Thursday 23 February 2017

London's calling, stars are flocking

The English capital's fashion week exploded with energy, sexiness and street smartness, says Constance Harris

Constance Harris

Models on the runway for the Peter Pilotto show at London Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2012
Models on the runway for the Peter Pilotto show at London Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2012
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 16: Models walk the runway during the Paul Costelloe show at London Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2012 on September 16, 2011 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)
From left: (L to R) Singers Ellie Goulding and Kanye West, actresses Sienna Miller, Gemma Arterton and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, photographer Mario Testino, and tennis player Andy Murray at the Burberry show

After the sportswear-focus, colour blocking and soft-streamed femininity of New York's fashion week, London's must have felt, to the fashion editors and buyers present, like an exploding fizzy drink of glucose energy as well as shots of potent alcohol.

London Fashion Week was exploding with life and energy and, as always, imagination. But what has been remarkable in recent years is how London fashion has learned a bit of street smarts as to wearability, having been too often in the past the originator of fashion innovation and talent, but without enough practical commerciality to sustain itself through sales.

But as it has struggled these past 10 years to survive (since the new millennium and the flight of its talent to Paris) London has learned. For the past three seasons, London has been throwing up better and better fashion, and people are believing in it again. Testimony is in the audiences and the catwalk schedule.

Three years ago, the seats were rarely filled in the British Fashion Council's catwalk tent. This last week they were brimming over. And not with B-list UK celebs. Heavy hitters of the music world and silver screen were in attendance from the world over: Beyonce; Pippa Middleton; Sienna Miller and Naomi Campbell. US Vogue editor Anna Wintour was everywhere and looking relaxed. Accompanied by her daughter Bee Shaffer, she was your typical, fabulously dressed, proud mother.

Schedule-wise, the fact that Tom Ford had decided to show at London was significant. That discerning arbiter of true style was saying something -- London matters.

So what was going on?

Fifties, Sixties and Seventies influences. Modernism. Tribal. Sportswear. Pants suits. Sophisticated, sexy jumpsuits. Dresses, dresses, dresses -- mini to midi to maxi. Sex, sex, sex. Explosions of colour -- from tropical to acid. Fabulous prints, mainly floral but different from those used in New York.

Especially strong were digital botanical prints used to fabulous form-enhancing effect such as at Peter Pilotto, who is very much back on form for spring/summer 2012, to Mary Katrantzou. Pilotto's featured the sportswear vibe as in New York, but he is a sexy designer and he didn't disappoint when it came to his dresses, many of which were Fifties in form. Katrantzou was more playful with volume and shape. She too is on the Fifties kick.

That decade was a very big theme. But not in the Mad Men prim way we have come to understand these past few years. Instead, icons such as Georgia O'Keeffe or Grace Kelly in To Catch A Thief come to mind, though the looks weren't necessarily so bohemian as the former, or as plain as the latter. But there was a definite confidence and womanly savvy about the way the silhouette was being presented across the board of designers' collections.

Vivienne Westwood often visits the tight waisted, full- skirted looks of the Fifties. I am not generally a fan of Westwood but her Red Label show was undeniably exciting. It was rich with boldness, texture and tailored verve. I loved her pinstripe, body-forming trouser suits and denim separates, as well as her glorious gold dresses. I highly recommend you check out her show.

Last season (for autumn/ winter 2011/12) we saw crochet in the form of traditional; hand knits make a small, but impactful, appearance in the collections. The theme is growing along with fringing.

Crocheted dresses were a strong trend on the catwalks. Designers that play with form, especially that of the hourglass, really went for it.

Mark Fast, the young designer who made his reputation when he rejected the usual size 6s and instead used size 12 and 14 models for his catwalk, continued to do so, while adorning them in oh so sexy, Thirties-styled knit and crocheted pieces. I loved his bias-cut dresses, wraps and swimwear.

John Rocha's collection blew his audience away. It was a tour de force from this designer, combining his love of near Victorian corset-shaped waistlines and Fifties-esque bell skirts with urban savvy black leather and mythical warriors.

He used crochet, hand-tucked raffia, twisted leather and evocatively draped semi-sheer georgette, to sculpt his desired form, enhancing a woman's shape, while fringing emphasised movement and the sway of a woman's walk. It was a street kind of tribal Gothic romance. An evocative and sexy show the like of which we have not seen from Rocha in years.

Giles Deacon, a designer who always turned intellectual fashion heads, has been evolving wonderfully from his niche place to something bigger and more passionate. His presentation, like Rocha's, combined textures, played with form, and the result was romantic in a kind of futuristic early Art Nouveau way. He, Pilotto and Rocha got my creative juices flowing.

Mulberry's show, with its ice-lollipop colours and contemporary styling -- parkas, shorts, easy dresses, maxi skirts, layering -- was the talk of the fashion week. Girls with big blonde, unkempt back-combed hair and cute pooches trotting at their sides made for a youthful, slightly swinging Sixties look that Londoners always love to love about themselves.

Meanwhile, Christopher Bailey for Burberry was, as ever, excellent. Just when one thinks, that's it, the label has finally peaked, Bailey does it again. It was a surprisingly unostentatious collection, using colour blocks in beautiful greens, golds, blues, pinks, etc, in either simple, soft shapes and fabrics to create ease, or tightly tailored, trench styles to create sophisticated sexiness. Accessories and motifs were ethnic and often tribal in feel and looked fabulous with both vibes of the collection.

I wrote last week of Donna Karan's tribal collection that I felt the look had legs. Tribal and ethnic looks were significant at London Fashion Week, used to provide depth and richness to a collection, rather than as a fiercesome warrior as at Karan. Tribal can often end up feeling faddy. But on these catwalks it was beautiful and evocative, as tribal and ethnic weaves and decoration can be.

All of which went to show that there is a new maturity about London as a fashion centre. I am so glad to report that we are in for future seasons of London calling again.

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