c.2013 New York Times News Service

c.2013 New York Times News Service

LONDON — This week, Tom Ford opened his 89th store, in London, where his company has its headquarters.

“We’re in Baku,” he said, as he reeled off cities that, presumably, will carry his mirror-spangled dresses next spring. For its show, Burberry invited the impossibly cute Harry Styles of One Direction and the it girl Suki Waterhouse.

England is home to some world-conquering fashion brands that derive a lot of their success from retail expertise and so-called entry-point products like perfumes and sunglasses. As it happens, both Ford and Christopher Bailey of Burberry made strong statements on their runways. In fact, Ford said he was really into an athletic-looking woman — hence the exaggerated shoulders of his leather outfits, the tapered waists and the leggy skirts.

“I wasn’t thinking about ’80s supermodels,” he said.

Poured into evening outfits that looked as if they were shot out of a can of black Silly String and then seemingly baked with a girdle of foil, his models definitely were more molten than glamorous. Ford’s spring daywear, such as it was, consisted of buckled-tight brown or white leather jackets, cinched black pantsuits and a slinky leather mesh tank top with a black-and-white leather skirt in a bubble pattern. Those outfits echoed his days at Gucci.

But the evening clothes were in new territory, both in terms of style and technique. The ones paved with glittering fragments are a bit Elvis, or Rihanna, but they dissolve conventional lines between dressing up and performance. That’s not trivial when you consider how dull most red carpet fashion is. Ford said he got the idea for the mad squiggles and broken bits from the work of artists he admires, like José Parla and Mark Bradford. You’ll have to take his word for it that getting into a cobweb is a cinch.

Bailey’s collection was more accessible.

For starters, he called it “English Rose.” Aside from the pink and custard tones, the clothes nicely combined tradition and modern styling; lace for pencil skirts was produced in Nottingham, England. He showed them with shirts or plain cashmere sweaters. And instead of reinventing the trench coat in a gazillion fabrics, as he has done before, he gave the audience a breather — with soft, roomy coats in all those melting English colors.

Of course, many people count on London for more than a garden party. Yet this was a tough season for young designers who once had a novel idea, such as the ecstatic prints of Mary Katrantzou, and now seem to be toiling in the same path. Katrantzou created prints from blown-up images of shoes, but her fussy shapes held her back. I kept wondering why she didn’t try softer things like pajama pants and tunics. Erdem was another label determined to make a shrine out of couture; too many veiled garments.

As I went around London, to places and streets filled with ordinary people, I had the sense, more than ever, that fashion here was taking place in a vacuum. Do they care about Christopher Kane’s naive drapes and twisted flower dresses? Or J.W. Anderson’s broken-down skirts or dresses with panels arrayed with rows of what resembled tiny takeout boxes in fabric — what he called “avant-bland”? If the public doesn’t appear to be even remotely listening, to whom are we talking?

I actually blame the young stars. They are not being as innovative as they need to be. It’s that simple. You can fool the fashion press with a gimmick or a cool bit of styling, but you can’t fool ordinary people. And the public always recognizes heart-stopping fashion, as it did for designers from Chanel to McQueen.


Kane had some lovely things: pleated skirts in delicate, slightly shimmery fabrics, a black pantsuit and some pastel dresses with petal-shaped cutouts rimmed in silver. But he spread himself too thin. He showed sweatshirts with feminine skirts, a style similar to ones he has done in the past. Last year, it was a Frankenstein T-shirt with a lace skirt. But since Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy made a big statement for fall with the same sweatshirt look, maybe Kane should have moved on.

When I look back over his last four or five collections, there’s a clear, evolving body of design. This time, I saw too many tricks, like dresses with cord-suspended draping. He showed some shifts crowded with abstract flower appliqués and lace arrows. He has worked with lace and appliqué before. But again, is he advancing the idea or merely amplifying it? In May, Raf Simons created a Dior resort collection with floral embroidered lace.


Anderson owes a clear debt to the Japanese designers of the ’80s. And it’s OK to be inspired by them — who hasn’t been? — but he runs the risk of serving up avant-garde lite. Also, based on things I see of his in stores, he is quite a clever designer, so I don’t understand the need for all the runway craftiness, unless it’s just to get media attention.

Thomas Tait, by contrast, did a lot with a little. He used white leather, superfine knits, some feathers and athletic nylon, and created an elegant, thoroughly unpretentious collection. Though the fabrics are mostly practical, they’re beautifully cut. He, too, likes a skirt and a top, maybe with a lightweight coat, but he bends the look to his aesthetic. It’s not a ’50s pencil skirt; it’s loose, almost runny. If I saw a woman in these clothes, I’d be curious.

Also worth paying attention to next spring is Simone Rocha for her pretty, full-skirted dresses traced with pearls; Jonathan Saunders for a broader use of sporty separates, like boyish, tricolor suede jackets and satin shorts; and Paula Gerbase of the minimalist label 1205, who has an implacable eye for proportion. The Meadham Kirchhoff designers get a little kitschy with their Europa fairy tale, but they make gingham and white eyelet skirts look tempting. Their jackets are handsome, too.

Rounding out the shows was L’Wren Scott’s use of Tagasode (“Whose sleeves?”), 16th-century Japanese screens depicting garments draped on stands, as if waiting for their occupant to return. Well, there’s a sorcery quality in her femininity, too, and she brings it out with vivid reds, fan-patterned black lace and a crisp silhouette for daytime tweeds and cotton.