Anarchy in the UK, or j ust a revolution?
London Fashion Week may yet prove to be a seminal moment in art to rank alongside Impressionism
Published 23/09/2013 | 05:00
The quadrangle at Somerset House, where London Fashion Week for spring/ summer 2013 was held, was like being on a college campus; scores of teenagers, oblivious to adults hard at work around them, hung around focused on themselves and the impression they were making while taking pictures of one another.
If you want to know how a reputation is built in the new smartphone-dictated world of international fashion, here's the script: you be the girl dressed in clashing colours, wear a fabulous hat but have an ugly hairdo, or haircut, and show off your legs by wearing a really short skirt, or shorts with stockings, and really big shoes because the Brits aren't into tits but they like to fetishise legs.
I'll be the guy dressed in girls' clothes and a funny hat. We'll skulk around doorways until the optimum time when everyone has just come out of a 'real' fashion show, then we'll step out into the courtyard like we just arrived and everyone will take our pictures.
These 'couples' – she's an Isabella Blow wannabee, he's gay and wants to be admired – are how one builds reputations now in fashion.
Not work experience, time on the job, design skills, etc, although that old-fashioned route occasionally works for some. But really, it is about how interestingly you dress, and can you use your camera phone and upload it on to a blog/website?
Can you say something 'profound'? Ok, you have a future.
Wish I'd been born in this time – I'd have had such fun dressing up and spouting off. So in honour of the zeitgeist of this week, this will be my blog.
It also might have succeeded in getting me into Vivienne Westwood's Red Label (VW) show last Sunday, an ignoble experience where standing in lashing rain and cold and staying calm and good-natured got me nowhere with the small PR man with a Napoleon complex. Literally all but four people got into that show. The other three were not related to the business of the day particularly, while I was just a senior fashion editor from Ireland who has written about Vivienne Westwood for 15 years and shares her commitment to sustainability and ethics in fashion.
However Napoleon was listening to not one word I had to offer while he let pretty boys in who were friends of somebody, or while staff from VW's store in Conduit Street and a young Irish woman (an intern I am guessing) tried to tell him I should be allowed in.
Perhaps it doesn't sound like I had a good London fashion week, but actually I had the best one in years. Really enjoyable. London Fashion Week was bursting with Irish talent full of hope and positivity (JW Anderson, Danielle Romeril, Lorna Weightman, Angela Scanlon), as well as international and lots and lots of very pretty, likeable fashion.
Anarchy in the UK? Apart from my near burst at VW, it was nowhere to be seen.
What has London fashion come to?
Most of the catwalks were full of pretty pinks, cool blues, sunshine yellow, creams and whites. (Lots of choice for alternative bridal looks if you are getting married next year.)
The looks were still influenced by the late 1950s' elegance of the end of the 'New Look' into the start of the Swinging Sixties. For the former, think of lots of tightly fitted tops on dresses that from a high sitting waist flow out into full, and often very long, skirts. The latter was about A-line short dresses with pretty collars as at Orla Kiely or futurism as at David Koma.
Crowd wise, silver grey hair was what the cool set were sporting – very Star Trek 1968 femme fatale. There were lots of Manolo pin-thin-heeled elegant stilettos, which was apt as the lovely man himself was in London presenting a beautiful collection of shoes for the woman who embodies feeling and looking beautiful. He made a short film, The Panama Legacy, about love, jealousy, tango, passion and shoes, which featured friends such as Rupert Everett, Rifat Ozbek and Stephen Jones.
Margaret Howell at 10am on Sunday on Wigmore Street was a friendly family affair. Very English, very polite, full of handsome, nice men taking care of their young families and clean make-up-faced English rose types. No wonder the beauty-discerning Japanese quotient was so high: they appreciate such natural simplicity.
In general, the cool Japanese girls (a very important part of fashion week) were favouring pretty elegance in all things, from make-up to clothes, teamed with black brothel creepers or trainers and trilby hats.
Collections-wise, apart from those I have mentioned already, I loved Emilia Wickstead – so simple and so feminine, as was Temperley London. I love this season's favouring of the strapless dress, which is so flattering and makes us feel like beautiful women. Paul Smith was there to serve working women – simple, fresh and very grown-up.
Tom Ford, who just opened a new store in London, stood out for being just about the only designer at this fashion week to offer contemporary, womanly, sexy, drop-dead luxurious, powerful clothes.
Androgyny was also big in that Enid Blyton post-war, Famous Five way: I adored Margaret Howell's cotton collection of neat shirts, cropped trousers and shorts and fresh, crisp sun dresses in cotton which were often strapless.
John Rocha's show was like a haute couture outing. Just 25 looks. All cool, elegant, sweeping and high-end. There was a rumour circulating that John was retiring and all business focus was going into Simone Rocha, who presented a stunning, very definite coming-of-age collection full of energy, sophistication and sex. But I can't see John giving up something he is so good at, yet.
But the fact that the thought was in people's minds was yet another indicator that people are recognising that fashion is being driven, as in the 1980s, by 'the street', alias youth, as it was when Jean-Paul Gaultier and Vivienne Westwood emerged.
The big difference being that 'street' fashion today is way more designer-sophisticated as a result of the internet, brand awareness and accessibility and social media, than it was in their day.
It is also a sign, I believe, that the established adult fashion world, tired of arguing, is letting social media do the dictating. I can understand why Russell Brand at the GQ event had his meltdown. It and feels really, really wrong to be this superficial.
But one can't stem the tide. One waits for it to turn.
Last week, at To Russia With Love's 'Inspiring Women' fundraiser, clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, Joanna Fortune talked about how being so immersed in social media and not 'real family' life was causing young people not to understand cause and effect in relationships.
I notice how new technology has everyone looking at things but not seeing in real time. Yet extraordinary beauty is emerging out of this remote way of looking.
Designers such as Mary Katrantzou and Danielle Romeril are working it. It is very intuitive. So I guess one has to just wait and see what will come out of this time. Are we living in what will in the future be viewed as radical as the Impressionist movement was in the late 1900s, with its effects felt for the next 100 years?
They were condemned for their radical treatment of technique and subject matter, yet they realised a deep-rooted desire in the populace for art to be accessible rather than propaganda for those with money and in power.
The Impressionists also offered romance, colour, and dreams. Just as the young designers and young people at London Fashion Week were doing. We are living through, witnessing and reacting to, just such a radical era.
Perhaps anarchy in the UK is happening. But in a quieter, subtler, interactive way.