Has Frieze Become an Unofficial Fashion Week?


It was a crisp and sparkling fall morning in London, and within the Black Chapel designed by the artist Theaster Gates for the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park, a show was underway.

Art world luminaries like Michael Craig-Martin, Eva Rothschild, Rana Begum and Hans Ulricht Obrist surveyed striking sculptural ensembles in shades of amethyst, coral, aquamarine and chartreuse. But the event wasn’t part of Frieze London, the glitzy and gargantuan contemporary art fair that took place last week. Instead, it was the latest runway show for Roksanda Ilincic at her spring 2023 runway show.

Ms. Ilincic’s show was originally planned for London Fashion Week, but it was postponed for Queen Elizabeth’s state funeral. That turned out to have a silver lining.

“Many of my clients come from the art world,” Ms. Ilincic said at her studio before the show, leafing through the ruffles of taffeta that later bloomed on the catwalk like rose petals. “Usually they are not in a position to come to my shows, but this week they are all in town. So it has been lovely to bring these worlds together.”

Ms. Ilincic was not the only designer taking advantage of Frieze and its wealthy, well-heeled throngs of gallerists and collectors. Off-White, Boss, Prada and Marc Jacobs all staged big parties during the week.

Hours after Ms. Ilincic’s show, Sarah Burton showed her latest women’s wear collection for Alexander McQueen along the banks of the River Thames at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. Not that she would see herself as following the crowd. The British luxury brand first showed stand-alone shows alongside Frieze — one for the industry, and one for clients — last year.

“I love showing in London,” Ms. Burton said. “Here you’ve got this incredible music school, which was a naval college full of so much history, and across the river you’ve got the modern city. That’s the great thing about London. Old and new survive hand in hand somehow.”

The show, which was held inside a cloudlike bubble through which one could spy the towering architectural emblems of the British male establishment past and present, dissected notions of female dressing. Or in the words of the designer, “How do you dress a woman to empower her in the times we live in?”

“Ultimately,” she said, “this is about a woman dressing for a woman and not a male gaze.”

There was razor-sharp tailoring in black, cobalt blue and scarlet red — colors that also emerged on viscose knit dresses made of fabric slices that peeled away to reveal slivers of flesh. Skin has been very much in this season, and it was here, too. There were tuxedo jackets that exposed the torso, paired with low-rise trousers that recalled the label’s “bumster” cut from the 1990s; corseted minidresses with cascading leather overlays; peekaboo denim jumpsuits; and a spangled leotard modeled by Naomi Campbell with cutouts around the thighs and shoulders.

The eye was a recurring symbol. So, too, were embroidered references to the Early Renaissance artist Hieronymus Bosch and his “Garden of Earthly Delights” — a nod, Ms. Burton said, to the feeling that “we are in another Dark Ages.”

Times are uncertain, no question, especially here in London with a plummeting pound and precarious new government. So Raf Simons, ever the anarchist at heart, held a vast and gritty techno rave at the giant Printworks complex in the Rotherhithe district. Forget the Champagne and velvet ropes of Mayfair galleries. Here, everyone was invited.

The industrial space heaved with thousands of people including suited executives, industry insiders, club kids and fashion students. They were all standing shoulder to shoulder when, suddenly, a long bar sloshing with beer and vodka turned into a runway with models stomping out of the shadows. Men and women wore cropped rompers in paper-thin linens or knits, sleeveless jackets with fishnet vests, graphic tees with handwritten slogans like “Kill Them All and Dance” — a collaboration with the estate of the late Belgian artist Philippe Vandenberg.

There was also plenty of immaculate minimalist tailoring, teamed with Crayola-colored leggings and shiny kitten heels or chunky black boots.

It was defiant and hedonistic, sweaty and grungy — and it made sense that Mr. Simons had postponed his show after the queen’s death. After taking his finale bow, Mr. Simons surprised the audience by jumping directly into the crowd.

Less surprising was his motivation for showing in London. Mr. Simons told the Evening Standard that he had initially decided to move his show to London after — you guessed it — attending Frieze last year.

Or, as some have started calling it, the Fifth Fashion Week.



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