BETHANY Williams has arguably made some of the greatest impact on ethical fashion over the last year from debuting under the celebratory banner of the Queen Elizabeth II for Positive Change in 2019, to being named as one of the best emerging menswear talent at The Fashion Awards.
There is no sign of slowing down, as the designer presented her AW20 No Recourse To Public Funds (NRPF) show in the British Fashion Council Show Space. Created in collaboration with The Magpie Project, NRPF explores the themes of nurture, comfort and shelter, by producing a show that incorporated materials, techniques and construction that spoke to the lived experiences of women and children living in temporary accommodation.
Williams’ AW19 was defined by bold prints and a glorious mash of primary colours, culminating in an esoteric scattering of bold autumnal blocked colour. AW20 held a more muted colour palette, with a sprinkling of mustards and deep violets, again splashed across her preferred white background.
The show opened with a poem that was delivered by Eno Mfon, against a vivid and effervescent film, comprised of slides of colour that was created by Melissa Kitty Jarram, who accompanied Williams on her many visits to the children and mothers being housed by The Magpie Project. The overarching narrative of the show was designed to highlight and lift the voices of those who are living in poverty, and speaking to the fear that engulfs those who are marginalised and distressed.
The bleeding of colours in the pieces – many of which were hooded, high-necked or knitted, using Wool and The Gangyarn and sewn by Williams’ mother and Alice Evans – spoke to the more sombre tone of the show. Williams leaned into one of her key themes, comfort, by clearly creating pieces that showcased the heaviness of the wool and more spacious, cosy fits. The line “handle with care” emerged during the opening spoken word, and Williams clearly has created pieces that are sturdy and speak to the inner strength of the women and children, who have learned to navigate a world where they are not treated with adequate societal support.
The practicality of Williams’ style was apparent, through the coveralls and trousers, all designed using craft techniques from children’s clothing, meaning that there were visible stitches and intriguing, joyful pops of colour. While these colours emerged – through a yellow strap that emulated the now-ubiquitous Off-White fluoro belt – there were less full-scale coloured looks that incorporated her paint-style verticals, and more patterns and blocking that used a white or black background.
As a positive fashion designer, Williams also leaves her audience with another community initiative, through making Wool and The Gang socks available for free that can be knitted and donated back to The Magpie Project community of mothers and children.
With less colour, but a stronger message, Bethany Williams has once again formulated a raw and ethical approach to fashion. NRPF linked community and art in a radical approach that will no doubt convince other designers that the way forward is through inclusivity, and through acknowledgment of the privilege it is to help those in need.
by Simone Williams
Images: Regis Colin for NOWFASHION