“It’s like a weapon,” shoe designer Manolo Blahnik said during the recent London shows, talking about his latest “killer heel” crafted from weighty titanium. “I wouldn’t advise trying to go through customs with them on.”
Though Blahnik has been a fixture on the city’s fashion scene for decades, this was his first London Fashion Week show, held in a suite of rooms at the Covent Garden Hotel, and complete with arty film screening of the collection. The vast range on view embraced everything from flamenco – “I have a tendency to be very Spanish on certain occasions” – to tassel-tie heels and fantasies of peach Duchesse satin and crystal. “I don’t care about price and being commercial,” he said – but the fact that he cared enough to finally participate in the London shows was indicative of a trend.
London’s accessory designers are world-class but have tended to unveil their collections in Paris, where the highest concentration of retailers and press on the fashion show circuit can be found. This season, however, everything changed.
Quirky British talent, in the shape of Sophia Webster, formerly right-hand woman to shoe maestro Nicolas Kirkwood, “bugged out” with an installation in Regent’s Park of models wearing insect-inspired shoes and bags (knee-high butterfly boot sandals and purse bags appliquéd with “Bite me”). Meanwhile, long-established leather goods house Smythson (the date above its Bond Street shop is 1887) held its first show courtesy of new design director Rory O’Hanlon, late of US handbag brand Coach.
“I wanted the collection to be about heritage but with modern technique,” he said, pointing to colourful totes with suede linings from the Panama range, which hit stores this autumn and has been expanded for next spring. Think colour-block clutches in pink and yellow and bucket bags with attached coin purses. “The colours are inspired by southern Italy,” he said. “These bags are designed with holidays in mind.”
To their ranks add Mulberry, a brand that has long showed in London, with the focus as much on the bags (and the cool girl front row) as the ready-to-wear. In her final Mulberry collection Emma Hill sent out envelope clutches in pale blues, flesh pinks and brocade florals, as well as luxurious styles in ostrich skin.
They followed a trend set by Anya Hindmarch, whose shows are season-stealing and wildly creative. Under the theme “Out of this World”, this season featured a catwalk grounded in an otherwise zero-gravity environment with floating bags and a venue lit like a planetarium. The stars of the event? A metal evening bag that resembled a bag of crisps, a smiley-faced shopper, acid-bright leather shoulder bags with giant tassels and evening bags shaped like tiny planets. Beam us up, Scotty.