Trench coats and Wellington boots: for many, the mental image that epitomizes English style is more James Bond at the end of Skyfall than anything else — but given names like Vivienne Westwood or the late Lee McQueen, it looks like it’s time that we revised that old story. More so than any other major fashion week, London’s represents the wildest of all, where boundaries of taste are likely to be pushed and conservative eyes most easily offended. While there’s something to be said for the “heritage” brands showing in London, such as Pringle, Burberry and even Paul Smith, London today is probably better described according to its uniquely impetuous brand of innovation than anything else.
If we’re talking about the DNA of London’s fashion culture, then there’s no better place to start than with Louise Wilson, the late director of Central Saint Martins’ (CSM) M.A. program to whom the school’s latest graduate show was dedicated. For decades Wilson supported the brightest young design minds. It was her audacity that shaped the audacity of this generation: a boldness palpable in the most recent CSM show.
This season, the most memorable looks were explosive, launching off the surface of the body. Let us not forget that this is a generation of designers heavily informed by visionaries like Rei Kawakubo, who pioneered a new understanding of fashion’s relationship to flesh in her major collection, S/S 1997’s Lumps and Bumps. The work of the 15 designers who presented this week offer the promise of a generation unlikely to let Wilson down.
Arguably London Fashion Week’s (LFW) most revered wunderkind, Christopher Kane’s, collection was about sex. Liner notes dubbed the collection “lover’s lace,” traversing all conceptions of what it meant for clothing to be “sexy.” There was diaphanous chiffon, aggressive snakeskin, but none without Kane’s signature subversion. And who could ignore the Schiele-esque treatment of line in the last few looks, made up of lace brocade bodies grasping — sometimes softly, but often with much more urgency — towards one another?
Critics have praised how Mary Kareanrzou’s collection engages with the relationship between the contemporary propensity for minimalism and the “horror vacui” (fear of emptiness) that governed Victorian aesthetic principles. But the collection might also be seen as just another stepping stone in the arc of technical innovation that her collections have recently taken. While Katrantzou’s breakout collection (S/S 2011) was all about experimenting with the potential that digital technology proposed for textiles, her more recent work has been concerned with an investigation outward, into the third dimension. This month, it was the sculptural quality of Katrantzou’s bustiersm, made up, noticeably, in plain gray, that fascinated most. And where there was a return to her digital prints, it was accompanied by an innovation in texture too with the geometric plastic waistbands on simple shifts, the plastic sequins or the printed furs.
While Katrantzou’s work developed in sync with what she’s been working on in recent seasons, there were surprises to be found on runways next-door. J.W. Anderson known for his deconstructed, anti-sexy — and yet sexy designs, because isn’t being smart what it’s really all about? — clothes, brought us a romp through ‘80s German new-wave, into a world of debauchery and wonderfully investigated “bad taste.”
Similar surprises were to be found at Burberry Prorsum, which opened with an embroidered kaftan with suede fringe, a setup that might have led some to wonder if they hadn’t accidentally stepped into a Matthew Williamson show next door. Assurance that the audience was indeed in the right place came quickly, though, in the brutally structured, and similarly embroidered, as the kaftan, trench that Edie Campbell wore next. While Bailey’s effort to expand the age-old brand’s vocabulary is admirable, some looks were uninspired: a clearly post, Chloe “bohemian” outfit of a fringed poncho and suede and a coat with intentionally off-kilter tailoring. A few did end up making it work, including an oversized trench sent out nearly halfway through the show cut suede so well that it looked almost like silk, and a few of Bailey’s mod-meets- hippie shifts that would undoubtedly to make Bergdorf’s buyers smile.
Another quintessentially British brand, Hunter — yes, the same one that makes those boots you see everywhere in this late-winter slush — presented a collection of tailored outerwear that quietly evoked the sci-fi of ‘60s pop-culture — elegantly, of course. The first third of the show exhibited an array of waterproof coats which, aside from exhibiting impressive clothing between street-wear and tradition, also makes one think: braving a winter like this one in a coat like that? It might not be so bad.
Photo Courtesy of Style.com