London Designers Beg to Differ

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

c.2015 New York Times News Service

(Fashion Review)

“Austerity” may be the watchword of Prime Minister David Cameron’s administration and a theme of the Tories’ electoral platform (see recent campaign slogans: “A Britain living within its means,” “Let’s stay on the road to a stronger economy”). But British fashion designers, it seems, have not gotten the memo. Or they have, and disagree. (They would not be the only ones.)

Not that they stated their position, exactly. They showed it.

London Fashion Week, which ended Tuesday, provided about as concise a rebuttal to the whole concept of dialing things down and managing expectations as seen on a catwalk.

Forget minimalism, restraint, stripping away excess, reducing things to what is necessary. Fashion, after all, is by definition unnecessary. Why pretend otherwise?

Imagine ideas, textures and transgression: load ‘em on! Though some of the shows below were reviewed via online images, and some in person, the message came through either way: Celebrate the more.

Literally, in the case of Anya Hindmarch, who added furs, knitwear and pajamas to her accessory offering this season, all marked with her characteristic haute humor (roadwork signs on leather bags or intarsia outerwear: “Stop” and “Go,” directional arrows and the like). And metaphorically, thanks to Mary Katrantzou and her exploration of “horror vacui,” an art term that refers to “the filling of the entire surface of a space or an artwork with detail.”

Nature, as Aristotle supposedly said, abhors a vacuum. So apparently do designers.

Juxtaposing the ornate against the technologically advanced, and examining how embellishment can be a bridge between past and future, Katrantzou (whose work was seen remotely) sent out neat gray flannel trousers and T-shirts embellished with molded materials; ornate two-tone damask duffel coats; brocade and cellophane frills; and three-dimensional techno squares. Some ideas didn’t work (the transparent plastic peplums looked as if they may make sitting impractical), but no matter. There was a wealth of them on display.

As there were at Christopher Kane, where strict tailoring in plush black velvet with electric trim was followed by crocodile print silks with peekaboo chiffon inserts, skinny Lurex knits and slithery chain-mail dresses in turquoise and cherry spliced with Pop Art blooms, and a series of collaged lace pieces featuring silhouetted human forms taken from a “life drawing” of a man and woman variously intertwined (that’s a euphemism). Also a neat bow-waisted dress of nude organza with metallic black and blue embroidered line drawings that from afar just looked like squiggles but up close proved to be naked figures arrayed across the fabric.


It sounds weird, and it was, a little, but much of the flesh was abstracted into form, so that it was less lewdly suggestive than emotionally evocative. More interesting, certainly, than the mohair grids (versions of the reptile prints) on cardigan jackets, or the lightning-bolt zigzag offered up as a potentially more palatable, but bland, derivation of the idea. This is not a season for half measures, as the collections of those who chose to toe the party line, so to speak, and keep things simple — whether accessible or merely literal — demonstrated.


The experimental excess of the designers Peter Pilotto and Christopher de Vos at Peter Pilotto, reduced to a snakes and ladders squiggle on space-age separates, and Jonathan Saunders’ “Come Fly With Me” 1960s graphic stripes on squared-off tops and A-line skirts were all fine, but ultimately unsatisfying (as was Thomas Tait’s collection, inexplicably shown in the near dark, so aside from some leather, pleating, a deep-cuffed trouser, it was hard to tell what was going on).

The problem was, as someone tweeted this month after Cameron introduced the “Living Within Its Means” slogan, “Oh, dare to (expletive) dream, Dave.”

Gareth Pugh (seen online) did, returning to London for the 10th anniversary of his brand with an all-black exaggerated ode to warrior queens that was maximalist in its minimalism, from razor-tailored capes and wide-legged trousers to leather tunics and Amazonian breast plates, Elizabethan puffa robes and feral dresses made from bristling fur — or plastic straws. No joke, and no holds barred.

Jonathan Anderson did, taking his J.W. Anderson collection full-on into the 1980s, complete with big blousons and scrunchy leather boots, wide-wale corduroys and big side-buckled skirts (“big” being the operative word, even viewed through a screen).

It’s probably no accident that of all the decades experiencing a fashion renaissance in the current economic climate, the Greed Decade is proving particularly compelling to a certain generation. If this particular sartorial result wasn’t an entirely convincing argument for revivalism, however, at least it was committed to its idea(l)s. There was something admirably unabashed, if occasionally also unappealing (been there, worn that, still embarrassed to admit it), about the clothes.

And Erdem did, recreating a mess of a 1950s living room complete with magazines and liquor trolleys and old photographs that only seemed on the edge of decay: The set, it transpired, was by Robin Brown, who had shown a similar work in London last fall at the upscale art fair Frieze Masters.

As with the catwalk, so with the collection, which dipped into heritage fabrics — metallic jewel-toned brocades, crocheted lace, mini-florals — and classic forms (belted single-breasted coats; A-line day dresses, gowns) and then took the stuffing out, leaving hems unfinished and needle-punching camel wools into gold, adding the occasional ostrich feather like so many whispering, free-floating threads, and fraying tweed bouclés. A ribbed skinny-knit turtleneck that faded invisibly into floor-length lace walked a line most of us only imagine: cool romance.

Indeed, texture of the most elaborate, crafty kind was something of a theme, showing up in the work of Roksanda Ilincic, who riffed on the topographic curves of the earth from above in shades of rose and navy and chocolate in curving wool dresses and chunky shaved furs, and Simone Rocha (seen online), who used the work of the artist Louise Bourgeois as a jumping-off point into a sea (or at least a shift dress or two) of tapestry and tulle, padded velvet flowers-cum-blouses, brocade and jet beading and pearls and ruffles cut on the curve.

“I liked the idea of elevating things that go slow and take time,” Christopher Bailey said backstage after his Prorsum show. Presumably, as chief executive and chief creative officer of Burberry, time is something Bailey does not have much of. (Nor, indeed, do most denizens of the constantly churning fashion world.) But, Bailey continued: “I love the contradiction of this existing in tandem with the superfast digital world. I wanted something that felt touched by the hand, that celebrated craft. Because often so much goes into our work, and you can’t see it. I wanted people to see it.”


They could, in fringed suede ponchos and tightly belted whipstitched patchwork trench coats; plush fur or leopard smock jackets; bandanna-print A-line flower-child frocks and long lace and embroidered and mirrored Empire-waisted Age of Aquarius dresses that managed — just — not to tip over into the realm of cliché, helped by skintight over-the-knee boots in the same patchwork suede and fringed bucket bags. It was “one of the most labor-intensive collections” he has done, Bailey said.


Though hippie deluxe is not a style normally associated with the more buttoned-up Burberry, it brought a tactile dimension to the brand that was rich with possibility. Judging from the reaction of attendees like Sam Smith, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn and Kate Moss, they’d vote for it anyway.