Fashion journalists were caught off guard by news of Karl Lagerfeld’s death on Tuesday. Reports that he was very ill abounded, but the reaction was still one of denial. Lagerfeld bestrode the fashion landscape for so many decades, and was so inexhaustible in his output, that no one was prepared to let him go.
Many of the designers on the London Fashion Week schedule weren’t born in 1983 when Lagerfeld was appointed to Chanel. They all grew up under the reign of Kaiser Karl. Dressed in his uniform of a high-collared shirt from Hilditch & Key, whip-thin suiting by Dior, leather gloves and powdered ponytail he embodied the cult of the designer personality and was the centre of an industry around which others merely lapped. In a business full of cynicism he was throughout his life a figure in whom others were in awe.
“He was one of the most iconic creators of our time,” said Alexander McQueen’s Sarah Burton, one of the many designers showing this week to express their sadness. “He was a genius, whose talent, generosity and warmth knew no bounds.”
Erdem Moralioglu, whose AW19 collection conjured a couture sensibility, praised Lagerfeld’s vision of “uncompromising beauty”. Alexa Chung, who delivered her second catwalk show this season and who interviewed Lagerfeld early in her career, spoke of his overwhelming “kindness” towards her. Riccardo Tisci mourned his “friend and mentor”.
“He was a hero of mine, now and forever,” said Christopher Kane of his influence. “Dreams came true on the Chanel runway.”
For a generation of creatives, many of whom were educated and trained in London, Lagerfeld was a paternal figure: someone who gave them an early boost. “He has been an incredible guide and I will miss his support enormously,” wrote Jonathan Anderson on Instagram. “He was clever, wickedly funny and encouraging,” says Sam McKnight, the British hairstylist who has worked with Lagerfeld on the Chanel show for past 10 years. “He had such high standards for everything, he made you want to do your best. And he was always kind and generous. But the lasting memory will be joy.”
One hopes this London season would be one Lagerfeld would have approved of: it challenged preconceptions and was busy with ideas. Perhaps there was a little too much nostalgia, a pet hate of his, but it was certainly mischievous, directional and full of unexpected joys.
Which surprised me. Considering its scheduling, so close to Brexit, I had expected London Fashion Week was going to be more cautious, poised as it was in a period of flux. Currently, the British Fashion Council is pushing for continued access to talent, tariff-free trade, frictionless borders and competitive intellectual property regimes. “We have hosted roundtables, given evidence to select committees, submitted evidence to white papers and, just this week, hosted a roundtable technical working party to highlight knowledge information gaps as we prepare should there be a no-deal Brexit,” said Caroline Rush, BFC chief executive, at a breakfast review. Her priority? “To promote creativity and to engage both industry and government to push the needs of the industry worth £32bn to the British economy, and to build a narrative that London is open.”
The outlook was bracingly positive, even though, like everywhere, no one really has a clue. Each brand currently has its own considerations and concerns — a senior figure at Kering, which is headquartered in the capital, told me the only thing that might persuade him to leave Britain would be a Jeremy Corbyn government.
But, out of the crisis came a more creative view. Burberry’s second outing under Tisci was gargantuan, set to a thumping Nineties rave mix and dedicated to the youth and rebel spirit of these islands. It also included lots of lovely suiting. Preen by Thornton Bregazzi dressed models in folkloric embroideries and Morris dancing clogs.
Other collections were also escapist. At JW Anderson, women were imagined as mountain-top figures walking through the clouds. Sleeves were exaggerated, trousers were modelled on wide-legged Oxford bags and the clothes fell in generous silhouettes. The brand’s designer Jonathan Anderson, who has long bemoaned the lack of “fashion” on the schedule, had been determined to do something more stylish himself, and his show blended avant gardist elements, craft touches and some excellent handbags, too. Anderson has now developed a strong accessories line on which to build his business, but it was interesting to note that, at a time when designers might cower behind more commercial collections, he was emboldened to take bigger risks.
Likewise at Mary Katrantzou, which showcased huge rainbow-coloured feathered dresses and a riot of ruffles, Christopher Kane, whose ultra-feminine satin party dresses with “cupcake” skirts, balloon prints and crystal-embroidered cocktail dresses made for a romantic take on the themes of fetish, and Erdem, who imagined the private world of the Italian heiress Princess Orietta Doria Pamphilj and dressed her in Forties-style circle skirts and Sixties minis.
Princesses on parade. You will know Molly Goddard’s designs via the huge pink tulle frock worn by Villanelle, the anti-heroine and star of BBC series Killing Eve. For AW19, Goddard imagined women stomping through a storm in grey balaclavas and even bigger gowns. Simone Rocha cast a dozen different ages and dressed them in ethereal, organza trenches and gauzy puffball skirts. Her spider embroideries and prints were made in collaboration with Louise Bourgeois’ foundation and all had an eerie, otherworldly appeal.
Not everyone was feeling so fantastical though. Ports 1961 continued to essay a quiet business-like authority, Margaret Howell’s classic pieces were desirable and smart, and Grace Wales Bonner showed, once again, her skill for gender neutral, careful, tailored clothes.
Victoria Beckham delivered her best collection yet. A sharp edit of 38 looks, she showcased tailored tweeds, fluid silks and coats in lipstick red. It was striking and efficient, clothes for a woman with other things to do. It also featured an excellent black suit. And a striking, high-collared white shirt.
Jo Ellison will be hosting our Business of Luxury Summit in Madrid on May 19-21. Visit here for more information
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