Phoebe English staged her first formal London fashion week presentation today. Her space and her time slot were allotted to her by the BFC, and the poo-bahs there were right to throw English their support: She’s a designer with tremendous promise, as this collection reaffirmed. But the big question facing English now is whether she can make good on her potential. This season, she reached back to her early adolescence for inspiration, recalling the ways she would make clothes—”naively,” as she put it—before she knew how to sew. Her new collection wasn’t cobbled together, but the way English knotted and tied her magpie materials did conjure that kind of improvisational process. The sophistication was in the details—the exact way a swath of fishnet fabric hung off some tulle; the crystal that seemed to float inside the seams of an organza jacket; the rug stitch deployed in ropes of velvet snaking over mesh. English likes to work with gossamer materials, playing them against sturdier stuff, and the effect of her clothes is rather ethereal. Therein lies the beauty, and the trouble. English showed a few rather matter-of-fact pieces here, such as terrific crisp shirting and black wool coats pleated in front to create a kind of forward thrust. Despite the atmospherics, this wasn’t such a daydream-y show. But you found yourself wishing that English had given her realistic looks a bit more emphasis: It would have been nice, for instance, to see her cool culottes and baggy trousers more than once, and to know how that pleated coat would work in richer fabrications than canvas. It’s not clear whether English is eschewing that approach because she lacks resources or whether she can’t find much poetry in realistic clothes. Regardless, the diaphanousness that’s emerging as her signature could wind up getting in her way. English is still just at the start of her career, and so it’s OK that this collection, like earlier ones, felt a touch exploratory. But now she has to figure out how to distill her daydreams into a viable wardrobe.

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