x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Elegant touch at London Fashion Week

Matthew Williamson brings back glamour, while a Versace moment adds colour.

The good news is there is a distinct whiff of glamour in the air at London Fashion Week. Historically, designers in the British capital prefer to display a hard edge to femininity, embodied in the signature designs of Alexander McQueen, with the label's power suits and daring eveningwear bristling with attitude.

By day three of London, this toughness had evaporated. Poof! Almost as though designers have removed a protective layer, allowing a more vulnerable fragility to creep to the surface.

Throughout the day, at collections by Holly Fulton, Markus Lupfer and Maarten van der Horst, who said "Aloha" to Hawaiian prints, until the spectacular evening presentation by Matthew Williamson, it was as though designers had decided to make elegant eveningwear famous once more.

This was the case before the Swinging Sixties put London on the map for its youthful music scene, and more recently when it secured the mantle of playing nanny to young, emerging designers.

Although Anna Wintour and her team had arrived in town to catch shows by Topshop Unique, now an important part of LFW's repertoire, (which showed prints inspired by hip-hop and the artist Keith Haring), she appeared to be visibly thrilled to the point of almost relaxing in her seat at Williamson's evening presentation staged in the vast steel and glass Turbine Hall of London's premier contemporary art gallery, Tate Modern.

This might have had something to do with the fact this directly followed Tom Ford's event, which had a media blackout (although the naughty American stylist, Rachel Zoe, twittered, twice, that it was lovely).

It wouldn't be surprising if Williamson's show, which attracted an impressive gathering of fashion's hoi polloi including Anna Dello Russo, Tim Blanks and Cathy Horyn, didn't at least match up to Ford's.

There was definitely a sense of "gauntlet throwing" from the moment Ana Rubik (the highest-paid supermodel on the circuit) stepped on to the runway dressed in a breathtaking tangerine evening gown with vertiginous Charlotte Olympia platforms.

Both Williamson's daywear - sandwashed silks shifts, shorts and skirts folded and draped and oozing elegance - and his eveningwear - knee and floor-trailing, decorated in tufted ostrich feathers, bursts of hand-painted metal sequins and dense appliqué - oozed jet-setting sophistication.

This season, the label's signature prints were in fact computer-generated blossoms stretched and distorted until they took on an Ikat graphic. Some were flipped vertically to make a mirror image or set against blurry Tokyo night scenes.

"The collection was loosely based on Oriental textiles, ceramics and antique heirlooms," Williamson exclusively told The National, post-show. "I wanted to introduce a longer length and languid feel this season." I wouldn't even hazard a guess as to what might become bestsellers at his boutique in the Dubai Mall. This was a standout collection.

Indeed, there were moments at the shows of Williamson, Holly Fulton and Marios Schwab, the latter who imagined what the film star Rita Hayworth might have worn if she was a young actress living in 2011, when I got flashbacks to the wonder years of Gianni Versace's shows.

I was lucky enough to witness these brief iconic years at the start of my career. Oddly enough, no designers have come close to erasing the memories. Gianni knew a thing or two about glamour. He practically invented supermodels, the modern catwalk and made red-carpet watching a contemporary sport.

"C'mon. Let's pretend it's Versace!", whispered Mark Connolly, Condé Nast Traveler's discriminating style director to me during the show.

And you almost could if you blurred your eyes and pretended the bland, Eastern European waif models at Schwab were in fact Amber Valetta or (harder still) Linda Evangelista circa 1990.

Schwab's signature is panelling but until now this didn't follow the flow of the body like Versace's panelled dresses did. However, his finale of dresses, peppered with twinkling Swarovski crystals, were spine tingling.

Versace's other unmistakable trait was colour. Although Williamson's palette was very modern, there was something that paid homage to the citrus hues that used to flow from Milan throughout the early 1990s. Earlier at Mulberry, which took place in the ballroom of London's grandest hotel, Claridges, and where Kate Moss and the Twilight star, Kristen Stewart, sat front row, saturated pops of colour drew attention away from the bags.

Interestingly, Donatella Versace, the sister of the late designer, has recently "gifted" vintage Versace to Lady Gaga. Apparently, the singer is a big fan. Of course she is. She's also a media-savvy performer who knows what's going to be the next big trend.

Versace for H&M will arrive in 300 stores globally from November 17. In which case, Ms Gaga will be wearing original Versace gowns before the wider world.

At least this means no more meat dresses. Now that really is good news.