London Fashion Week: The new luxury comes with a fresh twist

With catwalks dripping with fox fur, mother of pearl beading, laser cut velvet and glitter duchesse satin from a Swiss embroidery house, this season designers upped their bid to make London Fashion Week a real player on the luxury scene.

Justin O’Shea, buying director of luxury ecommerce website, said: “There’s been a surprising emphasis on cocktail and eveningwear – a level of decadence which hasn’t really been there before at London Fashion Week. Designers are going for the top tier customer . . . it’s like London’s couture week: you’re looking at pieces that will cost from say £2,000 to over £12,000.”

Matthew Williamson’s black feathered dress with white pom-poms is one of the most expensive garments he has ever created, at £12,950. Across the catwalks designers were broadening their pricing spectrums to include one-off fantasies made fabric that serve the dual purpose of attracting the super-rich, and dazzling on Instagram if they get worn on the red carpet.

“The catwalk should be visionary,” said Galeries Lafayette commercial fashion director Averyl Oates, who also detected a “couture feeling”. “It’s fantasy, and social media makes shows more of a statement.”

Feted Scottish designer Christopher Kane is a man with a (business) plan since Kering bought a 51 per cent stake in his company in January 2013. Now, converting critical acclaim into cash is key, hence a new line of handbags ahead of the opening of a new London boutique this year. Not that this more commercial focus had dented his imagination or edge; this season he took the plastic, elasticated shoe covers worn in hospitals and abattoirs as the starting point for his collection, making shoes and little black dresses with nylon ruching. Nylon dresses came trimmed with mink, or worn under mink coats, reflecting a widespread use of fur and shearling across Fashion Week, from patchworked multicoloured fur coats at Roksanda Ilincic to pink, orange and purple fox coats at Tom Ford’s ultra-luxurious show.

Mr Kane declared: “It’s the new luxury: nylon and mink. It’s important to come up with something new.” LVMH-backed JW Anderson’s new thing was “trying to do dresses”, for which he used “bias cutting on non-slinky fabrics”.

Other designers offering something new and luxurious were Mary Katrantzou, Peter Pilotto, Erdem and Jonathan Saunders. In a shock move, London’s digital print queen Ms Karantzou eschewed print in her collection, focusing instead on column and flapper dresses featuring an eclectic arrangement of symbols such as road signs, sale signs and heraldic emblems turned into intricate lace, embroidery, appliqué and brocade.

Mr Pilotto too, had moved on from print to something more intricate with a high level of visible workmanship, via mesh sweaters and skirts, and dresses and coats in streamlined sportswear shapes, covered in frantic hand-beaded patterns that recalled clusters of crazy paving. Patchworking, or a mix-and-match motif, recurred throughout the week: Paul Smith combined florals and paisley silks in his pyjama dressing theme; Antonio Berardi used 10 different fabrics on one dress; and Jonathan Saunders transplanted patchworked offcuts on to oversized mannish coats with puffed sleeves, or used them as the main material on painstakingly crafted bias-cut slip dresses.

Erdem’s inspiration came from infantas painted by Velázquez, costumes from the Victoria and Albert Museum’s archive at Blythe House – many with corseting – and French It girls such as Anna Karina and Betty Catroux. The resulting eveningwear – including little black dresses in laser cut or jewel embellished velvet, and more sculpted dresses in botanist print silk jacquard – felt grand and dramatic but wearable.

Craftsmanship was clearly on display at Burberry. With One Direction singer Harry Styles and movie mogul Harvey Weinstein in the front row, and groups of overexcited, camera phone-toting girls outside the show (presumably for Harry not Harvey), Christopher Bailey showed full-length sheepskin coats and silk cotton organdie and nubuck trenches decorated with floral doodles inspired by the Bloomsbury Group, in antique colours, layered over filmy tea dresses.

Daks, a British heritage brand focusing on outerwear, suffers from being in the shadow of behemoth Burberry, but it did itself no favours with its autumn/winter 2014 show. The formula of reworking the house check (on a sheer dress and top, with gold and black beaded grid pattern) and deconstructing the trench (on a strapless ballgown with buckle at the bust) felt tired. More forward thinking was Pringle’s impressive use of 3D printing on jackets and jumpers to create talking-point textures.

Other major talking and tweeting points this week were the first fashion show from Wellington boot brand Hunter (flooded catwalk, silver birch trees, moonlit effect, the magician Dynamo disappearing), the unveiling of Cara Delevingne’s capsule handbag collection for Mulberry (Cara on a swing, with dogs, and bags that convert to rucksacks) and Anya Hindmarch’s supermarket sweep catwalk show (barcode catwalk with models pushing supermarket trolleys on conveyor belts).

Hunter’s show, which included rubber trenches and duffle coats, and heeled wellies, headed by creative director Alasdhair Willis (aka Mr Stella McCartney), was a how-to in brand building, while Ms Hindmarch’s range of totes and clutches featuring intarsia leather graphics from everyday products such as Frosties cereal, Ariel washing powder and Swan matches was a triumph of British humour.

“It’s an anti-brand thing. I’m a bit bored of brands,” the designer said backstage. Of course, Ms Hindmarch’s show was possibly the best branding exercise of the week, because the important thing was that it did not feel cynical. London’s new magic trick is to keep the emphasis on fresh, unusual luxurious pieces, while all the while stealthily strengthening its brands.

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