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THE TALENT

Photography by Leif Sebastian

Styling by Eve Bailey

 

Kendal Denzel

Our clothes speak before we do, and each item has its own story to tell. Though even before our wardrobes acquire their personal histories, they are born from the experiences and life stories of those who create them. Five London-based designers, each claiming space within the city’s enduring creative cauldron, choose fashion with which to write new stories. Across these pages, we preview their Autumn/Winter 2023 collections.


The designers look to stories in books, poetry and myth to mine new narratives, taking journeys that are both deeply personal and draw on collective tradition. Telling stories of mothers and grandmothers, immigrants and locals, Greek goddesses and figures from Neolithic Britain, all these creators conjure their own unique landscapes through cuts and drapes, prints and fabrications, harnessing fashion’s seamless capacity to communicate multiple perspectives through a singular vision.

Makda Kendal
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All of Kendall and Makda’s clothes are by FEBEN. All jewellery is by SWEETLIMEJUICE.

Folarian Lee
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All of Lee and Florian’s clothes are by Labrum London and shoes by Vagabond. Lee’s ring is by SWEETLIMEJUICE.

Vulnerability can be a potent tool for understanding others and clothing can be its powerful vehicle. Foday Dumbuya, the creative director of Labrum London, spent his childhood searching for greener pastures, the name of his Autumn/Winter 2023 collection. He moved to the UK at the age of 12 with the women in his family, while his father remained in his birthplace of Sierra Leone. Today, he wants to reveal the harsh realities of family separation by telling the unheard stories of immigrants like himself who have existed between continents: “My work is about capturing what actually goes on in people’s lives, not just what the storybooks tell us.”

Dumbuya has often visited the iconography of migration since launching Labrum London in 2014. Its drawstring-topped quilted hats, for example, have detachable wind-breaks for adapting to changes in climate when travelling across the Atlantic Ocean. His current collection celebrates both sides of his story, as British tailoring is blended with West African flair. It sings with vibrant injections of lime green, pink and ochre, alongside geometric prints and quilting that borrow from what he calls the “electric energy” of his homeland.

Dumbuya chose Brixton Village as the place to stage his London Fashion Week show. “For our parents, it was a place to buy food and connect with people who speak your language,” he says, “it was a place for communication and telling stories.” He worked with local shop owners to keep certain shops open during the show selling food and hot drinks, powerfully illuminating a community changed – but not diminished – by gentrification.Dimitra Petsa, the Greek founder of Di Petsa, works with themes of female suffering found in her country’s mythology. Her wet-look trompe-l’oeil dresses cascade and cling to the body, creating the illusion of a mythical being emerging from the waves. “The collection was all about metamorphosis: you are both mother and daughter; you can bring life into this world but you can also bring death,” says Petsa. “There is so much change that happens in a woman’s life that lacks narrative. We need to re-narrate our experiences.”

For her first in-person show, Petsa herself took to the stage, placing the storyteller front and centre of her collection. The former performance artist turned designer embodied the goddess Persephone in a moving display during which she drank from vessels and mounted a rock structure in the centre of the runway, using song and poetry to enrich her visual offering of floor-grazing ball gowns, frothy drapes and sensuous cut-outs.

For her self-titled label, FEBEN also summons inspiration from esoteric sources, drawing on the visual grammar of tarot cards for her unique smocked textures and novel silhouettes. She is directed in particular by the Chariot card, a symbol for overcoming conflict and moving forward, in a reflection of the designer’s far-from-linear journey which included periods living in refugee camps. Ethiopian but born in North Korea, FEBEN and her family moved to Sweden in her early childhood before leaving for London in search of opportunity. After 13 years of working in retail, including almost 10 years at Issey Miyake, she pursued fashion design at Central Saint Martins.

FEBEN’s introduction to the power of fashion came from her mother: “she used the way she dressed as a tool to navigate society in Sweden, where she didn’t speak the language but expressed herself through clothes.” Her mother’s drive for self-expression is beautifully recounted in every stitch of her designs, which she creates for “someone who has something to say; someone with integrity,” she explains. “My work needs to tell stories – otherwise, what’s the point?”

Daniel Gayle has been telling the stories of other fashion designers for over 15 years, working in the studios of Jonathan Saunders, Victoria Beckham, and Kenzo. Since going solo in 2021, he has uncovered a newfound purity of vision. “I’m able to tell my own story without compromise,” he says, “so I’m now working in a more truthful and honest space.”

Each of the collections at DenzilPatrick, which takes its name from Gayle’s grandfathers who emigrated to south London from Jamaica and Ireland respectively, starts with a storybook title. For his Autumn / Winter 2023 collection, Gayle took inspiration from the matriarchs who raised him, honouring the visual tropes of femininity and domesticity – in lace, gingham, tassel and diamante embellishments – alongside signature menswear tailoring. “As a queer person, it is important for me to demonstrate a balance between masculine and feminine,” he says, “I couldn’t exist without the strong women who gave me freedom.”

A master of storytelling, menswear designer John Alexander Skelton’s oeuvre is deeply rooted in narratives of the past. Each season, Skelton surprises with his off-schedule, modern interpretations of historical dress, employing traditional craft techniques that he meticulously researches and refines. A fashion outsider, Skelton is uninterested in the cyclical and fleeting nature of the system and instead sees cloth as a canvas for uncovering the tales of bygone days, particularly those that are “overlooked or obscure”. His most recent collection looked back to Neolithic Britain. “There are few to no references of clothing for that era,” he says, “so I took inspiration from symbols, rock art and carvings,” which he translated into colours, textures, shapes and prints.

Presented in a dilapidated townhouse in London’s East End, Skelton’s work took on new form in exhibition and video format. Filmed on the Orkney Islands and modelled by an older male cast (a typical casting choice for the designer), the setting and characters added a sense of historical depth to this new clothing. “I want my casting to bring characters to my narrative,” he says, “I want it to feel like they are wearing the clothes, rather than that the clothes are wearing them.” Fashion’s transcendent power is often channelled down the runway, its meaning captured in a press release but otherwise set aside. Each of these designers creates collections that exist beyond the body: reaching both outwards into a complex interconnected world and inwards to the deeper recesses of memory and desire. Augustine Hammond

Folarian Single
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Dipetsa
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Makda wears a dress by Di Petsa, shoes by Manolo Blahnik and jewellery by SWEETLIMEJUICE.

Hair: Tommy Taylor at Stella Creative Artists using Boucleme / Make-up: Jinny Kim using CHANEL Les Beiges Summer To-Go 2023 and CHANEL Hydra Beauty Micro Crème Yeux / Casting: Tytiah at Unit C / Photography assistant: Oscar Lindqvist / Styling assistant: Emily Whitehurst / Hair assistant: Alyona Kundryk / Models: Kendall Miller at Kult London, Makda Yemane at The Hive Management, Folarin David Feyisayo at Next Models and Lee Lam at Established Models