Last Friday I was pinching myself as I was waved backstage at London Fashion Week to witness for myself the magical Lan Nguyen-Grealis create the looks for the ON/OFF runway show. ON/OFF supports new talent in the fashion world, and the show was backed by London Fashion Week, The Mayor of London, Beauty Lab London, Mii Cosmetics and L’Oreal Professional.
Award-winning Lan has credentials as long as your arm; she’s designed the makeup for countless shows, has published two inspiring books (the latest of which, PROMakeup Design was published last September by Laurence King Publishing) and she was even one of the esteemed guest judges on BBC3 breakout success, Glow Up (think GBBO but with makeup, not cakes).
She patiently talked me through the five very different looks created for collections from House of SheldonHall, Zaful, Studio 404, Yan Dengyu and IYANU. From robot-alien-inspired faces (complete with silver details and varying amounts of crystal details) and playful, broken-down tribal-inspired colour explosions, to my personal favourite; the ‘lived-in, blown-out, night-out smokey eye’, in which details around the eye and lip were meticulously created using coloured foil leaves which were allowed to break off naturally, meaning no two were identical but all individual. This wasn’t makeup for real life, but fantastical inspiration. I’m not going to be adding blue metal foil to my eyes any time soon, but I might be tempted to dot the Mii Cosmetics Eye Colour Crayon in Antique (a creamy old gold) into my inner eye socket to have a similar brightening effect.
That said, I could have walked through any venue hosting the event wearing gold leaf over my entire face and the fashion world would not have blinked (although it may have captured the interest of the paparazzi who were stationed outside every doorway capturing the looks sported by the wannabe fashionistas in attendance). After having a near crisis on Thursday night as I tried to determine what to wear, by Saturday I realised that the only thing I needed in my fashion arsenal was confidence. Whilst there is much talk about which labels are being worn, this was an occasion where anything goes, as long as it is worn with aplomb. I took advantage of this to finally debut the glitter flares I nabbed in the Urban Outfitters sale and paired them with the only Fashion Week essential worthy of note: a flat shoe (white Nikes in my case). Slightly fabulous and decidedly comfortable, allowing me to stride between destinations (despite the best efforts of Storm Dennis) without hazard.
Saturday morning saw me back at 180 The Strand (show space for The British Council of Fashion), this time for a public event, the Temperley London show. Enthusiastic applause greeted the exquisite, embellished confections which danced down the runway, as well as the Brit-girl, country-inspired denims and prints. The show was followed by an open panel session considering 'Comparison Culture' and the responsibility of the media in combating the rise in mental health issues resulting from unrealistic representations in both social and mainstream media. Stylist’s Executive Director, Georgina Holt, was eager to clarify the ways in which her magazines opts out of the dominant narrative in terms of how they represent women, and Fashion News Editor, Billie Bhatia, joined her to discuss her own experience as a plus-sized woman of colour working in the fashion industry.
In Victoria House, Bloomsbury Square, the style was slightly leftfield. Under-the-radar brands hosted by leading global platform, Fashion Scout, offered more alternative looks (including the bonkers-brilliant Slovak Fashion Council’s presentation of models standing behind carefully curated airport security trays), a permanent exhibition by Gary James McQueen, nephew of the late great Alexander and memorable shows from (amongst others) Chinese up-and-coming labels, Refuse Club and Qiongxin Kou/Yiyao Nie and Istanbul-founded London-based urban-luxe brand DB Berdan, who had certainly got the diversity memo, their catwalk was testament to the inclusivity for which they seek to be known.
Indeed, the overriding theme of the week was #positivefashion: from sustainability to inclusivity, there was a lot of talk about how to democratise fashion and how the industry needs to be a force for change, tackle climate change and embrace social responsibility. At the various stalls around the venue I saw jeans made from recycled plastic bottles, chairs which had been 3D printed from ocean plastic, t-shirts from the Choose Love initiative which supports refugees, and the designer showroom was hosting a Positive Fashion Exhibition. (Although, would it be churlish to point out that I failed to spot a single garment I could have squeezed over my capacious hips?) Outside, Extinction Rebellion were present, a salient reminder that further down the fashion food chain there is still need for seismic change. Yes, #fastfashion, I’m looking at you.
Lan Nugyen-Grealis: photographer James Basire. Makeup and skin prep from Mii cosmetics and Beauty Lab
DB Berdan Credits: Photographer, Maja Smiejkowska Mona Leanne SFX, Jewellery by EXO, Denim from ORTA