You can't blame designers for being obsessed with hemlines. After all, there is only so much one can do with a dress. One trend emerging on the London Fashion Week catwalks is for not one but two hemlines - as in, worn at the same time. Richard Nicoll, who also designs for the Italian house of Cerruti, showed one of the most successful versions: a flippy, pleated-above-the-knee mini in featherweight lined chiffon, over a sheer, ankle-skimming slender tube skirt.
"Subtle layering is a way of making shorter skirts look elegant," he explained. Nicoll also used a monochromatic palette, interspersed with an accent of pale peach to emphasise his split-hemline message. Antonio Berardi also sliced up his silhouette horizontally, juxtaposing fabrics opaque over sheer. "People think I'm irreverent, but I'm not," said the designer most famous for his tailoring and suiting.
Berardi, like many designers in London this week, has moved away from the minimalist lines that dominate the autumn/winter 2010/11 season. His collection for next summer is inspired by an image of a Victorian fencing costume, which explains the corseted bodice and stiffer crinoline worn over softer fabrics, creating a 3D effect. "Antonio wanted to get away from the form-fitting silhouette whilst still being feminine," explained Sophia Neophitou-Apostolou, the fashion editor of the ultra-cool magazine 10 who had styled the show in the Great Hall in Westminster.
Berardi also focused heavily on black and white worn together ("Why not? Women love it. Is there anything more chic or elegant than a black skirt and white shirt?") Post-show, I ran into the glamorous fashionista, Anna Dello Russo, editor-in-chief of Japanese Vogue and former editor of Italian Vogue. "I loved the mix: utility versus fragility; silver, white and black. The contrast and the contradiction of colours was so focused. Now, excuse me while I go and choose my outfit for Paris." (She chose five).
Dello Russo is one of the two Annas whose opinion counts most in the industry. The other Anna (US Vogue's Anna Wintour) is expected to be in London on Monday to attend the memorial service for Alexander McQueen at St Paul's Cathedral. Dello Russo also enjoyed the Mary Katrantzou show, which was inspired by hotel-room interiors and included "lampshade" skirts ("I love her ironic sense of fashion"); and Michael van der Ham's, where hemlines varied from asymmetric to short at the front, long at the back.
"The split hem gives us a new silhouette, floaty or structured," said Alexandra Stylianidis, head of fashion at Liberty's department store. "Perhaps it's not for all, but the fashion-forward woman will enjoy the asymmetric and avant garde quality this trend will bring to her wardrobe."