“Fashion is in a state of emergency” declared Phoebe English with her thought provoking Spring/Summer collection.
The invitation to the latest collection called on her friends to join her at “a presentation of attempts at sustainability solutions”. It was a polite understatement: for the past three seasons, English has steadfastly been rebuilding her entire eponymous label from the ground up, reassessing each and every process that it takes to get her collections from idea to shop floor.
Guests weren’t greeted with a complimentary bottle of water, nor a glass of something bubbly. Instead, they were given the opportunity to donate a tree to work towards growing the new largest native forest. This gesture alone sums up the Phoebe English brand quite effortlessly. English doesn’t just despise fast fashion, her brand is the total antithesis.
For SS20, English asks as fashion is in a time of emergency, “how does design evolve?” She maps out her solutions on cork boards that form the backdrop to the array of expertly crafted co-ed garments. “Certified or reclaimed only,” “no virgin polyester or nylon” read the biggest scraps of paper. The sheer dedication the designer puts into her upcycling efforts are brought to life – and they’re outstanding.
Diagrams direct pattern-cutters step-by-step to ensure no excess fabric is wasted. Any excess will be used the following season; trapping them within organza to master a delicate textile. Ocean plastic waste is upcycled to create a slick nylon which English morphs into jackets and shorts. Odd bits of fabric are gelled together and dyed a tender blue. This is done via a natural indigo overstain and makes unisex twinsets which ooze with desirability. Zoom in a little closer and you can see no zips are to be found.
Interestingly English uses buttons made from milk protein; on her corkboard aiming to save the world, they’re labelled “delicious dairy milk buttons.” They say change has to start at the top of the fashion industry in order to truly mould our world to follow the sustainable ethics that will help keep our earth alive and kicking. With the new slew of design talent in the capital marching for a sustainable revolution, Phoebe English is leading the way.
The Spring/Summer 2020 collection – now encompassing mens- and womenswear in a single show, one of her first decisions she took when restructuring the label was styled by Another Man fashion director Ellie Grace Cumming, and bearing English’s hallmark of relaxed, workwear-inflected silhouettes and muted palette – a renewed urgency.
It would be hard to name many designers have ever put a statement of their own wrongdoings into a show, English doesn’t paint herself as a perfect prophet but rather attempts at solutions to modern day fashion, society and sustainability.
This presentation was the spoils. “If you’re contributing to one of the most damaging industries on the entire planet,” she said prior to the show, “you can’t just continue the way you’ve been going.”