Edinburgh Charity Fashion Show: Emerging talent takes to the runway

Highlights from the young designers at the UK’s largest student-run fashion show

It has been featured in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, and in its 11 year history has raised over a quarter of a million pounds, for charities including Poppy Scotland and Marie Curie Cancer Care. Clearly the Edinburgh Charity Fashion Show is no ordinary student show.

It is in fact the largest in the UK, and the most successful in Europe. This year the show, which runs till 31 March, is supporting the Children’s Hospice Association of Scotland (CHAS).

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The inspiration for this year’s theme of Rock ‘n’ Royalty was given as Marie Antoinette, and the spirit of those who refuse to compromise their aesthetic in the face of adversity. Given that the former operated under this philosophy in the face of other people’s adversity, this may have been a somewhat misguided ethos, but no matter, as the theme wasn’t much in evidence as it turns out.

What was clearly displayed was a reassuring wealth of talent from emerging designers, both home grown and from across Europe. Among standard George Street fare from retailers including Reiss and Charles Tyrwhitt, and a somewhat inexplicable (but extremely popular) segment of topless male models in jeans, shone a few gems that can confidently be added to the list of ones to watch.

Opening the show was Nottingham Trent graduate Anneliese Hatt, whose structured, restrictive pieces were redolent of Gareth Pugh, with S&M undertones and a medieval feel. The first look was a somewhat sinister zip-up cage of cut out leather that imprisoned the model, with the feeling of being bound further emphasised by the Silence of the Lambs-style butterfly held in her mouth, but was followed by more wearable leather pieces with the same punched out patterns, including a bolero, a swingy coat and a shrug.

Milan-based Jessica Choay’s lingerie-inspired pieces were elegant, well cut and wearable. Fluid black sheaths in satin and jersey, overlaid with sheer chiffon, like layers of smoke, and with plunging V-necklines, were of the Calvin Klein school of minimalism, with the standout piece a short, black washed silk shift which perfectly demonstrated that with designs this simple, the beauty, and the success of the piece, is all in the cut.

Northumberland-born Liam Freeman, who graduated from the University of Westminster last year, showed a standout collection named Woman of Mass Destruction, inspired by Margaret Thatcher and her role in the demise of the mining industry. Freeman’s royal blue leather oversized trench and boiler suit in particular perfectly elicit that ultimate 1980s power dresser (to the point of actual shudders), and used exquisite pin tucking and pattern cutting that elevated the structure to the point where the pieces looked inflatable, and yet were surprisingly wearable. I for one will be very happy the day I spot an Amazonian Grace Jones figure in one of Freeman’s Yves Klein-blue leather jumpsuits.

Pieces from Helena Gavshon, a London-based textile company working with both new designs and a vintage archive, were among the show’s highlights and, whether intentionally or not, given their provenance, those which most fitted with the current season’s mood. Printed teal and ochre silk dirndls edged in pink were strongly suggestive of Jonathan Saunders’ SS12 collection, while Oriental print kimonos (shown with body con underwear but ideally worn as daywear with jeans and heels) evoked this season’s pyjama dressing as done by Saunders, JW Anderson and Stella McCartney – all were fresh, pretty and eminently wearable.

Coryn Dickson, who graduates this year, showed an elegant, directional and beautifully executed menswear collection that was both the technical and aesthetic standout of the show. Opening with a zip front black matte silk jacket with a plunging V-neck, and going on to show 1990s Comme des Garcons-esque peach abstract print shirts under charcoal felt cocoon coats, and panelled suede shorts, as well as a cleverly structured white top that sat round the body like a cloud, it was clear that Dickson’s period as a design intern at Alexander McQueen has paid off handsomely.

The Rodnik Band collection, designed by Perth-born London-based artist Philip Colbert, featured prints of foxes, horse shoes and bananas that were equal parts prim and playful, and strikingly evocative of Victoria Beckham’s very successful SS12 cat prints, while the grown-up monochrome spot prints on leggings and shift dresses will appeal to Marni devotees. Colbert, who studied philosophy at St Andrew’s University, has cited Dadaism and Marcel Duchamp as his biggest influences, as clearly seen in previous more outlandish seasons, but this collection of sharply tailored and expertly finished blouses, bubble hem skirts and shift dresses were whimsical and yet wearable separates that would be easily assimilated into any wardrobe.

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The Edinburgh Charity Fashion Show continues on 31 March and 1 April at Summerhall. For more details see Edinburgh Charity Fashion Show.