For S/S 2012, Phoebe English’s MA collection was a range of subtle body-con dresses in a neutral palette of white, cream and black. There was a lot of comment on the level of talent and craftsmanship that Phoebe obviously held – guess work went into how many hours she had spent hand-smocking the lengths of calico fabric used for her designs.
Amelia’s Magazine contributor Georgia Takacs wasn’t impressed with the collection – she acknowledged the high level of skill involved, but thought that the designs were too boxy, and unflattering. However, I really liked the show, and it was one of the first tickets I applied for this year. Phoebe English’s take on modern dressing, the unfinished hems done just right, so as not to get that high street distressed finish, and the fact that this was an MA show, I personally felt, was something to get quite excited about.
I arrived at the Freemasons Hall a little early, feeling a little confused about what I actually thought of the PPQ show that had been on 20 minutes before, and took my place in the eager queue that was forming. A trio of candy-colour dressed Norwegians came to stand behind me, and I noticed that designer Fam Irvoll was one of the group. She had shown her new collection as part of Vauxhall Fashion Scout earlier that day, and was being interviewed by Dr Lida Hujic from The First To Know. She very modestly played down how the show had gone, telling Lida that she thought it had gone OK.
The hall became full very quickly, with not too much flocking around Kate Nash and stylist Rebekah Roy who were on the front row. The music, a perfect choice – was a haunting track called Sleep Paralysis from musician Gabriel Bruce, apparently a childhood friend of Phoebe’s.
Phoebe English A/W 2012 by Victoria Haynes
The first three looks of Phoebe English’s collection pleased me a lot. Sticking to the concept of body con dress shapes that she had championed in S/S 2012, black viscose was matched against black and grey latex as trimmings for skirts and sleeves. The best of these was a one sleeved short dress, that was constructed from a latex skirt, heavy viscose top, and a quarter of the long sleeve made from the black latex. It was modern and cool.
The next two looks showed a sportswear influence, with two short dresses with prominent thick elasticated waistbands, that had been separated along the stomach, producing a cut out effect. The waistbands were dropped, but not too slouchy looking – these were still dresses for dressing up in. Phoebe English had cleverly shielded flesh with a layer of fabric behind this. The first of the dresses also had a latex underskirt, and cut outs on the arm, and I really admired Phoebe for not choosing to show any extra skin – it gave the looks a refined finished.
Phoebe English by Jo Ley
This went hand in hand with the make up and hair that had been used for the models – the hair was scraped back into buns or loose ponytails, with no polished finish. Their faces appeared make up free, with a sheen of dew on their cheeks, and simple lightly pink stained lips.
Phoebe English by Claire Kearns
The next two looks were my firm favourites. These were longer styles, that just skimmed the knee, and that were simply stunning. The first, was a column body con dress, made from a black felted top with cut off sleeves, and a body which was made from translucent latex. Underneath, the model wore a pair of high waisted black pants, which again added a refined feel, as did the cropped felt top, that just skimmed the models chest, but showed no skin. The latex was darted twice down the front, and it fitted perfectly to the model’s form, but stretched and allowed movement.
The second of these looks was a two piece. Made from a cropped top with latex arms and a felt and latex body, and worn with a high waisted felt and latex skirt. I loved the contrast of the heavy felt body pieces to the see-through latex, which pared sexy with refined, and again, not having the need to show off flesh, because the design was already doing enough to make it desirable. Conversely, they were also very lady like – because of the midi length, and with the high waisted cut of the paints and skirt.
I read recently that Phoebe English relocated her work studios to a warehouse in Hackney – and the influence of East London, and it’s residents penchant for black, sheer and sexy definitely came through in these opening looks. They also exemplified what I really like about Phoebe’s work – her ability to combine materials, that are unsuspecting and non-precious, cutting and crafting them together into something that works and looks luxurious. These were also a step away from the boxier shapes that she had shown for S/S 2012. The influence of Phoebe English’s time spent as Gareth Pugh’s intern was also clear.
The middle set of looks presented a new material – loosely woven rubber strips that adorned heads, and poked out from sleeves and hems of dresses. Making up 5 looks, this was a furthering of the unfinished element of Phoebe’s work that she is known for. It was also quite playful – the strips were woven into lattice work across the bodies of the outfits, but often hung long and loose, which meant a lot of movement as the models walked across the cat walk. I liked the lattice work skirt, the rubber layered on top of the translucent latex, and paired with a industrial knitted rolled hem top. The last look, a latex shift dress was completely covered with the rubber strips, but with longer ends on the lower half of the dress, which gave the dress an ‘unwoven’ finish.
Phoebe English A/W 2012 by Cristian Grossi
As an unexpected but welcome finish to the show, the last 3 looks were an explosion of bubblegum and hot pink. Instantly this added a girlish, feminine feel to the collection, and a great move for Phoebe English, away from her usual subtle palette. There was a heavy knitted jumper, and in the first look, the thick waistbands were back, on both a cropped top and super short skirt.
It was the last of these berry shade looks that was the winner for me, an asymmetric knit jumper, pink felt skirt, pink latex waistband and a experimental play on her usual smocking. Half of the felt skirt was layered with a bubblegum hued plastic, but it was longer in length, and loosely bound together. It added beautiful movement.
Phoebe English by Emily Reader
This collection showed exciting growth in Phoebe’s work – it was a mature but fun collection which showed off her talents for the paring of shapes and textures, and understanding of materials and the ways that they can be utilised to their best effect. The feminine inclusion at the end also showed how Phoebe English will undoubtedly continue to experiment, grow in confidence to produce work that is refined, yet modern and thoroughly deserving of the recognition she has received in her short-career so far.
All photography by Amelia Gregory
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