And so to London and the rain; but also a Fashion Week brimming with new confidence. So much confidence, in fact, that brand “LFW” now has its own manifesto, zealously espoused by British Fashion Council chair, Net-a-Porter head honcho Natalie Massenet, complete with “five pillars” of fashion. It has a group of high-profile “presidents” to spread the word. It has its own shop – imaginatively called The Shop. Damn it, it even has its own line of LFW endorsed haircare products. Now that will have other fashion capitals shaking in their boots for sure.
“London Fashion Week has an incredible energy,” said UK business secretary Vince Cable with typical understatement, especially when compared to Ms Massenet’s barricade-storming opening speech. Even the normally reserved Mr Cable seemed to have been swept along, proudly flicking his tie and announcing, “It’s Alexander McQueen.”
“The fashion industry is beginning to be taken seriously by the wider business community,” added Mr Cable. “The next step is making entrepreneurs out of designers. It is mentoring that is needed, not money. Creativity is the key word; from technology to car design to fashion, it is what we are good at as a nation.”
Witness the first shows of the week – even if many of the names involved were from anywhere but the UK.
Turkish-born Bora Aksu, for example, looked to his homeland for inspiration with a strong catwalk outing in the new ultra-slick show space at Somerset House. Mixing tablecloth lace, scarf tassels and soft blue and white “ticking” stripes – as well as block shades of vibrant pink and eggyolk yellow – with sweetly ethnic-inspired skirts, prim blouses and peasant dresses, Aksu’s collection had all the charm of a sun filled Mediterranean holiday.
Over at Fydor Golan – who, in case you’re wondering, is a twosome from Latvia (Fydor) and an Israeli of German/Moroccan descent (Golan) – it was about a trip of a different kind. “We were inspired by the ‘90s of our childhoods,” said Mr Fydor after a show that mixed shiny minimalism with smiley face badges, snakeskin with sheer, sporty mesh, and sweatshirts with ostrich feather skirts. “We were much more focused this season,” added the designer. “It is a collection of contrasts, of luxury with sportswear. We are both so different as designers, and we wanted to show that.”
Korean-born J. JS Lee was also a study in contrasts, mixing feminine with masculine and 1920s body-skimming silhouettes with nipped in 1950s waistlines – often all on one garment. The effect was deceptively simple and created a clean minimal look that, like Fydor Golan, had more than a whiff of the 1990s about it. “Don’t say I’m a minimalist,” said Ms Lee backstage after her beautifully paired down show. “I like to think of what I do as clean. Call it ‘cleanism’ if you must.”
Eudon Choi – like J. JS Lee – is another Korean-born designer making waves. Not surprisingly, Asian buyers and press are being courted by London in a big way this season – Princess Beatrice hosted an event for Asian fashion week visitors on Thursday night and the British Fashion Council’s Sarah Mower is heading up an event to celebrate Korean fashion on Saturday evening. The overseas contingent will no doubt find a lot to love in Mr Choi’s collection, which mixed traditional Korean prints with Japanese kimono cuts and paired strapless bustiers over schoolgirl prim shirts and neat shorts.
“There are so many support schemes for young designers in London,” said Mr Choi. “That’s why I’m here. It’s such a nurturing city.”
On to the Brits: Pearce Fionda last showed at London Fashion Week in 1995 and made a timely bid for catwalk fame again this week. Statement-making bias-cut gowns and nip and flounce tailoring – reminiscent of early John Galliano – are their stock in trade and the red carpet worthy collection seemed to chime perfectly with the current nineties vibe.
The normally played-down luxury of British brand DAKS was given an extra flourish too this season by new Italian creative director Filippo Scuffi. The trademark house check was turned into floor-skimming strapless dresses – an emerging trend here in London – and given a kick with chiffon capes, chic head scarves and black shades, all to a soundtrack of “La Vie En Rose”. “I wanted it to be timeless, sensual and soft,” said Scuffi. “And I wanted to extend the range to include special dresses for special occasions.”
Christopher Raeburn’s show couldn’t have come as more of a contrast. With a confident big catwalk debut, the designer with utility at the heart of his DNA took standard issue outdoor gear and gave it a feminine twist with drawstring nylon shift dresses, mesh panelled sweatshirts and pants, as well as prints that looked like they had been lifted from ordinance survey maps of very rough terrain. Most looks even came with their own matching backpack and managed to make next summer’s sporty trend look simply cool.
Print has made a welcome return to the London catwalk after a few seasons of block colour and black; cases in point, Canadian-born designer Jean-Pierre Braganza and newcomers German/Icelandic duo Ostwald Helgason, who showcased graphic swirls in black, white, silver-grey and pink, and exotic florals and children’s balloon animals respectively.
But it was Jasper Conran who gave a masterclass in the meaning of “creativity”. Staging his show at the Saatchi gallery on a catwalk decorated by Irish artist Oisin Byrne, Conran sent out a collection that mixed stripes, wood cut prints and Ikats on feminine separates, cute day dresses and glamorous kaftans to magical effect. “It started out in Africa,” said Conran, “and ended up in the Hamptons.”