End of the trend brings a sense of liberation to the catwalk
Just a few more days to go before the Louis Vuitton show in Paris brings the autumn/winter 2012 season to a close and the overriding trend looming crystal clear is … the no-trend trend.
What on earth are we to make of the many (many) different interpretations of how we should dress in six months' time?
"Dark and thought-provoking" and "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" are words used to describe a few shows in the coterie of hundreds that have taken place over the past three weeks.
And yet you could hardly pin down Raf Simon's swan song for the Jil Sander label, with its powder pale pinks and softly tailored 1950s cocoon-like couture as "gothic".
Marc Jacobs - ever the trendsetter - hinted at what was to come back in New York almost a month ago.
Anna Piaggi, the blue-haired fashionista and one-time editor of Italian Vogue, famous for her eclectic, highly individual taste in clothes, inspired his collection.
Jacob's off-kilter vision for 2012, with its eccentric layering of purple coats and yellow skirts over PVC black leggings teamed with pilgrim buckle shoes and giant mink hats, was unique and a homage to the woman who refuses to slavishly follow trends.
Miuccia Prada's tailcoat jackets and mannish trouser suits in graphic prints similar to the patterns on 1970s "kipper" ties looked similarly baffling and standout individual.
Even designers arriving at more or less the same "look" got there by very different means. Take Ralph Lauren and Burberry and their own tweaking of British town and field sport attire.
One had a distinctly Downton Abbey feel (no points for guessing this was Ralph Lauren). Burberry's, on the other hand, was a case of reworking dress codes to come up with a new wardrobe suitable for achingly hip supermodels such as Edie Campbell, who starred in its London show.
Collections were styled up to look theatrical yet pulled apart, comprising covetable pieces guaranteed never to look the same on any one person.
Watching the Burberry show (with its haunting Marina and the Diamonds soundtrack) where the patch pockets of a traditional shooting jacket turned up on tartan trench coats teamed with cloth caps and tight, velvet pencil skirts with a puffy peplum, I have never felt more "on the edge of my seat" about what might come next. (As it happened, a man-made rainstorm outside the glass marquee. Amazing!)
This lack of polarisation on the catwalks, along with the idea of not slavishly following trends, is not a blip - it's the "new normal" according to David Wolfe, the elder statesman of fashion forecasting and the creative director of the US Doneger Group, the oracle on fashion trends.
"In a world-weary economy, customers are connecting to history and craftsmanship," said Wolfe during a recent trends talk.
Wolfe also predicted the multi-decade mash-up ("past and future add up to the present") we've seen played out on the catwalks.
While this might sound chaotic, there has been a sense of liberation and freedom on the catwalks with designers being allowed to explore new territory as well as revisit once-loved house signatures.
Gucci's Pre-Raphaelite velvets felt very Gucci and yet embraced a gothic undercurrent that echoed, but only just, the chain mail Joan of Arc gowns and rock chick, black-as-night velvet pieces crystallised in Angelina Jolie's breathtaking, thigh-slashed Oscar-night dress.
Fashion is now about doing your own thing, at least if you are a designer, which poses the question: does that make it easier or more difficult if you are trying to follow it?
"It's so dreary being restricted by what everyone else is doing," said Lulu Kennedy, the entrepreneur behind Fashion East, the body responsible for mentoring graduates.
And yet there was a trail of similarities between her latest protégée, Simone Rocha, and the big guns of Milan.
Dolce & Gabbana used net and lace to create a Baroque opulence. Rocha used a similar surreal chiaroscuro technique (where a two-dimensional fabric gives the illusion of being 3D) with Celtic knits and feltings.
Overall, the autumn/winter silhouette teetered between A-line and slimline, with key pieces emerging such as the "trophy sweater" (with an owl on the front at Burberry and Mondrianesque at Marni) and military jacket. The way you wear it ultimately is up to you, not a designer.
From the midst of eclecticism has also emerged a wonderful, low-key modern glamour from labels not normally known for either bling or cling such as Bottega Veneta, Rodarte and Marios Schwab.
I believe we are in for a treat this September. If not, I'll eat my hat (better not make it one by Marc Jacobs, though).
Julia Robson is a London-based fashion journalist, broadcaster and stylist
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Updated: March 4, 2012 04:00 AM