With London Fashion Week just around the corner, Lulu Kennedy’s talent incubator Fashion East has unveiled its latest line-up. The three talents showing this season include returning designers Standing Ground and Karoline Vitto, alongside newcomer Johanna Parv. Here, Sarah Mower sits down with Parv to discuss her clever designs, which are elegantly equipped to dress inner-city cyclists.
This interview first appeared in 10 Magazine Issue 65.
Talk about a designer whose ideas are fit for purpose in our post-Covid world. Long before fear of public transport caused such a surge in urban cycling that the demand for bicycles started outstripping supply, Johanna Parv was already studying how dismally design serves female cyclists in cities. “I like the aesthetics of bikes. And the power, freedom and happiness you get when you’re speeding through a city, the independence it gives women,” she says. “But all that sportswear in black and neon makes everyone look the same. And what do you do if you have a nice handbag you want to carry?”
For her MA graduation collection at Central Saint Martins, Parv, who is from Tallinn in Estonia, came up with some startlingly game-changing solutions to liberate women from the standard Lycra designed for male racers: elegance allied with activewear, and a genius hands-free system for harnessing classic handbags to the shoulders of women – “action bags”, as she calls them. “I thought, what if I can fuse haute couture drape with something that functions and performs – and has a sense of movement and protection in it?”
Like scientific breakthroughs, advances in fashion come when somebody intelligent poses questions that nobody thought worth asking before. So why not a wardrobe that could coolly, chicly get off a bike and walk into a meeting? Why not a supple, athletic, one-shouldered dress with built-in leggings, an asymmetric side-slit skirt with integral cycling shorts?
Parv applied social observation on the street, feminist psychology and her own experience as a cyclist. After spending months “watching working women passing through King’s Cross, London Fields, photographing how they wear their bags, people going by with capes on bikes in the rain”, she trialled looks on herself in cycling poses. “Feeling the muscular tension,” she laughs. Her action bag eureka moment came when she worked out how to retrofit backpack straps onto vintage top-handled leather bags. “And you know what, if it rains, you want to protect your favourite bag. So I also designed these covers for them, where it looks as if the dress and the bag become one, ergonomic, sculptural form.”
The Fashion East AW23 show takes place Friday, February 17 during London Fashion Week.