LondonLondon's fashion week distinguishes itself with a taste of schizophrenia.
Global talent gives a cosmopolitan flavour
Part of the appeal of London Fashion Week is its rich diversity. Despite vastly differing styles, designers can do their own thing here and get away with it. It remains the only fashion capital where you expect each show to be utterly different from the last with no common thread linking them whatsoever. New York is renowned for its sportswear and classicism. Milan for its high-glam and glitz. Paris for its polished eveningwear and grown-up sophistication. London for its raging schizophrenia. This is the city where punk sits alongside orderly Savile Row tailoring. Perhaps it's most famous for explosive trends that start from seemingly nowhere and end up everywhere.
Such is the reputation of its fashion colleges - such as Central St Martins - that London attracts talent from the four corners of the earth. Many graduates remain and set up their own businesses bringing to London a little of their own country and traditions. Saturday's shows flagged up the sheer internationalism of the place. In the morning Mark Fast, a Canadian, showed a knitwear range, followed by Mary Katrantzou, who is Greek, whose collection of digital-print cocktail dresses were accessorised by jewellery made from hand-blown glass and shoes specially created by Charlotte Dellal (who is half-Brazilian). Later on, the Indian designer Ashish Gupta and Kinder Aggugini (Italian) also put on jaw-dropping spectacles.
Tomorrow we shall see the new collection by Khalid Al-Qasimi, who hails from the UAE. Roksanda Ilincic (Serbia), Erdem Moralioglu (Canada) and Marios Schwab (half-Greek, half-German) will also show in London. There are plenty of English (Jasper Conran, Luella Bartley, Paul Smith), Welsh (Julien Macdonald) and Scottish (Christopher Kane, Louise Grey) representatives too. Rarely does a fashion week pass without a bit of drama. Thanks to a national postal strike, most tickets for the hottest shows in town lie in sacks in sorting bins somewhere beside the hotels where VIP editors and buyers await them.
The other worry is the weather. As if knowing what to wear to fashion week isn't hard enough without the added curse of an Indian summer (London is oddly hotter than in July). At times like this there is only one thing to do: reach for a Breton. The nautical-striped French top, once worn by onion sellers on rusty bikes before they became the classic staple of icons from Edie Sedgwick to Brigitte Bardot, is back in fashion.
At Margaret Howell's small showroom presentation the Breton count exceeded 20 (excluding the two kids who were also wearing them and a cropped version on the catwalk). At the Kinder Aggugini show - one of the highlights of the day - not one, but three Voguettes sat front-row wearing theirs. British Vogue's fashion features editor, Pippa Holt, wore a Topshop number purchased two days ago ("I was attracted by the subtle shoulder pads"). The writer, Emma Elwick looked cool despite her cashmere Meadham Kirchoff ("it was meant to be cold today"). And the fashion editor, Miranda Almond wore a traditional sailing style bought from Ile de Re.
Another fashion-editor trend emerging is flat shoes. The message from the spring/summer 2010 catwalks is blurry. Seventies-inspired platforms, skinny stilettos and clumpy tribal wedges have all been visible. In contrast the spectators are voting with their feet. Doc Martens, Converse baseball boots, plimsolls, brogues, loafers, workman's boots, flat (but not a pump), flatter (lace-up wedges are cool) and flattest (not to mention androgynous) are the fashion-insider footwear of choice. A glance around collections housed in static tents confirmed flats are the future. Even Nicholas Kirkwood includes them in his new range.
Fashion is all about taking risks. Mark Fast used some models that were larger and curvier than usual in his show. Unfortunately, he also used others who were extraordinarily thin. Although this was meant to bring attention to how draping, density and volume is affected in relation to a woman's body size, his thoughtful handcrafted elastomeric (you have to see them to believe them) yarns embellished with crystals, pearls and leather were overshadowed by what became a freakish little versus large show.
Guess who looked best in a dress with a double row of pompoms around the waist? Best leave his gear to the Cheryl Coles of this world. It is always a relief when a designer who is hyped beyond belief delivers the goods. Such was the case with Aggugini, who pulled off a range that was beautifully executed and forward thinking. No wonder Pat McGrath, the make-up supremo, agreed to do this one. Here, the hair stylist Malcolm Edwards kick-started a trend. Anyone remember the American TV show Little House on the Prairie and Nelly Olsen's ringlets? Big, bouncy curls are bang on trend. Iron-straightened locks are a thing of the past. Ladies, dig out your Carmens. You're going to need them.