London The designer Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi goes for the gold in a bravura collection at London Fashion Week.
What are the colours of optimism? Gold and sparkling silver, of course. On the third day of London Fashion Week, designers sent out pleasantly pretty clothes on the catwalks, punctuating every two or three outfits by something shiny and metallic. At times, the sheer volume of gold resembled one of those dream sequences in a Busby Berkeley Broadway movie, where costumes are fashioned from supersized coins.
Certain designers handled the new bling better than others. Matthew Williamson, for instance, who recently opened a boutique in Dubai, began his show with a spectacular parade of polished gold tailored separates and ended with a finale that featured clothes with shards of mirrors appliquéd on everything from a swimsuit to a full-length evening gown. There was liquid gold organza trims on quilted vests and hems of shorts at Louise Goldin, BacoFoil-type shift dresses at Betty Jackson and silver leather bomber jackets at Jasper Conran.
But nowhere did clothes shine brighter or more golden than at Qasimi, the label designed by Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi. Al Qasimi showed his fourth womenswear collection in the Fashion Factory, a vast industrial space that was once the largest postal sorting office in central London and is currently considered the coolest show venue of London Fashion Week. This show was as light as his one in March was dark. Although, it must be said, this was equally dramatic.
"It's based on Byzantine women who have been woken up from a crypt and hauled on to the catwalk," the designer explained backstage before the event kicked off. Fittingly, on the first day of Eid, he was in a celebratory mood. Having finished his collection in his Dalston studio two days earlier ("I am always organised"), he was able to greet the profusion of well-wishers backstage, who included a CNN crew doing a 15-minute documentary on him (coming out Friday).
It also gave him a chance to polish up the six languages he speaks fluently (just for the record: Italian, French, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese and English) with editors, buyers and models. Before the house lights dimmed and the show began, he talked me through the range. Was there enough gold here? Let's just say I had to wear my sunglasses. "I wanted to create something optimistic to lift us from all the financial doom and gloom," said Al Qasimi, who originally hails from Sharjah and has lived in London since he was nine ("but I still miss the food and smell of the salty air").
He seemed pretty happy, and for good reason. Since his February 2008 catwalk debut in London, Al Qasimi has rebranded his womenswear, aiming it at a younger market and succeeding. Nicola Formichetti, the creative director of the trendy magazine Dazed and Confused, has picked up on it and dressed the fashion icon Lady Gaga in Qasimi for her new video. He is also working with the Glasto rock chick Florence Welch, from Florence and the Machine, on a new look.
In July, he launched a menswear collection in Paris and he is currently in talks with leading department stores to produce a capsule eveningwear line aimed at Middle Eastern women. "Two days after my last show, I went to see the Byzantium exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts (in London) and it just blew me away," he says. "The sheer energy was amazing. From that moment, I knew where my next women's collection would come from for my ready to wear."
Starting at the shoulder - handily, the current erogenous zone of fashion - he then moved on to consider colour and shape. "Because we are talking about goddess-like women, shoulders had to be strong and make a statement. I also used Byzantine shades like dark petrol blue and tomato red, which look striking with gold." Al Qasimi originally trained in architectural design, which comes across in his geometric detailing and precision pattern cutting. Close-up, the workmanship is breathtaking.
When models (wearing gold leaf eyeshadow) began to snake around the room at floor level, the effect was not lost. In fact, considering this was inspired by an ancient era, the clothes looked very modern. Panels of gold brocade were sliced in layers like an armadillo's shell in jackets with buckled fastenings worn over short, tight, slim tube dresses, or - another trend emerging in London - Lady Gaga "pants".
Highlights included wafting floor-length maxis in nude chiffon, sometimes broken up with a white patent gilet; gold harem pants in varying lengths; and a short, sharp, red laser-cut suede shift dress that gave a nod to Gianni Versace in his heyday. For such a young and relatively inexperienced designer, Al Qasimi ticked all the boxes regarding emerging trends for spring/summer 2010, which is really more about a mood than one particular silhouette or colour.
Individual pieces such as his jodhpurs and leather jackets hinted at his now signature demi-couture luxury but also could be translated into a customer-friendly line, whenever he is ready. Considering his opulent theme, he also exercised restraint with accessorising, using only a few statement pieces on the 26 outfits, from a new collaboration with the British jewellery star Scott Wilson, based on the Iranian artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian.
One lucky model - flown in especially from America for his show - got to wear a stunning jagged-edge brass and quartz necklace that looked like a museum piece. Meanwhile, pale suede shoes with giant buckles got a nod of approval from the man who matters in such matters, Jimmy Choo, who was in the audience. "It's spectacular. I want everything," rasped the Pakistani actress Sofia Hayat, who sat in the front row. "How often do you see something so pretty and so strong?"
"What an assault on the senses," said the celebrity milliner Louis Mariette. "I liked the way he's not afraid to express himself without losing sight of his market. It was full of what I'd call wearable show pieces." Post show, Al Qasimi was congratulated by all, including his twin sister and his six-year-old niece, Mariam - his only critic, it seemed. "Oh dear. My little niece thinks there should have been more pink."