Leonie Mergen’s fourth London Fashion Week show fell on what felt like the first day of summer, with warm sunshine beaming through the transparent roof of the Devonshire Square complex. It was, nevertheless, an Autumn-Winter collection on display this time so I was expecting a return of fur (sustainably sourced by wearefur), thick wool and long over-garments.
Leonie Mergen is an artist. Her collections always tell a story, not least her SS19 Seven Beauties collection, which was her sartorial response to a 12th century Persian epic poem. It is, however, back to the Caucasus that she returns for her fourth collection, “Black Gold”, an alternative term for crude oil. The collection tells the story of industry and the origins of oil extraction alongside the Caspian Sea. A brave topic to address, let alone celebrate, in the world of 21st century fashion.
Devonshire Square certainly provided an ideal backdrop to this display, being the former grounds of a warehouse belonging to the East India Company, making it the de facto epicentre of Great Britain’s commercial empire. An empire which came to rely on Black Gold more than any other commodity. It wasn’t empires which inspired this collection though, it was the workers who facilitated them. Throughout the collection we see dungarees, overalls, Mandarin collars and thick leathers, all perfectly balanced with Mergen’s modern cuts and shapes.
For this AW19 collection, Mergen draws on some of the motifs from the magnificent AW17 Karrabakh collection, except with a deliberate shift in focus from the ornamental to the functional. The leathers are thick, and the wools are delicate. Italian style pockets punctuate the collection and the beautifully cut Mandarin collars add a typically fierce edge to many of the male looks. As for the colour palette, blacks and charcoals dominate the collection giving it a brooding intensity, broken up by beige leathers and splashes of oil-inspired colour in the male print tie, the female cape coat, blouses and dresses.
The industrial revolution is not something to be taken lightly. It represents the most significant step in human development in recorded history and is worthy of our awe. Mergen has masterfully translated this deference into another superb collection which proves that she will always make her own, unique path, without compromise and without fear. It shows her reverence for the industriousness and innovation of cultures past and the acknowledgement that her craft owes so much to them today.