“Mamma mia!”, laughs the Italian-born designer of Ghanaian heritage Franco Appiah, imitating his initial response to closing London Fashion Week with The London Seven. Comprised of members based in London, Lithuania, and Canada, the London Seven is a collective of seven graduating menswear designers from London College of Fashion. Founded in response to the alienating nature of the COVID-19 outbreak, the collective prioritises collaboration within an environment of isolation and ensures the public sharing of their unique design narratives. Their physical event at London Fashion Week combined film screenings, model performances and direct access to the garments through railings that encircled the space. The experimental showcase marks Appiah’s joyful entry into London’s vibrant fashion scene.
“During this collection specifically”, reflects the designer, “I was in my mind. I didn’t want anything else to distract me”. Appiah’s graduate collection is infused with potent childhood memories of growing up in Ghana. Surrounded by family, the designer and his cousins located joy within the closets of their mothers and grandmother by playing with the hanging garments. The touching lived experiences inform Appiah’s present articulation of self-expression and identity: “This is how I grew up, and this is what I think clothes should be”. Hence the title of his collection, Still a Man in My Mother’s Closet.
Extending the wardrobes of his family members into his creative process, Appiah produces collages of old photographs to develop silhouettes he recounts from childhood into a contemporary context. In the construction of his garments, the designer honours his heritage by using ghanaian handwoven fabrics and unique beading elements. Through familial guidance, Appiah strengthens his understandings of the cultural significance of certain materials to prevent causing offence. For example, he avoids a fabric that is traditionally restricted to funeral dress and ultimately references death. Appiah’s sensitive approach to design culminates in a thoughtful yet playful collection that proudly encapsulates his rich heritage and its intersection with the designer’s understandings of self.
Still a Man in My Mother’s Closet is an invigorating celebration of color and pattern that visualises an intermingling coexistence of ghanaian heritage and queer identities. Amongst a rainbow of tonalities, vivacious blues and greens dominate the palette. Horizontal stripes and repeated diamond motifs decorate form-fitting tops, wide-leg trousers, and flowing skirts. A highlight of the collection is a monumental woven hat that creates a technicolour halo around the model. Acting as a dramatic reflection of the ubiquity of woven hats in Ghana, the oversized accessory took two weeks to expertly construct by a Ghanaian craftsperson. However, Appiah recounts how the most difficult part of the process was, in fact, transporting it to London.
Although previously uncertain about using the collection as a platform to navigate his lived experiences, the designer’s tutor advised him to “go for it, because there is this story that is not being told and maybe you can really help other people”. By telling his story, Appiah aims to extend the narrative to the lived experiences of others. As a result, Still a Man in My Mother’s Closet becomes a shared emancipatory affirmation of self-expression and self-celebration. Going forward, Appiah wants to continue producing garments that are informed by his cultural background. He notes how The London Seven hopes to welcome more participants into their collective to build a diverse community of young designers who challenge accepted conventions and share new design narratives. Appiah is optimistic about the future: “I’m excited to see what we can come up with”. We are too.
Drawn in the immersive experience offered by the London seven’s closing of the fashion week, we couldn’t help ourselves but to think about it again, and again. And why not? Restraining ourselves to only meet one of those talented creatives was simply impossible. In a second instalment we had a conversation with German designer, Philipp Dorner.
His “Small-town boy” collection aim to reflect a providential evolution of the self in the techno capital that is Berlin. “it can reflect my own story but it also can’t, I didn’t wanted to make it about me but more about young individuals in Germany moving to the capital to explore themselves”.
Berlin is commonly said to be cheap and sexy, Dorner reemployed the codes of Berlin’s fashion but took them out of this popular affirmation and brought to London a sensuality toned down, secretive, only suggested with his signature use of latex in tailoring, far from the oversexualized imagery usually attached to such crafts. From the very first second we laid our eyes on Dorner’s work a question appeared on every lips, in what material are made those pieces? That’s how we knew it was great. To fully understand Dorner’s incredible technicality his garments need to be touched, observed meticulously. The magic is found in the details. When asked about his very innovative approach of tailoring, Dorner reply “The making of this collection happen during lockdown, without any access to professional infrastructures. I found myself with not more than a domestic sewing-machine and iron, this is not how I make a jacket”. This constate birthed the idea of using latex, hand-dyed, glued, everything could me made from the comfort of his apartment. As the sun always comes after the rain, the genius of his concept resides in overcoming difficulties.
The strange and mystical attraction pushing oneself to move to Berlin is a subject oftenly discuss, it has now been translated in fashion. The circle is complete.
The one who used to watch fashion design contest on German national television as a child has now come a long way. After an apprenticeship at Hugo Boss in the tailoring department, Dorner took over the sharpest fashion Houses such as Brioni, Vetements and Tom Browne. Since he’s sixteen years old, the German designer has explored and developed his technical skills, he now confesses that he’s willing to launch his own brand. “The last couple of weeks have gave me the opportunity to refine my ideas, I want to go after my own dream. I already worked for different brands in numerous fields of expertise which made me feel like creating what I want to show the world would be something that would satisfy myself more rather than pleasing an employer with designs that I don’t even like myself”. Qualified by a very complex simplicity, his style appeared to us as different from the usual artistic craziness emerging from student collections. The name London Seven itself can be interpreted as a way to mock the Antwerpian tradition of flamboyant and over the top designs. Here they come, in a simplicity and preciseness forcing admiration. We will keep an eye on them.
See the full show here.