The London Olympics may be over, but the if there was any doubt about 21st century fashion morphing in to a mass spectator sport, just one visit to the show space at Somerset House proves otherwise. Past the crowds of street-style bloggers and hoards of willing camera fodder in the open-to-the-public courtyard is a 3m-high virtual window in to London fashion as it happens.
Watch the front row editors and buyers take their seats! See them chat in extreme close up! See the marathon as it happens.
It was no accident that buzzy newcomer Thomas Tait had possibly the longest runway of the season so far, the better to showcase a collection that looked suspiciously close to authentic tracksuits and ski salopettes run up in white high-tech nylon, shots of neon orange and ribs of padded down. Even his choice of footwear came Velcro-strapped – though not by intention. “I was going to put everything with elegant heels, but the Italian factory let me down at the last minute so we ended up with ‘dad on the go’ sandals and socks,” admitted the designer.
First off the starting blocks, however, was long-established British label DAKS – founded way back in 1894 – with a sophisticated collection of easy layers of tailoring in grey flannel, paired with shrug-on rib knits and simple dresses in digital floral prints, which morphed with the brand’s signature house check. “I was inspired by images of Charlotte Rampling, that whole androgynous sexy tomboy thing,” said designer Sheila McKain-Waid backstage. “I wanted to make everything much looser and more unstructured, so I stripped out all the linings and took out the shoulder pads.”
Close behind came designer duo Clements Ribeiro (husband and wife Inacio Ribeiro and Suzanne Clements) with a punk-inspired collection – a nod to the punk exhibition opening at The Met in New York later this year as well as one of their earliest collections from 1998. Cue paired pointy buckle boots and messy hair with tough separates in tartan leopard print, and very pretty floral print dresses, graphic cashmere knits and rich metallic embroideries. Punk has never looked so well-mannered.
Then hot on their heels came London Fashion Week stalwart Jasper Conran with a positively prim yet beautifully crafted collection of body-skimming, double-faced jersey dresses, sequinned shifts and nubbly bouclé wool coats in clashing hot colours that seemed to owe a lot to the precision of the late Jean Muir. “If she is looking down on me,” said Conran of the iconic designer, “then that’s just fine by me.”
And so they came: John Rocha, whose daughter Simone is a hot ticket in her own right these days, with oversized shapes balanced by bell-like skirts in a rich mix of felted wools, heavy lace, cobweb crochet and tufts of petal-like texture; Julien Macdonald, making his London comeback after a year’s absence, with a brash, flash show of skin-tight evening wear covered in fistfuls of crystals “I went to Las Vegas and loved it. Everyone was dressed up to the nines having loads of fun,” said the designer with a cocktail in hand after the show. “I was inspired by the lit-up architecture on the night there – really, there is no day.”
Henry Holland admitted he had been eyeing up his grandmother’s soft furnishings for next season’s House of Holland collection: think a catwalk in a car park in Soho decked in swirly beige carpet, and clothes in the kind of fabrics that would have made pretty cool curtains or a groovy vinyl couch in the early 1970s – albeit reimagined as cropped trouser suits, sweatshirt tops and cute dresses.
For anyone frustrated by not being able to see such competitive entries for themselves, the British Fashion Council hopes to roll out a number of their giant screens at landmarks sites all over the centre of town next season. Get ready to let the fashion games begin!