September 17, 2012 12:04 pm

London Fashion Week: day three

Preen and Marios Schwab show evolution while Matthew Williamson looks to India for glamour

The Natural History Museum’s Darwin Centre provided the backdrop for Sunday’s Preen show, and the British duo’s return to London from New York. Was the venue a comment on the fashion industry during a recession, where survival of the fittest is more acutely relevant than ever? Or was it just the perfect ultra-modern location to show off how the brand has evolved since it set off for the Big Apple in 2007?

Against a primal soundtrack of dinosaur wails, the show began with sheer tunic blouses and shirt dresses with asymmetric hems in navy and white reptilian print, and A-line wraparound skirts with panels of reptile-patterned fabric and leather. As it progressed, the theme of minimal 1990s shapes meets animal print evolved, putting a clean and modern spin on what is usually an overtly sexy pattern. Boxy, navy leather jackets came in reptile skin with contrasting panels; patchwork snake-print dresses also had sporty diagonal stripes and A-line skirts were spliced with different fabrics and finishes, such as an animal print reworked in all-white sequins, with a white watered silk back. There were also tailored mannish suits, sheer white boxy blouses and 1990s-style tailored shifts with spaghetti straps.

How emerging designers evolve is essential to their success and Marios Schwab has managed to move his aesthetic forward every season while also retaining continuity. His inspiration often reads like a shelf at the British Library and this season he referenced the structure of the honeycomb, ancient tribal rituals, early 20th century biologist Ernst Haeckel’s illustrations of art forms in nature, mythical Amazonian warrior Penthesilea . . .

Somehow these eclectic influences came together in a collection that evoked modern-day warrior women. Dresses made from sheer mesh fabric were adorned with panels of leather fringing, wide gladiator belts or armour-like leather panels, while the bee theme was expressed as a honeycomb pattern on angora jumpers worn with pleated leather skirts. Marios Schwab has recently dressed actress Kristen Stewart and his evening dresses – pleated minidresses swagged with ropes of crystal that resembled glittering chains and a nude stretch tulle dress with mid-blue sequin fringes – struck the right note of glamour with a dark edge that could be perfect for her red carpet appearances post-scandal.

Matthew Williamson’s version of glamour has remained the same throughout his 15-year career: as he puts it “hyper colour, exoticism, high summer and adventure”. This season he went back to his design roots and referenced India and its festival of colours, a street party during which revellers fling bright paints and powder over one another. In addition to vibrant shades of turquoise, hot pink and spice orange, other Indian motifs included silk trousers, shirts, a tunic dress and shorts printed with an image of an Indian temple, and stretch bodycon dresses and jackets decorated with little round mirrors and embroidery.

Margaret Howell is another designer whose perspective rarely changes, but her practical, boyish vision has attracted a loyal customer base. Tailoring and nautical workwear provided the main threads; the former came via shirt dresses in white, pale blue and grey as well as trouser suits, and the latter from wide navy culottes, fishermen’s smocks, pinafores and seafaring berets. The dungaree trend is gathering momentum and Margaret Howell’s overalls were in a heavy duty navy cotton with a zip front.

Topshop was ahead of the game not only with its new web innovation whereby customers can customise online what they see on the catwalk and share it on Facebook, but also with the dungaree theme: for autumn/winter creative director Kate Phelan has already designed black velvet versions. Black velvet devoré appeared for spring/summer 2013 too, on wide trousers with a geometric pattern, and a loose tunic-style dress. The collection focused on relaxed, slightly sporty tailoring, with wide trousers, long fluid jackets, oversized shirt dresses and bomber jackets, with the palette predominantly black, white, yellow, pale pink and silver. Sweatshirts with structured puff sleeves were paired with sequin skirts, and Phelan said backstage afterwards: “I loved the feeling of relaxing everything – it’s about a casual statement, simple shapes and luxe fabrics.”

This sportswear spirit, of clean shapes in eye-catching or luxe fabrics was in full effect at Jonathan Saunders. He began with simple A-line skirts (a bona fide trend) in first iridescent silver, then gold, worn with vest tops, and offered simple shifts in silver leather and green stripes, as well as a cardigan and skirt in school uniform shapes but covered in sequins. Flared dresses came covered with PVC teardrops, and the teardrop pattern also appeared on trousers in both blue and red ombre, and several garments had different colours or shades on the front and back – such as a red and burgundy trouser suit and wrap coat. Boxy driving jackets, as seen previously at Balenciaga, Celine and Prada, are set to be big for spring/summer, and this shape also appeared at Mary Katrantzou, where this season’s print was inspired by postage stamps and banknotes.

Nicole Farhi also picked up the sporty baton, with crinkled white parkas, minimal shifts in papery white cotton and nylon trousers – which didn’t look the easiest style to carry off, and are also likely to generate a lot of rustling – and the colour palette of pale greys, pinks, whites and sands was inspired by shades of marble.

Easy dressing was on the agenda at Paul Smith, where the designer’s signature tailoring came with a sporty twist. Long loose silk shirt and tennis dresses featured blocks or triangles of colour on white, while stripe trims at the armholes added to the athleticism. Paul Smith knows how to cut a pair of trousers, and wide mannish versions cropped at the ankle were flattering and chic.

One person who didn’t get the memo about fuss-free easy dressing was milliner Phillip Treacy, who combined his spring/summer 2013 collection with a tribute to the late Isabella Blow, Alexander McQueen and Michael Jackson. Treacy’s show was watched by Bryan Ferry, Nick Cave and Vivienne Westwood and there was also much talk beforehand about a mystery special guest. Had the rumour mill not revealed that it was going to be Lady Gaga, the identity of the person shrouded in a hot pink net veil who stood up and declared “Ladies and gentlemen the greatest milliner in the world in the clothes of Michael Jackson”, would have remained an enigma.

Models wore clothes from Jackson’s wardrobe borrowed from a forthcoming auction in Beverly Hills, and were accompanied by his music. Headpieces included a model of the Neverland fairground with working Ferris wheel, a ghostly silver pirate galleon, Mickey Mouse ears, a gleaming cone which resembled a flea collar, curved structures that evoked a cross between a seashell and a slinky, and a Dalek-like tube of lights.

The phrase “bizarre spectacle” doesn’t really cover this mix of the madcap and the macabre, but Treacy’s hats were continually entertaining.

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