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LFW’s DiscoveryLab designers bring social commentary to fashion

By Rachel Douglass

22 Feb 2022


Image: Margn

Continuing in the digital form, London Fashion Week’s DiscoveryLab returned to the schedule to present 15 emerging designers ready to be discovered.

Those selected by the British Fashion Council (BFC) did not yet meet the requirements for the main LFW schedule and were instead subject to criteria specifically set for DiscoverLab. Applicants, reviewed by an industry panel, have each only operated in the ready-to-wear category for under three years and originate from a combined range of creative industries.

Each designer had the opportunity to present their collections in a digital setting via LFW’s online platform, presenting videos that encapsulated the concepts behind their collections and the stories they wanted to portray within.

Four particular themes for the collections stood out this year, touching on everything from societal movements to the development of virtual identities.

Cultural tales and societal concerns

(From left) Image: Margn, Anciela, Strongthe

Collections based upon bold cultural heritages were arguably one of the most prominent themes for this season’s DiscoveryLab. Young designers brought to light elements from personal experiences and upbringings to play a significant role in the story their collections told. London-based Thai designer Strong Theveethivarak’s Strongthe, for example, drew inspiration from the creative’s native traditional structures, combining Thailand’s ghost culture with personal experiences linked to his own name, which resulted in what he described as a “physical impairment-inspired design sensibility”.

Saskia similarly explored her trans-national identity in a collection that arose from a cross-cultural lifestyle and an in-depth look into the political implications that come with it. Through repurposed military knits and upcycled techniques, Saskia told the story of the positive outcomes which develop from negative ancestral displacements. A similar anecdote was addressed in the Indian label Margn’s collection. The brand, which was founded back in 2020, emphasised the journey of immigrants, with the goal of sparking conversation around borders and divisions. The message was portrayed through symbolically structured knits, non-conforming silhouettes and upcycled water pipes, designed to represent “the interconnectedness” among society.

(From left) Image: Saskia, Abigail Ajobi, Anciela

Abigail Ajobi and Anciela, on the other hand, both focused more on the beauty of cultural heritage and migrant stories in their collections, with the latter directly inspired by the Colombian flower festival and the history of the ‘Silletero’. The collection centred around the beauty behind being a migrant, shown in a digital movie that featured performances by Latin-British dancers. Ajobi’s collection was also closer to a celebration of cultural identity, with a film that told the love story of the designer’s parents in Nigeria. Prints were the defining mark for Ajobi, who presented two patterns to further the tale: one of a love letter scribed by her father and the other displaying banknotes designed to represent black men and wealth. Each print is to be sold as a unique digital non-fungible token (NFT).

Perceptions and experimentations

Je cai and Sól Hansdóttir offered a more experimental take on fashion for their AW22 showcase. Through systematic formulations and a merging of conformity and individuality, Je cai introduced a collection that aimed to promote a dialogue between the designer and wearer. Interchangeable pieces allowed the wearer to form their own expression creating a sustainable approach to seasonless fashion.

(From left) Image: Sól Hansdóttir, Je cai

Recent Central Saint Martins graduate, Sól Hansdóttir also implemented experimentation into their designs, as well as taking into consideration sustainable development, displayed in their choice of local manufacturing and the deconstruction of deadstock garments. Ultimately, Hansdóttir wanted to test the perception of reality, manipulating garments to become something entirely different.

Womanhood and femininity

The topic of femininity was highlighted through a handful of collections presented at the showcase for this edition, particularly by Dreaming Eli by Elisa. The brand, now in its second season at DiscoveryLab, drew influences from stereotypes that typically restrict the minds of bodies of women. Twisting perceptions, the label took elements from Degas’ ballerinas and Victorian corsetry and presented them, instead, through the female gaze. In a description of the presentation, the designer said: “This collection is my experience of what it means to be female.”

(From left) Image: Florentina Leitner, Ester Kubisz, Dreaming Eli by Elisa

Ester Kubisz was another who questioned gender conformity through a collection. Kubisz’s signature suit designs were restructured to form a commentary on masochism, relationships and juxtapositions. While the Austrian designer Florentina Leitner placed more emphasis on sustainable practices, her collection still played with the subject of femininity. Leitner, who previously designed for Dries Van Noten, placed strong importance on eco-consciousness, presenting a collection partially made from upcycled trash bags and bottle caps. Bold embellishments looked to empower improved production for the future, while still staying true to her signature silhouettes.

Futurism and virtual identities

Naturally, the digital world held a prominent role among the selected designers, especially evident in Christoph Ritter Studio’s presentation. The Austrian-born designer explored themes of futurism and virtual self-idealisation, creating a collection designed for the eco-conscious club kid. Lycra staples, such as shapewear and catsuits, each derived from recycled plastic, were formed to empower self-expression, with key pieces to be sold as NFTs and digitally wearable garments through the digital creator platform, Rally.

Jewellery brand Ex-A Studio also opted for virtual 3D visualisation, presenting an immersive digital presentation to showcase the house’s debut accessory line. The genderneutral collection was created in the virtual world using unique rendering techniques as part of the designer's way of expressing the importance that must be placed on technology in every aspect of design.

(From left) Image: Christoph Ritter Studio, Ex-A Studio
Emerging Designer