• Brooke Roberts-Islam

Phoebe English's chapel of tyranny, unity and hope at LFW

There’s nothing like forced contemplation to wipe away the London Fashion Week gloss and dole out a little reality. After the Phoebe English presentation I received a message that my brother-in-law was in hospital (thankfully he’s fine) and as I write this I am sitting in my local pub charging my battery-sapped phone hoping my husband comes home soon (I stupidly left my keys at home this morning). Reality bites. Fashion week is a bubble largely devoid of reality. But what happens when we let a little of the real stuff in? What happens when fashion absorbs the zeitgeist and spits it back out, rearranged and transformed into the tangible and consumable?

Phoebe English opened one such sobering conversation at her AW17 presentation in the Fitzrovia Chapel – once a place of prayer and quiet contemplation for National Health Service staff and patients of the Middlesex Hospital, which delivered free healthcare to all, regardless of race, religion, nationality or wealth – making this is a fitting venue for Phoebe English’s collection, which was an exploration of tyranny, apathy, fear, voice, courage, unity, repair and ultimately hope – a commentary on our current political climate.

Phoebe English AW17 Images: Techstyler

The collection was presented as a number of installations with each model/group of models embodying one of the emboldened words listed above and acting as symbols of strength and resilience, surrounded by flora in collaboration with Maison de Fleurs.

Phoebe English AW17 Images: Techstyler

English used textiles to capture her sentiments – an example being trapped glitter between layers of tulle used to create jackets and bags. She collaborated with heritage knitwear specialists John Smedley for the third season running and took to the knits by twisting and knotting them, lending them a tortuosity in keeping with the tensions of her theme.

Phoebe English AW17 Images: Techstyler

A large crowd gathered throughout the presentation, with Phoebe English amongst them discussing the collection. The show notes state that the conversation between tyranny and unity throughout the collection “aims to explore both the fragility and the strength of our times”. Here are the closing words: Tyranny oppresses Fear Divides Apathy rest Voice calls Courage braves Unity binds Repair cures Hope reigns Me. You. Them. US.

Phoebe English AW17 Images: Techstyler

My closing thoughts rest on the rising global voices in fashion that originate from vastly different cultures and belief systems, and that speak on behalf of under-represented groups. I want to sit at shows and presentations alongside men and women representing all colours, faiths and styles. Where are my hijab wearing sisters? We know modest style is big business (see Dolce Gabanna’s recent hijab and abaya collection, which missed the mark in many ways but is recognition that the industry knows that women who wear hijabs also wear mainstream high-end fashion) but broadly speaking, this isn’t reflected in the fashion week crowd. We need diversity, love and unity within the industry as much as we need it around the world. IMG has just signed Halima Aden, a Muslim model who wears a hijab and this season threw some Kanye-tinged light on the subject of diversity as she was cast in his Yeezy season 5 show.

Halima Aden: Top and bottom images by Mario Sorrenti for CR Fashion Book. Middle image: Yeezy

Diversity, unity, love – as long as we’re all represented and have a voice there’s no basis for fear. Thank you Phoebe. Let’s keep the conversation going.

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