LONDON, United Kingdom — If there is one talent program that has truly marked London’s fashion landscape, it’s Fashion East, Lulu Kennedy’s revolving door that posits a trio of designers in a single show. Each season, one leaves to make room for a new hopeful talent, whilst two remain to develop their message for a second and third season. Spring 2019 saw ASAI and Charlotte Knowles return to the catwalk, with Yuhan Wang completing the season’s triumvirate.
Knowles opened, showing new developments in her body-con utility designs that subvert swimwear and lingerie techniques with dull pastel tones and revealing exercises in zipping and ruching. Undoubted disciples of Helmut Lang and fans of early Prada, Knowles and her design partner Alexandre Arsenault played witty pattern and print work off each other to devise a smart call-and-repeat of pretty florals and airbrush checks against bumster denim, padded ripcord camisoles, and pearly, flyaway fabrics. This skimpy look is a hard sell, but Knowles’ execution is admirable: these technically-proficient pieces could find their place on the stage and wardrobes of singers like Sza, Abra, or FKA Twigs.
Debuting on the Fashion East runway, the Chinese designer Yuhan Wang has dedicated her work since the Central St Martin’s MA to exploring the particular brand of femininity inherent to Asian women. Their softness and vulnerability were on display here, given the choice of flimsy nightgown satin and point d’esprit lace that she draped across the majority of the collection, yet Wang’s ladies (cast in all skin tones) appeared dressed in haste.
Their asymmetric tea dresses and shifts appeared urgently spliced and draped like stage curtains mid-reveal, with tricky twists and bubbles of fabric that held a certain Malibu-era Courtney Love appeal. Pieces like a seed-pearl overlay and spidery grass green knit displayed Wang’s breadth of technique, revealing a new talent whose work will sit well alongside Simone Rocha and Molly Goddard’s wares.
In his fourth and final Fashion East outing, A Sai Ta’s proved he’s ready and rearing to go solo, with a standout offer that elevated a handful of ideas that will stand as strong foundations for his young brand. ASAI’s earliest success came in the form of multicolour hosiery tops: millennial versions of Gaultier’s tattoo iterations that have underpinned each ASAI collection as a second skin.
They reappeared here festooned with tie-dye frills, yet took a backseat to brilliant military tailoring experiments that turned menswear details into fitted basques, a slinky varsity dress, and harem cargo trousers. Like Wang, ASAI’s Asian heritage is a key conceit yet reads more literal, as in ‘COME AGAIN’ printed in chop suey font across a sequin slip, or the way a panelled check shirt wrapped like a hanfu.
Once he’d thrown Ming-pattern sequins and flaming broderie anglaise in the mix too, this collection’s depth went a long way to prove his staying power beyond the limits of Fashion East’s protective cocoon.