There’s so much to see at London Fashion Week; anyone who’s spent hours organising and reshuffling schedules to squeeze in every last show can vouch for the hectic and often overwhelming nature of those few days – eventually things begin to blend into one amalgamation of clothes. But, when you come across something that’s got attitude, that makes you feel excited about the industry and new talent, then the Uber bills and caffeine-dependency all feel worth it. Enter Underage – Ying Shen’s recently launched label that’s just a year old.
Based in London after graduating from Central Saint Martins, the designer’s quietly but assuredly carving an aesthetic that’s fearless and assertive – thanks in part to her background as a graphic designer. This understanding of visual communication forms“a base for everything” she tells me, and it only takes a quick look at the heavily punk-influenced prints and typography in her latest collection ‘Riots of Our Own’ to see that. “I guess my heart is always into fashion… I think it was the idea of craft and texture that I found so interesting – and above all, the self-expression of fashion is far more instant” Shen shares of her decision to redirect her work away from graphic design. Working outside of the fashion industry’s given her a valuable perspective on drive and creativity, too “it taught me to not lose focus on whatever I want to achieve and keep enthusiastic about all aspects of my craft. It is what I really want to do, and I remind myself of that.”
Presented at the ICA Theatre, Underage‘s latest collection has a markedly bold approach; it’s awash with pillar-box reds, black tones and metallic contrasts, all topped off with scrawled prints alluding to Sex Pistols-style graphics. Amongst the androgynous and chunky silhouettes there’s plenty of hefty leather boots, artfully-squiggled eyeliner and teased hair that wouldn’t look out of place on a vintage Siouxsie and the Banshees poster. It’s a tasteful and contemporary take on the anarchist music scene of the 1970’s, and one that’s got a place now more than ever. “Obviously there are parallels with what is going onto today” Shen says of its relevance in the current social climate; “It ended being a blend of very current thoughts and themes with the aesthetic of historic research.” It’s a suitably empowering selection of clothes for a generation of women who’ve never before had so much opportunity to voice their opinions. Each season, Shen says, she’ll examine a different aspect of this versatile woman; “She’s a strong and fearless figure… the season before this was very pastel, but done in a very emo way. This season is obviously far more confrontational and aggressive.”
It can’t be ignored how impressive it is that this is only Underage’s second season – how does a small brand hold its own in the industry? Shen shares a single piece of advice that’s kept her going – “to be honest, it would be to always stay true to yourself. If you do that, the rest is easy.”
Words: Amy Miles | Writer | @amymiles_