics, his impactful block-colour silhouettes were enhanced with conceptual rolls, drapes and folds, resulting in sculptural fashion pieces as worthy of a museum plinth as they would be a celebrity red carpet—and the A-listers have already come knocking.
The Royal College of Art alumnus and Fashion East member pivoted from menswear to womenswear a few years ago, honing his craft to the point where his brand can operate in the vein of a couture house. His methods have not only resulted in truly timeless, coveted pieces, but his concept also stands out as a clear indication of the desire many designers (and consumers) have to slow things down. Standing Ground is to be treasured, not trending, and as such, his current made-to-measure business model means you can't buy pieces direct from an e-commerce shop.
Photo:Getty Images; Courtesy of Susan Fang
From inside LVMH Prize finalist Susan Fang's small London atelier comes some of the most exciting textile developments I've seen in some time. All inspired by the multifaceted concept of "air," Fang's creations are confections that bounce and dance in 2D and 3D forms—ultra pretty from afar and fascinating up close. Fang, who was born in China and grew up in Canada and America, has created "air-weaving" and "air-flower" techniques, and the concept stretches from lightweight dresses and cardigans to intricate crystal bubble-beaded items, such as the twinkling handbags that so many influencers have been carrying. Those little add-ons have become as much of a signature item for the brand as the pretty clothing.
"Our brand is inspired by positive energy of the human emotions and focuses on creating a surreal world with a sense of ethereal beauty," says Fang, who cut her teeth at Central Saint Martins followed by Celine and Stella McCartney. "Through print, textile, senses, show, music and installation, we hope to create this surreal invisible world that actually already exists within our hearts." This might explain why so many London It girls have already fallen in love.
Photo:Getty Images; Courtesy of Karoline Vitto; @emmabreschi
I never thought I would wear a cut-out dress until I saw those created by Karoline Vitto. "Inclusivity and sustainability are the core values of the brand. We believe in celebrating bodies as they are and in including them in our process from the start," explains the designer, who showcased her S/S 23 collection on a refreshing range of women with different body shapes and sizes. "Inclusivity, to us, also means bridging the gap between size availability and sustainability because so often customers have to choose either or. We work mostly with deadstock materials, making use of what is already available as surplus, and on a pre-order model, avoiding overproduction." Doubly smart.
You will come to recognise Vitto's work for the curvy, teardrop-inspired metalwork that punctuates the majority of her pieces in different places across the body, acting as a sensual but quite unexpected addition to her monochrome palette of dresses and separates. It's body-con—but (finally) for everyone.
Photo:Courtesy of Jawara Alleyne; @alvaclaire; Getty Images
"My aesthetic is a bit like a modern pirate that loves punk rock and reggae. It pulls stylistic elements from these ideas and overlaps them with modern silhouettes and ease of wear," says Jawara Alleyne about the artfully disheveled "slash to here and there" looks that he has become so sought-after for. The Central Saint Martins alumnus showed his third and final collection as part of the talent incubator Fashion East last season, and it was a stormer, showcasing precisely how creative you can be when your in-house values are rework, repurpose, revalue. "For us, it's really important to tell a new story of sustainability and redefine value systems within fashion. It's also important to not sensationalise this topic of sustainability. Coming from the Caribbean, a sustainable and circular ethos is ingrained in the way our societies work. Changing fashion, to me, is more about building values systems rather than introducing sustainable product," he says.
Some of the most "Alleyne" items you'll discover in his repertoire are the more accessibly priced upcycled T-shirts. His knotted, ripped, tasseled and pinned skirts, dresses and crop tops in jersey, lace and chiffon have been chosen by the cool types, like model Alva Claire, because of the undone/done-up ratio they hit that Brit girls just get.
Photo:Getty Images; Courtesy of Ancuta Sarca; @dualipa
Back in 2019, Ancuta Sarca reconstructed Nike sneaks into kitten heels, and they took the internet by storm. It was the first time I had seriously considered how luxurious and agenda-setting upcycling could be, and her unique aesthetic was quickly noticed, with celebrities such as Bella Hadid, Kim Kardashian, Dua Lipa and many more lining up to wear her highly documented footwear. Now, you can add clothing to Sarca's portfolio thanks to a partnership with SKIMS, using end of roll fabrics provided by the brand. The Romanian-born designer's presentation last September was one I heard many editors planning their schedules around, keen to not miss what the talent was up to next.
"I'd describe my aesthetic as a hybrid made of delicate and grotesque elements, a juxtaposition of post-contemporary and vintage, sportswear and luxury, feminine and masculine," she tells me. The result for spring/summer 2023? A vibrant line of body-hugging, racing-inspired catsuits, tube dresses, bags and, of course, great shoes. It taps into the season's overarching trend for moto-tinged fashion, but I think I can confidently say Sarca did it first.
Photo:Courtesy of S.S.Daley, MATCHESFASHION; Maja Smiejkowska
Steven Stokey-Daley's spring/summer 2023 show was a dangerous one to watch: Many editors came away with shopping lists far larger than their budgets. The Westminster College–trained designer has been on a non-stop roll since first launching in 2020, starting when stylist Harry Lambert selected one of Stokey-Daley's pieces to feature in Harry Styles's "Sunflower, Vol. 6" video. It's the kind of prime position that almost instantly guarantees eyes on a brand. The designer moved his menswear line to be inclusive of women too and offer a truly up-to-date outlook on gender-neutral dressing, and he picked up the BFC Foundation Award at the Fashion Awards in December.
His quirky take on Britishness—duck cardigans, argyle knits, jumbo cord tailoring and boater hats resplendent with real flowers—speaks a fashion language of times gone by, yet with his clever manipulation and reconfiguration of these codes, Stokey-Daley delivers something entirely modern. What's more, these great clothes are shown on the runway across a spectrum of models of different sizes and ages.
The label's celebrity fan club is ever growing (Emma Corrin, Anne-Marie, Raven Smith, Dan Levy… I could go on), and as it's now being stocked at MATCHESFASHION, I imagine the visible roll call of editors wearing it will increase too.
Photo:Getty Images; Imaxtree/Launchmetrics
It's hard to pinpoint which of Turkish British fashion designer Dilara Findikoglu's many signature pieces is best at summing her up. Is it the pearl initial necklaces that have swept through Instagram? The perfect-fit corsets that have inspired a comeback across the board? The skimpy swimwear loved by celebrities? The Gothic lace dresses? Perhaps you'll know her as the creator of Bella Hadid's risqué custom-made after-party look for the Met Gala last year. With its floral nipple pasties, mini bustle and barely-there lace skirt, this is an ensemble that will remain in the history books.
Findikoglu's romantic yet iconoclastic spin on Victoriana and various different subcultures puts her in a completely unique lane, appealing to many different personal styles. Inspired by politics, culture, society, her antique clothing archives and much, much more, every Findikoglu piece is steeped in meaning. Her ascension has been "nothing short of meteoric," according to the LVMH Prize panel that shortlisted her in 2017—I agree.
Photo:Courtesy of Sinéad O'Dwyer; @_magda__
If you're looking for a pitch-perfect example of what diversity in the fashion industry should look like in 2023, just take a peek at Sinéad O'Dwyer's spring/summer show for the new blueprint. "The core of our brand ethos is a commitment to designing and creating luxury fashion for all bodies. We also prioritise craft and innovation and the sustainability and quality of our materials," O'Dwyer tells me. The London-based Irish designer started this mission during her time studying at the Royal College of Art, and her latest collection is a fantastic example of how you take a more considered approach from start to finish, ensuring that you include different body types and abilities ahead of designing the final result. The garment begins with the person.
O'Dwyer's shibari knot–inspired elasticated-silk dresses, cut-away pieces, sculptural plissé bodices, tuxedo tailoring, see-through fabrics and so many other details completely bust the myth that people outside of the straight-sizing system don't want to wear clothes that feel luxurious, daring or different. It's always been nonsense to think such a thing, but it's still refreshing to see a talented designer funnel their efforts into proving it.
If soft punk is your game, then Sarah Regensburger is the name. Regensburger describes her brand as "badass," but you might be interested to know that, at the crux of it all, it comes with an important sustainable message. "Rebels with a cause" is the ethos that really powers the label. Regensburger first became known for her avant-garde vegan fashion—a concept that I could have imagined taking off 15 years ago when I first started working in the industry. PETA named her Designer of the Year in 2022, and although her unusual, innovative fabrics such as bamboo and cactus leather will attract those seeking out alternatives to animal products, it's the archetypal rebellious aesthetic for others.
Regensburger's Wicked lace catsuit has been a particular favourite amongst singers (Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and Anne-Marie have all been pictured in it), while other stars have opted for the holey striped knits and tartan separates.
Photo:Courtesy of Feben; @ashleygraham; Getty Images
"It's a reflection of my identity and what I've been exposed to," says Feben Vemmenby of her eponymous brand. In a word, she summarises the aesthetic as "eclectic," and it is plain to see from her S/S 23 collection that this is accurate. Although you'll find the London label's signature "twist" fabrics—a kind of puckered, crinkled weave that moulds around the body like a glove—across every clothing category, there's a lot more to discover from the Central Saint Martins–trained and BFC NewGen designer. From patent-leather bikers to printed tube dresses, Feben creatively blends textures, colours and silhouettes to create a one-stop wardrobe for a fast track to that mix-and-match approach some of the best dressers effortlessly pull together. What's more, sustainable practices run through the brand, and integrity in design and production is high up on the agenda.
Feben's unique pieces have garnered quite the celebrity following. Ashley Graham is a fan and has worn the brand's body-con twist styles on multiple occasions, and Jorja Smith, Michaela Coel, and Lianne La Havas are on the Feben train too. Prepare to see a lot more of Feben in 2023.
Photo:Getty Images; @harry_lambert; Imaxtree/Launchmetrics
Stefan Cooke founded his brand in 2017 with partner Jake Burt after graduating from Central Saint Martins. What started out originally as a menswear brand has become inclusive of womenswear thanks to the inaugural edition for spring/summer 2023, and our wardrobes are thankful for it. As Cooke won both the H&M Design Award and L'Oréal Professional Creative Award within a year of setting up his label and the brand was a finalist for the LVMH Prize in 2019, you could see the trajectory this name was already on from an early date. Cooke has been through the highly successful Fashion East incubator, can namecheck some of the world's coolest boutiques as stockists and was included in Dazed 100, an unquestionable list of who's who in the industry.
The look? There's an undercurrent of Britishness with themes of school uniforms, reworked heritage codes and traditional menswear ideas flipped on their heads—the slashed-argyle knits have become something of a Stefan Cooke signature. You'll find wardrobe staples are present, but they're never quite as you'd expect to find them. Denim, tailoring, jersey separates and more make up the latest line, but all of them are delivered with unexpected tweaks.