London Fashion Week - getting down to business

27 February 2012

A glorious sun filled setting at dusk overlooking the London business district at the Jonathan Saunders show conjured up the new optimistic mood and ambition of British fashion. In the brave new world of London Fashion Week, it's no longer about crazy antics and puckered seams in disused railway tunnels. Now it's all skyscrapers, polished visions and smart business.

Finale of Clements Ribeiro show in London Fashion Week
Finale of Clements Ribeiro show in London Fashion Week
Model showcasing Richard Nicoll wool coat
Model showcasing Richard Nicoll wool coat

For years London has been the creative cauldron for fashion; its best designers plundered by overseas labels, and its clever ideas copied around the globe. Now comes the realisation that they can have it all. Not just the creativity and the crazy concepts but also the commercial viability and global reach. The British Fashion Council opened London Fashion Week, launching their vision for the future of fashion, and estimating the value of the industry to the British economy to be around 21 billion pounds (bigger than the car manufacturing sector).

And it was all about getting down to business at Jonathan Saunders. His Autumn Winter 2012 collection was as sleek as the brand new glass and steel building he chose to show his swag of sharply tailored looks. This was the perfect wardrobe for the modern woman. It was toughened up prettiness, with a distinctive and strange Saunders colour palette of burgundy, lime, lilac, sky blue and clear red. Glossy girls with sleek ponytails wore tightly fitted jackets and coats with skinny trousers or great dresses with a pleated kick to them. Geometric fabric weaves referenced the modernism of art deco design.

Christopher Kane also chose to show in a shiny contemporary building in the business district, or the City, as it is known in London. The clever Kane, made reference to the City with a kind of modern armour for the working woman. There was pinstriped leather, peculiar knits woven with 3D strands of plastic, a kind of 'chainmail' as he described it backstage, oversized watered silk/wood grain fabrics, lame animal print and florals, large sheer devore flowers, big sweaters, all thrown into the wonderful melange of ideas that is signature Kane. Colour enlivened the black glowing alternatively deep violet and blood red.

Richard Nicoll gave us the ultimate back stage pass this season. To show his 'Modern Times' collection for next Autumn Winter, he eschewed the traditional catwalk formula for exposing the workings behind the scenes. Clothes were lined up around the walls on racks. Models were dressed by lab-coated assistants and paraded slowly conveyor belt style with iPods cords in ears, carrying briefcases. Nicoll explained his concept as being "about notions of modern working life" and about his desire for pragmatism and authenticity. "I like the mix of classicism with something really technological," said Nicoll. "I wanted to make clothes that are sensible." His urban office wear comes complete with charging briefcases developed with Vodafone, for all that techno gadgetry we carry with us.

When you're talking business and British fashion, it's the two 'berries', Mulberry and Burberry that spring immediately to mind. Both are classic British brands, which have cleverly updated their image and taken it globally.

The mega successful Burberry, with a heritage stretching back into the last century, has taken the global fashion stage by storm under the direction of Christopher Bailey. What a role model for any British designer looking to make a success of their vision.

This season not only did they live-stream the catwalk show around the world, they even made a trailer for the live stream, (seen on YouTube). As Mario Testino says in the trailer, it is the show that makes London Fashion Week worth coming to. (Yes he does shoot Burberry's campaigns.) Anna Wintour, arguably one of the most influential people in the fashion world, comes to London for Burberry but while here, she and many of her team are also seen front row at many other shows.

This season, almost despite the hype, Burberry Prorsum's "Town and Field" collection was a kind of down-home reworking of Burberry heritage. Tweedy trench coats with 'bellows' pockets, cropped bomber jackets, ruffled knee length skirts and peplum jackets looked a bit wartime 'Make do and Mend'. It was all very reminiscent of WW2 land girls and utility suits and perhaps a rallying cry for the beleaguered British economy. The gentle patchwork of English staples was enlivened by the evocative voice of a young British singer Rae Morris. The whole Englishness was heightened for the finale, with 'rain' running down the transparent roofing of the tent in Kensington Gardens, while models, carrying striped brollies in earthy colours, paraded under a flutter of faux rain inside.

In the surging throng backstage Eddy Redmayne, star of 'My week with Marilyn' and current Burberry campaign star, in answer to a question about his favourite look, said with quintessential English self-deprecation, "Well I'm colour blind but I think it was a dark, dark red - a sort of quilted feel - that really blew my mind" referring to the finale outfit - Cara Delevingne's full skirted puffer coat in garnet tones.

At Mulberry, the lively quirkiness of English style is the playground of Creative Director Emma Hill. For Autumn/Winter, she took us to the world of scary monsters and referenced children's book 'Where the wild things'. Shaggy furs, shearlings, tweeds, quilted leathers and animal prints were interposed with laces and luxurious floral brocades, for a jolly modern update on English style. The front row was studded with beautiful young things, including Michelle Williams and Lana Del Rey who now has a Mulberry bag named after her. After the 'Alexa' we now have the Del Rey and the cash registers are sure to be ringing.

Nicole Farhi took us the beautiful heritage surrounds of the Royal Courts of Justice. Autumnal colours and textures embellished with shimmering paillettes and gold accents, in tailored and fitted forms, made this one of her best collections for ages.

Long a mainstay of British fashion and an international exporter of much success, Paul Smith, showed an update of his favourite menswear for women but this time he came over all 'glam rock' with gleaming crushed velvet pantsuits and skinny trousers with red zips at the back of the ankles. Back stage he twinkled at the mention of glam rock and said "well it was my era". He talked enthusiastically about dressing Livia Firth, (wife of Colin Firth) who wore a Paul Smith tuxedo to the Baftas recently and how different it was to all the gowns.

Showing in the grand Goldsmith's Hall, replete with massive chandeliers and gilded panels and stained glass, British label Clements Ribeiro showed their delicious mix of rich pattern in autumnal colours with a surprise jolt of shocking pink and orange and the odd fluoro pink Barbie shoe.

Erdem's signature pretty pastels took a turn towards the dark side for Autumn Winter, in deep violets, cobalt blues and black laces with his jolt of choice some vivid lime green lace and startling plaid in violet shot with yellow.

The wonderfully rich designer offerings of London Fashion Week will make for even richer rewards in store come next Autumn Winter.

Jane De Teliga

Released by:

Kate Muir
Woolmark Media Communications
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