Fashion Utopias at Somerset House: where meets style meets fantasy

Utopia (noun): ‘an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect’ (Oxford English Dictionary). But what happens when these utopian ideas are applied to the world of fashion?

Fashion Utopias at Somerset House is the result of this combination; a showcase celebrating emerging designers’ visions of their imagined worlds. Coinciding with London Fashion Week and the Thomas More Utopia exhibition, which celebrates the 500th year anniversary of its publication, this exhibition is where art, fashion and (pure) imagination collide.

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Divided into separate rooms which each represent a country, Fashion Utopias navigates you not only across continents, but through dreamlike worlds and fantasy places. From the Czech Republic, where clothes and accessories are suspended from trees, to Guatemala, in which giant 3D clouds evoke a dream-like aura, each room creates a different and diverse utopian vision. Portugal’s ‘BLOOM’ concept used eco-friendly cork to raise the question of sustainable fashion, in contrast to the Philippines’ dresses which were made out of leather and real bullets. The Egyptian designers, meanwhile, inspired by the Tree of Life and the Lotus flower, made use of hundreds of origami lotus flowers hung from the ceiling, taking paper-crafts up a level (or two).

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Leather and bullet dress

Admittedly, some of the pieces on display were the fashion world’s equivalent of a TATE Modern offering – aka – huh? That said, the majority of clothes, accessories, bags and especially the innovative installation and displaying of them, was pretty stunning. Technology and digital design was put to good use, the highlight being a giant moving, video-style magazine which changed display when you turned a page, thanks to high-tech code reading projectors.

The essence of Fashion Utopias was to project an imagined world of fashion, and it most definitely succeeded. The huge variety of colours, shapes, concepts and styles on offer throughout the 14 different rooms provided constant stimulation, and following the exhibition I was even more aware of the fact that fashion is essentially just another form of art. This art, however, just happens to be based on what we wear: are we all, then, living, walking masterpieces?

Made in China: Rethinking the Label

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With an increasing number of Asian designers taking to the catwalk at London Fashion Week, is it time we looked at the ‘Made in China’ label from a new perspective?

Seeing the familiar ‘made in China’ hallmark on something you own is not unusual. In fact, it is so commonplace that it is almost surprising if something is not made in China. However, the label hardly screams ‘artisan’, ‘unique’ or ‘fashion forward’: for a long time it has instead been eponymous with, let’s be honest, a sense of mass-produced and low quality tat. But, in 2016, should we be re-thinking this ‘Made in China’ phenomenon? Is it time to forget all that we know and relearn what actually is being made in China?

Primarily because of the lower labour costs, many fashion brands take their production to China – this is not unknown. However, what is less talked about is the fact that high-end brands are also getting on board with this; Prada, Armani and Coach are among the designers moving their production to Asia, where high-end manufacture competencies are growing. So, even more things are being made in China: the question is, whether many things actually designed in china? Shanghai, like any other capital city in any other country, is home to a large number of up and coming, innovative and quite frankly stunning designers. Arguably, though, their location is a disadvantage; the reputation of China as a source of one-off creative pieces is overshadowed by their role in the mass-production of flimsy Kinder-Egg toys.

 

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A piece from the Favotell pop- up, showcasing emerging Shanghai designers

But times are changing, and people are starting to recognise that just as your leather bag might bear a tag saying ‘Made in Italy’, clothes which proudly state they have been ‘Made in China’ could equally be a sign of a good quality, well-made and exquisitely designed item. With London Fashion Week underway, the emergence of Shanghai based and Asian inspired designs cannot be ignored. Designers such as Minki Cheng, Huishan Zhang, Ryan Lo and Tommy Zhong are proudly exhibiting the talent from China through designs inspired by the East, championed in the West. One such company that is aiming to re-educate the public on the growing number of emerging designers in China is Favotell, who aim to create a cultural bridge between Shanghai and London, exposing England to the huge talent from across the continent. London seems a sensible place to introduce these up and coming Shanghai designers to a wider audience; the huge number of art students and creatives in one place is bound to create some innovate mixes and merges. Favotell is exploring one cultural merge that has so far not been much explored – the link between Shanghai and London, and in December of last year launched a pop-up at Gallery Different near Oxford Street to showcase a selection from some of Favotell’s Shanghai designers. If other’s take Favotell’s lead, this could be the start of a ‘Made in China’ overhaul.

 

At this point, I think we should look at the ‘Made in China’ tag with fresh eyes: far from just being a means for cheap production, this could signal bespoke creation and innovative design. Watch this space.

 

NB: This blog was unashamedly made in England