London Fashion Week Spring 2014: nice work, if you can get it.
While Milan plumps for purpose-built showrooms and Paris for sports stadiums, in London the latest show venue trend is the office building. It increases the disconnect between the real world and fashion. Imagine if you’re going about your daily business in the darkest depths of the city when all of a sudden a few hundred overdressed strangers march in, hog your lifts, blast thumping techno for ten minutes and then jam the lifts again to escape, as if fleeing the Towering Inferno. It must be odd.
Although the practicality profoundly annoys me (the simple mathematics of several hundred people trying to ram into four elevators at the same time should discourage designers from the get-go), I like the allusions. Namely, that fashion is a business. We’re going to our place of work – although our place of work in the catwalk, rather than the office block. Unless the two collide. It’s quite fitting. It raises a wry if weary smile from me, in any case.
The nice thing about the London leg of the round-the-world fashion jaunt, however, is that the clothes didn’t feel motivated by pure commerce. There was even a delicacy and hidden depth to Burberry Prorsum, London Fashion Week’s cash-cow juggernaut. The spindle-slim line and macaroon colour palette of pistachio, flushed strawberry, cognac and peach were succulent, the clothes themselves light and soft. If the womenswear is often overwrought and this season’s menswear under thought, somehow for spring everything met perfectly in the middle.
But London designers are, of course, doing tidy business. It’s easy to picture the woman buying Roksanda Illincic’s citrus-flushed clothes, for instance. This season she presented in one of those ubiquitous office blocks rather than her usual gilded salons, and the change did her good. The clothes stood out against the grey city skyscape, as did the tangerine and chartreuse installation created by the set designer Gary Card that resembled brightly-coloured building blocks. Illincic’s collection was brightly coloured too, indeed colour was one of its building blocks, brilliant orange contrasting with lime, black banded against vibrant turmeric yellow. Some of the clothes were reminiscent of Raf Simons’ experiments with colour and free-falling fabric at Dior, such as the tumbling pane of fabric fluttering from a sleeveless shell top, or the strapless dress in flycatcher strips of fabrics. But that’s been a trend across the season.
It was there too in Emilia Wickstead’s collection – the bandbox-striped voluminous dresses in cerise and more satsuma-orange, and the slender numbers contrasting that shade with a minty jade, put you in mind of Dior, and also Simons’ 2011 neon floral collection for Jil Sander. There were similar patterns, and shapes. But a second outing here was welcome. Wickstead is a designer who creates resolutely polite, well-behaved clothes. She isn’t trying to revolutionise anything. She dressed the Duchess of Cambridge with dignity and propriety, but that’s hardly likely to get anyone’s blood boiling with got-to-have-it sartorial lust. Nevertheless, there was something in the refinement of Wickstead’s current offering that felt compelling.
Contrasting her with Illincic is interesting: the latter has always dressed her clothes up with a polish they sometimes lacked (she’s let a raw hem unravel her collections quite literally in the past), which occasionally seemed like pretension, or just playing dress-up. Wickstead’s clothes, by contrast, put you in mind of the likes of Oscar de la Renta or early Givenchy. They’re not radical, but they’re beautifully made. They’re not fashion, to be honest, but the beauty of their fashioning gives them a validity, even if the ideas originated with another hand.
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