Xiao Li believes there is a “relentless pressure to churn out collection after collection despite the limited time and resources”, a sentiment echoed by many of her contemporaries, specifically those brands in their nascency, who struggle to rouse a combative spirit against the demands of the fashion industry. What can be done to challenge the increasing pace of fashion? There are a number of possibilities; Li endeavoured to source the options in her Spring 2018 show at London Fashion Week, ensconced in the glamorous but sparse Royal Horseguards buildings in Whitehall.
Li’s fabrication directly opposed the excruciating demand of the fashion calendar. Weaves used in the collection were developed by hand, in-house, to appreciate slow fashion, the antithesis to the H&Ms, Zaras and Bershkas of the world. This brings ethics and sustainability into the mix. The overall ethical background of the collection wasn’t supplied in the press release but the use of handcrafted fabrics, the in-studio development promotes this act of creation. It also incentivises the purchase of these clothes as the going rate for handcrafted design increases.
Diaphanous layers of mesh and organza add a dreamy quality to proceedings. Li’s intention was to feel more “invisible.” One connects with the metaphor—disappearing from the ballpark in which immediacy and trends are forced upon the customer—but it fails to translate to the clothing, as intended. The sheer fabrics creating a soft structure and movement were beautiful, however the declaration as proposed by the press release is unnecessary—the lightness of the clothing speak for themselves, signalling a shift to subtlety from showmanship.
The propagation of a timeless silhouette was a starting point for Li whose inspiration derived from the 1950s, when full skirts and cinched waists proliferated in fashion. It was about dressing to flatter the body, a personalised exclamation of ones femininity. Designers are in two minds about how to dress women nowadays, but pursuing flattering silhouettes makes for rich content for the customer. The finest one on show was the soigné scarlet shift with an emphasised sweetheart neckline and asymmetrical, tuxedo-inspired buttoning, and puffy sleeves. The fusion of a timeless silhouette with modern touches, the transmutative bond of ballgown and tuxedo equates to a newfound timelessness, one which brilliant contextualises the taste of yore in a contemporary setting.
Continuing with the notion of looking back, Li reflected upon her MA womenswear graduate collection from the Royal College of Art which she presented in 2013. An integral part of her debut was the use of volume and colour. She continues to prioritise these in her shows. In terms of volume, there were full skirts, the addition of oversized bows and puffy sleeves. It added a touch of playfulness, distilling the reserved nature of the prom dresses. Colour was fine-tuned, with the palette extending to pale blue, pink and a vibrant red. Simplicity of colour is a valuable asset when working with elaborate volumes.
When a designer references their graduate collection—as many have often do—one considers how far they have come from them. In four short years, the acquisitive nature of global retailers has seen her join the ranks at Dover Street Market in all four of their outposts, and in IT and Lane Crawford in Hong Kong. The fashion press have yet to catch up with the impressive list of stockists, but perhaps it is enough. An intimate presentation, where the clothes speak for themselves—maybe the invisibility Li spoke of could refer to her own status, as an off-schedule designer rejecting the intensity of the current fashion climate.