London Fashion Week: Runway report 1

And so to London Fashion Week, swapping New York snow storms for rain storms. Friday is traditionally a rather slow start, with mainly smaller labels showing and many buyers and media making their way back from New York. Off catwalk, especially given said soggy weather, it is an ease-in-gently kind of day with flats, (Celine skate shoe, natch) jeans and woolly hats in abundance. That is unless you are bright eyed and bushy tailed British Fashion Council chairman Natalie Massenet opening the event at an 8am breakfast in full blow dried, Miu Miu jewelled skirt resplendence.

Continuing the Five Pillars of activity theme for London Fashion Week (Reputation, Business Know How, Education, Digital & Innovation and Investment, all headed up by “pillar presidents”) Ms Massenet declared that this season highlights Investment, before delivering updated statistics on the value of the British fashion industry: £26bn, up 20% from £21bn in 2010. Then Investment pillar president Jonathan Goodwin from LEPE partners announced the publication of a quick guide to investment on the BFC website and an inaugural fashion forum at Syon House in June, bringing together global leaders in fashion, entrepreneurs, politicians, chief executives and fashion designers to create a “global think-tank”.

Pep talk over, it was time to see what London can offer to invest in. First up on the schedule was J. JS Lee designed by Jackie Lee. Although she hails from Seoul, Ms Lee’s inspiration came from camping and escaping to the British countryside: an imaginative journey going “off road” and following tyre tracks into a forest. The clearest sign of her starting point was a tyre pattern that became a recurrent theme throughout the collection, morphing with a classic houndstooth to create an appealing new print. Forest colours – deep browns and greens – also appeared alongside British heritage fabrics such as brushed mohair, wool and Melton felt.

Talking backstage, Ms Lee said her clothes “had to be wearable” and that she used to call her style “clean minimalism, but now I call it relaxed cleanism”. This handy neologism could stand for the effortless modernity that most women demand from their wardrobe. It translated impressively into funnel neck coats with a slight swell of cocoon shaped volume, paired with skinny trousers, both rendered in wool jersey embossed with the raised tyre print. Coats came in knee and floor length version, the collars upturned to reveal contrasting fabrics, in cream, brown, green and blue, and in a grey and white, or navy and green mohair plaid, designed by Ms Lee herself.

Boxy shell tops and knee-length skirts in the same fabric had an easy sportswear feel as did cream wool and jersey tennis-style dresses. Knitwear was also a highlight with chunky roll necks mixing different knitting techniques paired with flowing maxi skirts with a laser cut tyre pattern.

Daks also picked up on Britishness as a theme, but in a more overt way, celebrating its 120th anniversary with Bearskin-style hats and first world war great coats. The show saw plenty of brand-building reworkings of the trench, and statement outerwear and knitwear but not always in a particularly wearable way. Good pieces included a women’s khaki great coat with cape back, cape-back camel dress, camel blazer and tailored trousers. Not so good: a men’s full-length double-breasted camel cardigan, rather limp sheer dress and top with checks reworked in gold and black beading, rather stilt walker-esque fuzzy black trousers, a strapless trench evening dress and the finale, a strange knitted camel balldress with short sleeves and crinoline skirt. It might have been an attempt to dress one of the British actresses on the Bafta red carpet on Sunday – along with a gold cable knitted clingy gown, but a better choice would be Bora Aksu’s dress mixing knitted and calf hair textures and different shades of deep red.

Eudon Choi also had a British theme in mind, specifically the pop culture of the 1960s and fans of ’60s rock bands. Thus the soundtrack began with the hysterical screaming of fans – the collection was titled Hysteria – and moved into tracks by the Stones. The show mixed menswear and womenswear looks, and had a Mod feel with wool parkas in checked tailoring fabrics, oversized check pea coats, slim cigarette pants worn with Intarsia patterned roll-necked jumpers. More feminine shapes came via a classic rock girlfriend shaggy coat of the variety Marianne Faithful or Anita Pallenberg might have worn and a checked grey mini dress. It was sweet and highly wearable.

Tailoring informs Todd Lynn’s designs and this season, alongside pencil dresses with bra cups, there were also Tuxedo tops tucked into A-line skirts, a black silk dress with tuxedo style top and pleated skirt and cape-shaped shirts. Wide silk belts emphasised the waist, and at Amanda Wakeley too the waist was key. She used wide black leather obi belts throughout the collection, in which leather and Japanese influences were also strong. Tapered black leather trousers were teamed with a wrapped kimono jacket, wide sleeve top and shearling tunic, while wide leather trousers were paired with a hip-length tunic.

If Amanda Wakeley is popular with the well heeled West London woman, something completely different was on offer from Turkish milliner Nasir Mazhar: urban streetwear with a girl gang/homegirl look. Crop tops, baggy jeans with patches in contrasting colours (black, pink and blue metallic), cropped hooded tops, platform trainers and conspicuous branding on waistbands and tops were all straight out of the early 1990s. Baseball hats combined with pollution masks added a futuristic twist to a show that might have a limited audience, but it certainly had attitude. And attitude is what London is all about.

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