x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Fashion parties: how to decipher the dress code

It can be rather confusing trying to distinguish fashion trends.

I attended two very different fashion parties last week, both thrown by the British Fashion Council in London.

Coming a few days after its New York rival, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), had staged a ritzy award ceremony, it was interesting to compare notes on who wore what.

Although the CFDA event had managed to rustle up a blue-wigged Lady Gaga along with a bevy of red carpet regulars - all predictably flashing a lot of flesh - anyone trying to de-code what was currently fashionable Stateside would have come away very confused.

Besides Kirsten Dunst rocking a tux trousersuit and Chloé Sevigny wearing Dolce & Gabbana white lace, the overall dress code - dominated for some odd reason by scarlet - looked more like a Pussycat Dolls convention than a celebration of current trends.

It hardly mirrored Angelina Jolie's latest Louis Vuitton "Core Values" campaign image which absolutely sums up where Planet Fashion is right now. This depicts the American mother of six, barefoot in silk khaki combats - the sort we know cost more than $2,000 (Dh7,346) - wearing dewy make-up and a deconstructed hairdo, posing with her monogrammed Alto carryall bag, which would cost several times the annual national wage in Cambodia, the site of the shoot, as it happens.

This "just thrown together" understated glamour is, of course, anything but. Dress down luxe is most difficult to achieve when you are going to a truly special party and even harder to pull off if you are over 30. There is something about eveningwear in particular that makes trendy girls such as Ashley and Mary Kate Olsen, or Liv Tyler, suddenly come over all middle-aged and dull.

Even celebrity stylists fail to get their heads around the notion of dressed-down dress-up, as worn by contemporary icons such as Sofia Coppola, who never appears to be trying too hard.

However it didn't phase London's fashion crowd, who demonstrated that when it comes to cool partywear, they have the edge on their American cousins.

And they can't blame the soaring New York heat. The first of the BFC events was an open-air party, staged in the muggy grounds of Somerset House on a humid June evening, to announce who had won backing for the next round of ready-to-wear shows at London Fashion Week.

This will be of enormous importance because the season designers will be showing is spring/summer 2012, a time when London will be hosting the Olympics.

Here, I spotted veteran fashion designers, college lecturers, stylists and fashion PR supremos, mixing seasonal must-haves (Jil Sander brights, Prada and Peter Pilotto prints, Isabel Marant tropical skinny jeans, Jessy J strong make-up, Erdem lace) with something understated (trouser suits, messy tied-back hairdos) and exceptionally elegant (spindle kitten heels, espadrilles).

Forty-something Sarah Mower, a style journalist and the BFC's ambassador for British emerging talent, introduced the line-up of Britain's "Team Fashion" (the milliner Nasir Mazhar and the designers Craig Lawrence and J W Anderson got the loudest cheer) and exemplified what should be worn on such occasions: wide leg trousers teamed with a cream longline jacket punched up by an acid lime Christopher Kane lace top.

The Italian Vogue editor in chief Franca Sozzani, looked equally contemporary in a phosphorescent blue neat A-line skirt suit, her tiny feet clad in pointy kitten heels.

Top Man's dashing white-haired group design director Gordon Richardson, showed what a groovy elder fashion statesman should look like, his boyish checked western-style shirt worn under an impeccably tailored summer blazer and drainpipes. In other words: cool.

A few nights later was the BFC's celebration of The Daily Telegraph's legendary fashion editrix, Hilary Alexander's career in fashion; a far grander affair and yet groovily chilled in terms of dress up. (I noted just one person, Giles Deacon, wore jeans).

The fashion set - Christopher Bailey, Roland Mouret, Vivienne Westwood, Sarah Burton, Matthew Williamson, Katie Grand, Stephen Jones - turned out in force to the newly renovated St Pancras Renaissance Hotel wearing familiarly on-trend gear blended in with their own "signature" detail.

With Katie Grand it's her 1970s platforms and red lipstick. Vivienne Westwood has her orange hair. Alexander wore an ethnic skirt bought on a fashion assignment to India, which fitted in perfectly with the eclectic dress code.

What about me? Two words. Dolce & Gabbana. (Or is that three?). Angelina Jolie might be able to get away with wearing combats, but alas, when it comes to fashion parties, I need a bit of designer leopard print to make me stand out and yet, weirdly, blend in.