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London Calling: Young Contemporaries


Whistles Limited Edition Spring 2013
Photo: Courtesy of Whistles

In her new Tuesday column about all things stylish and British, Sarah Mower discusses designers who are ushering in the new contemporary look of London.

“England and America are two countries divided by the same language”—that’s the wisdom of the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, and how very right he was, especially when it comes to fashion terminology. Until very recently, we were completely stumped when Americans talked about “contemporary,” just as you’ve been baffled as we Brits chatter amongst ourselves about “high street” (translation: our nationwide chains of fast-fashion like Topshop and Marks & Spencer). For eons, on these islands, we’ve only had designers or high street, and nothing in between. The contemporary penny only dropped this side of the ocean five years ago when American waves of thrilling mid-price fashion with labels on it like 3.1 Phillip Lim, Alexander Wang, and Theory began breaking in our stores. But here’s the latest: A brand-new movement of British contemporary labels is finally on its way—that is, people who aim fair and square at giving the world proper up-there, original, undiluted fashion at non-designer prices.

It was seeing Miroslava Duma, a member of the new crew of Russian It girls, wearing Ostwald Helgason’s bold tie-striped top and flippy skirt around the shows last season that got me putting two and two together.



Miroslava Duma in Ostwald Helgason
Photo: Ed Kavishe/

Ingvar Helgason and Susanne Ostwald are Icelandic and based in London, though they’ve been pitching their shows at New York Fashion Week the last couple of seasons. They’re really good at strong, fashion-sporty separates that don’t aim to sell at top prices—check out how fresh their sweatshirts and print dresses looked, as Vogue Fashion WriterEsther Adams noticed at the spring 2013 shows.

Ostwald Helgason Spring 2013
Photo: Sonny Vandevelde/Courtesy of Ostwald Helgason

That ambition syncs with J.W. Anderson’s, too—although he shows in London Fashion Week, he has his sights trained on being a brand at an affordable bandwidth for young women and even more so when he collaborates with Topshop; his second collection’s out any minute. Fingers on the button now for his argyle knits and black patent mac.

J.W. Anderson for Topshop
Photo: Courtesy of JW Anderson for Tophop

Driven to shop for a few wardrobe perks in preparation for the imminent shows, I’ve been running across lots more British contemporary finds. Jane Shepherdson, who left Topshop to take over as CEO of Whistles, has stepped up to the plate with her Limited Edition collection. What this one’s great at in particular is tomboy-chic pieces in leather—dungarees (oops, overalls to you), trousers, structured T-shirts, and skater skirts. Plus, there’s a bang-on-trend denim jacket I had to have. Whistles relaunched its website last week, and Shepherdson’s putting on a debut presentation during London Fashion Week. 

Leather pieces from Whistles’s new website. 
Photo: Courtesy of Whistles

My collections armory has been stocked with tops by Emma Cook and Markus Lupfer.They’re two Londoners who started over a decade ago and haven’t looked back since they stopped competing as runway designers and refocused on cheerful, individualistic product. There’s always a place for another sequin-motif Markus Lupfer sweater in my wardrobe. And I love Emma Cook’s Holiday City print T-shirt, which collages together a view of a 1940s Ferris wheel and a vista of flowers that remind me of all that was fab about the London summer Olympics.



From left: Emma Cook T-shirt and Markus Lupfer sweater
Photo: Courtesy of Emma Cook and Markus Lupfer


Then there’s Jane Lewis, whose label Goat has filled a niche in simple crepe dresses in punchy colors. Her taste—understated and useful—ranks her as a kind of Jean Muir for a new millennium. I’ve been living in her cream silk round-neck blouse with long, balloon-shaped sleeves lately. It does evening, with jewelry, and day, under a jacket, over and over.


Goat Spring 2013
Photo: Patrick Lindbom/Courtesy of Goat

London has new contemporary contenders in accessories, too. Sophie Hulme is reigning British Emerging Accessory Designer of the Year, a title she won on the strength of the numbers of fashion people who’ve been toting around her non-bank-breaking bags emblazoned with distinctive metal-plate hardware. American stores have swept in and stocked her growing range at double-quick speed.



Sophie Hulme bags
Photo: Courtesy of Sophie Hulme

I first came across Sophia Webster when she was digging in her heels about her right to use pink as a shoe-design student at the Royal College of Art in 2010—at the time, her favorite color clashed with lofty academic approval. Three years later, the girl’s talent for fizzy footwear stands vindicated. Thanks to Nicholas Kirkwood, who picked her out of college, Webster now has a collection with her name on it: shoes accessorized by less-than-designer price tags. That’s been a smart move for Kirkwood as her mentor and backer, because within two short seasons, Sophia’s heels are scaling the commercial foothills with a hop and a skip, ever upward.



Sophia Webster shoes
Photo: Courtesy of Sophia Webster


February 05, 2013 3:07p.m.
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