In the heart of Mayfair, JCA | London Fashion Academy, a pioneering fashion school and professional incubator founded in 2021 by Prof. Jimmy Choo OBE and Mr. Stephen Smith, has played a pivotal role in re-galvanising London’s fashion community in a post-pandemic landscape. Yesterday, the academy hosted its debut London Fashion Week show (delayed due to the passing of The Queen) and it felt rather triumphant. Taking place across three storeys of the JCA’s Grade I Georgian Period Building at 20 Hanover Square, a diverse group of models descended the spiral stairs, entering into a series of magnificent rooms where guests were seated. From the sugary fondant-like ceiling to the slick chequered floor, it was a saccharine affair. Alongside JCA’s designer in residence and sustainability ambassador Patrick McDowell, its five premier graduating MA students from the Fashion Entrepreneurship in Design and Brand Innovation course were the architects of this dynamic display, presenting cultivated capsule collections to a sea of editors, journalists, influencers and other fashion fans.
The MA course has students establish themselves as freelancers or micro-SME’s and encourages the development of a commercial enterprise from the outset. At a collection preview, JCA’s programme leader Mark Eley explained: “Apart from the creativity, the students have to have robust business platforms behind their brands, so there’s a real entrepeneurialship aspect to this course. It’s not an MBA by far, because we are designers, but we give our cohort an understanding of the scope of what that is.
“This then supplements the collections in terms of the narrative and positioning,” he continues. “It’s not rocket science – what we are trying to produce – but we are really trying to create innovative brands with a disparate ideology built around ethics, inclusion and culture – I expect the students to be looking globally.”
Unfortunately, Sophie Park (plant-based, gender-neutral footwear) wasn’t present for the preview, but we were able to speak to Mark Eley (on behalf of Patrick McDowell), Melissa-Kate, Annabelle Barton (of Size-A), and Noon Khouri (of Angels Wear Nada) to dig into their collections.
Dedicated to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Marie Antoinette Goes to Liverpool is the name of Patrick McDowell’s SS23 collection. By merging the uncanny regality of the late monarch with his own cultural upbringing, he navigates his journey from a queer working class scouser to having his cake and eating it. Showing first, the CSM alumna sent gargantuan pastel puffer coats and corseted evening wear down the catwalk.
“So this collection is a reference to his previous firefighter one, which was all about the strong women in Patrick’s life. It served as a natural segway into this Marie Antoinette inspired edit, and explains why he was so fascinated with her when he went to Versailles. So, the silhouettes of the clothing references Marie Antoinette mixed with Liverpoolidian style. The prints are actual photos from his life as well; it’s very auto-biographical.
“The trainers were done with Swarovski and The Restory. At the end of Patrick’s graduate collection, Swarovski gifted him an enormous amount of crystals that he’s now using, some were a bit damaged but it was a big gift and throughout this collection they are used in really interesting and different ways. And The Restory is an organisation set up in Battersea where you can take really old, beloved, beaten-up, shoes or bags and they will restore them for you to a really high standard.
“The fabrics are worth mentioning too, as they’re Tencel Luxe which is a premium fabric made from sustainable wood pulps with prints by Essetex – a sustainable printing company,” says Mark Eley, the JCA programme leader on behalf of Patrick McDowell.
McDowell is a leading voice in sustainability with experience speaking across global platforms. Most notably, he addressed the United Nations Headquarters in New York City this past summer, as well as the BFC Institute of Positive Fashion’s annual meeting. He also worked under Christopher Bailey at Burberry before debuting his eponymous label in 2018 and was nominated by Anna Wintour for the Stella McCartney Today For Tomorrow Award. In 2020 Patrick became a Graduate Fashion Week Global Ambassador, received a British Fashion Award nomination and soon after was appointed sustainability design director of Pinko.
Melissa-Kate is a namesake, demi-couture label that remixes Old Hollywood glamour, the electric spirit of rock’n’roll and the ritualism of paganism. The resulting look when Melissa-Kate was invited to show at the Northern Fashion Week was a portrait of a modern pin-up girl, but for her SS23 graduate collection it was a lot more sordid, sanguine and necromantic. Every look is a one-off too, displaying Melissa-Kate’s experimentation with gothic draping and corsetry. She says: “I’m a pagan so I read tarot and do magic. I’ve even blessed my logo with self-love and confidence; ideally transferring these attitudes to the wearer. This collection is called, For the Love of Venus, and it’s a Venusia’s perspective on what a fashion trend would be. What that is, is political, as they’ll see earth as a dying place that’s completely destructive. A lot of my stuff is symbolic as well – for example the colours and death depictions – and deciding how to symbolise this destruction was based on what I observed day-to-day. Weirdly, I saw a lot of dead pigeons, so I took that as a sign and ran with it. So, there’s a lot of greys, blacks and raspberry hues; you won’t want to see the pictures of the deceased pigeons that I took, but that’s where the palette, skulls and feathers come from.
“My practice is based a lot on myself and my beliefs in the universe. When I design I think about fate a lot and I believe things happen for a reason. I’m attracted to the dark, romantic side of things too; the weird and unusual. It’s never been about making money for me, this is literally just my form of artwork and the way I want to express myself and grow. The goal is to keep doing collections twice a year and to focus on having my own in-house atelier where everything is made solely by me and a collection of people I trust.”
SIZA-A BY ANNABELLE BARTON
Birmingham-born designer Annabelle Barton is the heroine of an anti-fit fashion label for petite women called Size-A. As a petite woman herself, Barton has repeatedly struggled with buying clothes right off the rack without having to have them altered. So, she procured adjustable hemlines rewrought by strategically placing drawstrings. For example, waistlines can be loosened out and cinched back in and worn high or low waisted, while sleeves and pant legs can be tightened up the limb or let all the way out effecting not just the size but the styling as well. Barton says: “The initial inspiration for this collection stemmed from my Irish heritage. There are six looks and each has a specific embroidered symbol of influence; for example, the serpent from the biblical telling of Adam and Eve, the Claddagh Ring, the Dara Knot and St. Christopher Pendant. I also reworked some shoes with Gola and another student from Kingston called Hannah. and we found my old pairs of shoes and created three pairs of heels and three different pairs of trainers together. We are also in the process of creating other things for the show, like handbags and accessories etc.
“I’d say that with this initial collection, my aim is to start having more conversations about petite women in luxury, and I’d also like to do more collaborations, since the one I did with Gola was really enjoyable. Long term, my goal is to stock the brand in different territories across the world, especially across Asian markets.”
ANGELS WEAR NADA BY NOON KHOURI
By Noon Khouri, Angels Wear Nada is a democratic, empowering and inclusive up-cycled denim brand and collaborative art project that takes a random assortment of denim from Khouri’s mates and makes it into something cutting edge and cosmopolitan-cool. The designs were spliced, restitched and constructed to create barely-there dresses, skirts, jeans and co-ords at the show last night. Plus, everything Khouri creates is a collectible one off and she has plans to release commercial pieces in drops rather than mass production renditions. Khouri explains: “Angels Wear Nada is an upcycled denim brand that came about through my own struggle finding a pair of jeans that fit right. Now I’ve lost about 30-40 kilos, but two years ago it was mission impossible to find the right jeans – let alone sustainable ones. In my research, I found out that pretty much everyone – regardless of size – struggles with jeans, and I wanted to fix this and do so sustainably.
“I grew up in Abu Dhabi where charity shopping and thrifting wasn’t a thing, so when I came to the UK for uni I had my first taste of ‘second-hand’ and was immediately intrigued. Everything I owned became obsessively second-hand. In my work too, I made everything from scrap denim donated by friends like a crafty, collaborative art project!
“But this isn’t just an upcycled denim brand; another part of the project is my own pop-up events fusing art, music and fashion in one safe space. Ideally, every event will represent the area that I pop-up in. This is a nomadic brand, and I collect denim from whatever I’m in, and produce the collection there too, before moving onto the next space. Right now I’m in London, but I’ll move on to the next space eventually and do it all again, collaborating with local artists along the way.”
Photography courtesy of JCA | London Fashion Academy.