Spritzing Anna Wintour and the front row with water is not something fashion brands usually aim to do at London Fashion Week. However, British wellington boot brand Hunter Original were aiming to make a literal and metaphorical splash as models stomped down a waterlogged catwalk, lit as if by moonlight and surrounded by silver birch trees. Although creative director Alasdhair Willis said the brand would not want to profit from the flooding, with swaths of the UK under water and politicians clad in wellies, it is certainly a timely moment for the company’s first catwalk show.
Established in 1856, Hunter is clearly striving to do a Burberry/Belstaff and expand as a heritage brand. In 2012, US private equity firm Searchlight Capital Partners took a controlling stake in Hunter Boots, with London-based brand management group Pentland owning the remaining 25 per cent, and Alasdhair Willis, aka Mr Stella McCartney was hired as creative director last February. Willis is not a fashion designer – he’s the former publishing director of Wallpaper* magazine, co-founder of brand consultancies Announcement and The Anonymous Partner, as well as furniture design company Established & Sons (he resigned from the company in 2010) – and his background shows that building a brand rather than any grand artistic statement – deconstructed welly dresses etc – is where Hunter is headed. Willis has already restructured the company into sub brands: Hunter Original, the more fashion-conscious line aimed at young festival goers and Hunter Field, a more technical line set to launch for spring/summer 2015.
Thus the collection was not the usual hunting, shooting and fishing, tweed-tastic affair one might expect from a British heritage brand. Instead Willis went for a young, playful and modern look, which felt quite urban. Rainwear was the defining theme, unsurprisingly, and materials such as rubber, vinyl and neoprene made up most of the collection, alongside wool. With lots of grass green, as well as grey, sky blue, yellow, purple, black and silver, as the main colours in the collection, wool duffel coats for men and women came with rubber patches, and also wholly in rubber. Vinyl ponchos came in sheer green and grey, there were rubber trenches, wet-look capes, a few waxed cotton jackets and trousers with colourful contrast pockets – no nods to Barbour here – and frogman-like looks for men and women consisting of neoprene culottes, rubber bomber and a swimming hat-shaped wool hat. There were silver puffas too, as well as two-tone fisherman jumpers, rubberised bags and rucksacks and of course wellies, in ankle boot and mid-calf versions, and with heels. Heeled wellies are arguably the height of fashion lunacy but they are bound to sell by the bucketload come festival season.
The rather bizarre finale involved the popular magician Dynamo joining the models at the back of the catwalk, amid more trees, before making the scene disappear, after which playing cards rained from the ceiling. Perfect social media-bait.
A similar coherence of vision informed Henry Holland’s show. He dubbed it “debauched debutantes” and imagined a 1980s deb ball that had been posted on Facebook and trashed by a “gang of House of Holland harlots”.
These were clothes for young girls who want to have fun, ladylike given a playful, pop boost. Thus velvet, beloved of Sloanes who dressed like their mothers, came in the form of red mini dresses, and skirts and tops covered in sequin lipsticks and cocktails. Shantung silk trousers, both wide and cigarette shaped, were worn with crop tops or came in pink orange and green. Skirts in layers of net ruffles, in bright orange or pink, velvet sandals decorated with gobstopper pearls or pom-poms, and trouser suits in wallpaper prints (with thanks to Miu Miu) all had a crazy, eclectic feel, while a quilted satin jacket emblazoned with the word “rich bitch” evinced the kind of knowing, uninhibited attitude of Holland’s customer.
If fashion holds up a mirror to life, there was a pretty accurate reflection of what was happening on the front row in Holly Fulton’s designs. Namely, a camel wool A-line skirt featuring a manicured hand clutching a mobile phone. Meanwhile several hundred manicured hands reached for their phones to tweet this dress and the ones that followed.
Fulton had spent the season considering the mechanics of her own business and womanhood: specifically “the bold, dynamic and creative woman”. Her inspirations included Dziga Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
As always, there was a strong Art Deco feel to the collection, mixed in with 1950s advertisements (where the hands came from) and Russian constructivism. Thus a ladylike car coat came covered in silhouettes of arms in pale blue, updated flapper dresses in pink and blue/grey silk and satin featured images of what look liked machine parts, an exclamation mark on a glittery lurex jumper became a Deco symbol, as did cog motifs.
Fulton’s conclusion was that we are left adapting to technology’s demands, which is certainly something that’s true of the fashion industry where influences such as what looks good for online retail are increasingly influencing designers’ choice of colours and patterns.
At a presentation of his autumn/winter collection in the Savoy, Nigerian-born designer Duro Olowu was also looking at the 1920s, specifically at artist and furniture designer Elizabeth Eyre de Lanux. He said that he blended ideas from her work with colours from Chris Ofili’s paintings for an “Afro-Deco” vibe. As always, the collection was vibrant and joyful, featuring a printed velvet coat in a multicoloured tessellated flower pattern with Mongolian fur pockets and cuffs, a silk tea dress with tropical flower print, rayon and silk evening cape in block-coloured magenta, royal blue and black and a full 1950s skirt in different patchworked fabrics – from an Ikat woven for Olowu in Burkina Faso to a black and silver brocade.
Olowu declared the new skirt length to be 4 inches below the knee, picking up on a growing trend for longer skirts – often in traditionally tricky lengths. At Emilia Wickstead, 1950s pencil skirts and dresses in forget-me-not blue, shrimp pink and buttercup yellow lace fell on the lower calf, as did leather coats edged with crystal, New Look-style dresses and coats in snake print and lace, and a sleek wool pencil dress with high neck and scoop back. As part of the film noir femme fatale look the new skirt length looked mysterious rather than frumpy.
It would take a self-confident woman to wear J.W Anderson’s longer skirts, falling variously to lower calf and ankle, some taking the shape of a towel wrapped round the waist, others cut on the bias. The designer – in whose own label LVMH has bought a minority stake – also showed fitted corduroy tops in cream and brown with leg o’ mutton sleeves and bra detailing, and long godet skirts that followed their own structural logic (they were inspired by Barbara Hepworth) as well as the lines of the body.
For anyone tempted by the new skirt length the Sister by Sibling show issued an accidental warning. The last two fitted and knitted maxi dresses – one black, one white – with trailing crochet skirts made it impossible for the models to walk. One model took her shoes off halfway down the catwalk while the other was forced to shuffle precariously with her heels getting tangled on the way. The critics’ considered verdict? SO not a good look.