One of my absolute highlights of London Fashion Week is the International Fashion Showcase hosted by the British Fashion Council (BFC). Within the grand halls of the world famous cultural hub, Somerset House, the exhibition shone a spotlight on 80 bright emerging talents from 26 countries. What happened to be the 6th edition of celebrating international fashion, this year’s subject revolved around the relationship between local/ global – a concept I am particularly fond of considering my own mishmash of cultural identity (Shout out to all you other Third Culture Kids out there!)
Of course, fashion can be considered like a sponge – forever soaking up influences from its immediate surroundings may it be the local people, the rhythm of nature and climate, regional history, societal shifts, cultural memory, handed down techniques or materials. Hence, the showcase presented a brilliant opportunity for designers, highlighting cultural similarities and differences in our increasingly complex and connected world. The work displayed at IFS 2017 were simultaneously local and global- a revelation of how emerging fashion talent convert local culture into a global language.
Local stories are elevated into an international conversation.
An over arching take away of the exhibition, chaired by Vogue Chief Critic Sarah Mower, would be how fashion is NOT ONLY moulded by its localities, but how fashion has and continues to shape our perceptions and the places they come from.
Walking into Somerset House, you are immediately welcomed by the Next in Line installation dedicated to emerging designers supported by the International Design exchange programme. The programme allows designers to present collections in front of a new audience and to engage in new markets, emphasising the commitment the BFC holds for the next generation. Drifting from room to room and weaving your way through different cultures, you are constantly reminded of how truly exceptional cultural diversity is and how although globalisation has led to development and exponential benefits, we must never turn our backs to cultural heritage and our roots as such differences allow us to build off one other – collectively achieving innovation.
Of course being Austrian, I was especially jazzed to see the exhibition presented by Another Austria with support by the Austrian Culture Forum and the Austrian Embassy. Austria, with its rich cultural history within the arts and of course fashion – Helmut Lang and Peter Pilotto… to name a couple – delivered on a brilliantly curated exhibition once again introducing some of Austria’s most promising upcoming talents.
Curated by Claudia Rosa Lukas, the exhibition featured assorted works by Raphael Caric, Lauren Cooke, Hvala Ilija, and Sabrina Stadlober. As well as adopting local stories shaping global perspectives, the Austrian showcase focused on functionality and artistic craftsmanship based on tradition and the country’s heritage. Explicit examples include “Wiener geflecht” (Viennese wickerwork), Loden cloth, the blue-printing method, or the processing of high grade precious gems.
“The idea is that the commercial and non-commercial are equally important and are born from the foundation of cultural exchange,” recalls Rosa Lukas.
Globalisation has led international metropolises to share a (rather bland) uniform look – you know: Stan Smith trainers, skinny jeans, bomber jackets and oversized hoodies, Micheal Kors bucket bags… But what makes Vienna or Austria in particular so special is that it still displays reliance on age old traditions may it be the dirndl or Loden Janker. These examples exist based off of a preserved local craft, but still influence global fashion. For example the Chanel little black jacket was built off the Janker.
The featured Austrian designers are redefining the definition of luxury through simplicity, robustness, and durability- with less a focus on glitz and glamor- but a luxury exhibiting real authenticity reflecting people with no filter needed.
Raphael Caric focuses on traditional Wiener geflecht – a technique developed by Thonet in 1859 with his No. 13 Chair. The Viennese wickerwork made of rattan was made famous through Bauhaus designer Marcel Breuers. The technique was implemented into chairs and grew to become an iconic Austrian design tradition especially within coffee culture. Caric adopted the traditional weaving and braiding processes to add the famous octagonal and honeycomb pattern to his own innovative garments. For Caric design follows function with his garments reflecting both the future and the heritage of the past.
Hvala Ilija focuses on rich indigo blue print which made its way over to Europe in the 17th century. Originally the method was applied to silk in thr far-east but on cheaper textiles such as linen and cotton in Europe. Ilija focuses on the “working class” aesthetic and works to represent street style and youth culture. Through his designs you can see a parallel to the work of Demna Gvasalia at Vetements and the “Post- Soviet” style which has swept through the fashion press the past seasons by storm. A poignant example of Ilija’s innovation is his red fur coat. The coat is a product built out of multiple fur coats Ilija purchased at local Viennese flee markets. Like patchwork, he created one coat out of many and dyed the coat a singular deep red.
One of the most important Austrian materials is Loden originally made in the Alpine regions for locals to conquer the harsh unforgiving weather conditions and the exposed landscapes. Now enters a new age of reinvention. Aiming to evolve loden to become even more functional is Sabrina Stadlober who emphasises wearability. Her pieces are Made in Austria using extra fine Australian Merino wool resulting in luxurious pieces, born from cross-cultural references. Her pieces made of flexible and protective surfaces are created using pleating and by smoking the fabric. She is inspired by the armour suits from the Styrian army from Graz and consequently creates fashion which is the best of history and the present as well as water-resistant, climate regulated and comfortable. Urban ready pieces reflecting finest craftsmanship and age old tradition of Austria.
I personally was incredibly impressed by all of the efforts made – from the meticulous curation, the cutting edge talent making waves, and all involved in bringing a meeting of “past and present/ local and global” to life. Not only did the exhibition celebrate different perspectives – it made visitors, including myself – proud of where they come from. Proud of our roots. Proud of how local tradition merge together on a global level and contribute in pushing forward the international zeitgeist.
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