Phoebe English presentations often have models put to work in charming tableaux, a format now somewhat emblematic of her offerings. This season however, the models were at ease. Standing in pairs or threes, in beanies and waxed cotton waterproofs, with the awkward hunched shoulders of boys in their late teens, the models talked shyly to each other, laughing infrequently, smiling winsomely. Comfortable in a scene of chaos, they made up a scene that was so familiar-feeling I might have been at home. Indeed, the backdrop reminded me of the bedroom I had left that morning; garments in earthy hues were slung willy-nilly on a wall, strewn on the floor and piled in mounds.
English herself normally hides in the shadows at her shows, but this time someone had spotted her and brought her into the light. She fielded a waiting line of people with ease, greeting each person as though welcoming them to her home. After over six years working on her eponymous label, it may be inevitable that English now appears accustomed to this world. Chatting openly, I commented on how I often find myself recalling her eloquence on SHOWstudio's 2017 Brexit Panel Discussion, in which she expressed her distinct worries about the impact Britain’s exit from the European Union would have on her business. English’s delicate features crumpled into worry and she gestured at the jumble of clothes at her backdrop, 'It’s all just such a mess!'
English insisted she wasn’t trying to make political comment with this collection, unlike her womenswear S/S 17 collection, one that resoundingly reflected the times, showing seven characters in allegorical attire representing each of the days leading up to and following the Referendum. As we spoke, our eyes both focused on a particularly striking look. A boy stood against the mess of clothing in a strong, ketchup-red knitted look. Such a bold colour amongst English’s muted palette appeared as though a beacon of positivity. 'I think we have to remain positive!' English exclaimed. I might have continued to press whether the colour connoted a taste for Corybn rather than ketchup, but I felt a little sorry I had brought the nasty world of politics into the cozy scene English had created for us.
We agreed that the Sunday morning 9:30-11:30 slot called for more heartening topics and English moved on to discuss in detail the tactility of the knitwear, a collaboration with designer Helen Lawrence. Hats, scarves and jumpers in navy, tomato and grey appeared in chunky knits with waffle and plain rib stitch. Highly weather-appropriate against the bitter winds of the January morning, these pieces were immediately covetable. Equally as desirable were the bags on show, held somewhat self-consciously by the models, away from their bodies. Elegantly shaped in the same fabrics as the bomber and box jackets, the bags were appealing to man and woman alike, paired with smart wide-legged trousers and relaxed joggers with drawstring details. The neat combinations of accessories and boxy shapes, styled by Ellie Grace Cumming, stood strong against the mess of a backdrop.
The overall effect of the collection was comforting, if a little quiet. The rust colours were particularly wearable and I could easily imagine a loving mother hand-selecting a jacket and trouser set for her favourite son. Where London Fashion Week Men’s has been loud and bold thus far, English’s designs could get lost amongst the noise. Her clothes are quietly well done, the tailoring the mark of someone who has sat with a fabric and created a garment with care and consideration - perhaps listening to Radio 4 rather than rave music. English, like her clothes, has a voice; calm and quiet but ready to be heard.