It was Friday, the first day of London Fashion Week, and Donatella Versace was sitting in a hotel in Mayfair, finishing the preperations for her hard-driving, techno-fabulous Versus Versace show scheduled the next day.
Ms. Versace lives in Milan, and so does Versus Versace, but a few seasons ago she moved the show to London. She would be back in Milan in a few days to stage the Versace show, but for Versus, its rebellious little sister (the line that was created for Donatella, Gianni Versace’s rebellious little sister), London felt right.
“I think youth culture starts here,” Ms. Versace said, in her Marlboro rasp. “British people have more courage than the others.”
It had a steady feeder supply in a handful of fine universities churning out graduates, and strong support for its fledglings, like sponsorships and incubator programs.
The opening days of fashion week, which runs through Tuesday, are a display of its hometown ingenuity, the make-do of young designers running riot.
At Fashion East, the talent hatchery run by the East End den mother Lulu Kennedy, four upstarts had installed themselves in no less than the Tate Modern: three on the runway, one in a static presentation just outside.
Fashion East can feel ragtag, but the standouts this season were remarkably assured, particularly the magpie, “Mad Max” glamour of Matty Bovan, only a year and change out of Central St. Martins but already under the wing of Katie Grand, a top stylist and editor of Love magazine. And the plasticized elegance of Supriya Lele, a new Royal College of Art graduate, who mined her Anglo-Indian heritage for a collection that featured latex and gaffer tape, but whose overall effect was serene rather than seamy.
They are still so early in their careers that it feels almost irresponsible to shine a light; Ms. Lele, for example, hasn’t even worked out how to produce her collection for sale. But the rise from obscurity to fame in London fashion can be astonishingly fast. Consider how many of those ranked among the city’s most creative, and now known worldwide, began at Fashion East themselves only a few years ago — Jonathan Anderson and Simone Rocha among them.
Mr. Anderson and Ms. Rocha have become two of the must-sees of the London schedule, and their shows mark the moment when the week kicks into high gear. Mr. Anderson spoke of a “style odyssey” — a woman sent on a journey, her J.W. Anderson traveling wardrobe a mash-up of the rough and the refined, ostrich feathers blooming out of plain wool and linen skirts, metal mesh dresses with high-top sneakers. “Things that shouldn’t really work,” Mr. Anderson said.
“Things that shouldn’t really work” are the Anderson specialty: His collections typically pile an unholy assemblage of elements together and trust the process to guide the result. But this time, many of the things that didn’t really work didn’t, really.
Mr. Anderson’s draped jersey dresses looked pasted in from a less interesting collection; likewise the sneakers, with their un-salvageable scent of the shopping mall. Mr. Anderson said he’d been aiming for something feminine, but his sense of the body sometimes falls short. It was an interesting, and potentially clever, move to fit his travelers with pockets aplenty but hard to imagine the woman who would want two hanging open on her chest.
Ms. Rocha was also thinking of feminine dressing. “When people hear ‘femininity,’ they think it’s all soft and girlie,” she said. “And it’s not. I think you can still be very strong.”
She was also thinking of travelers: In an uncertain world at a time of fraught crossings, she bundled her women in stern, nearly martial tailoring, in suave velvet bonded to sponge — softness girded with strength. Ms. Rocha’s signatures are gauzy layers and sheer dresses embroidered with flowers and pearls. Girlishness in excelsis.
She kept that emphasis, and the flowers, but gave them a new spine. The result was fantastic.
“The world is a bit upside down at the moment,” she said. But her women (of all ages, mind, from teenage models to the great elder stateswomen of runways past) clutched their (faux) furs around them, strapped on their packs and soldiered on.
It’s apples and oranges of course, but it made you all the more grateful for the blessed relief of Margaret Howell’s schlumpy austerity the next day. Every exuberant Saturday night needs its sorbet of a Sunday morning.