Alexander McQueen went to church and became the savior of London fashion week. McQueen again produced the city’s one true fashion happening with a show at Christ Church in the East End Friday night that more than lived up to all the hype surrounding him. The other London highlight was the team of Clements Ribeiro, who hit the mark with their “suburban couture” collection.
But the overall feeling after four days of runway shows was flat, with most of the city’s young designers again failing to deliver on their initial promise. The diminishing excitement about London fashion is the reason that many American retailers skipped its shows and elected to head straight for Milan.
McQueen, however, saved the city’s fashion reputation with his location, split-second timing and accessories such as antler headdresses, birdclaw earrings and crucifix-covered masks. When he called everyone together for his fashion procession Friday night, the church was bathed in floodlights and the crowd outside seemed to feel a religious fervor even before they made their way through the life-threatening crush at the door. Inside, the pillars were surrounded by candles, a skeleton occupied one seat and the scent of roses drifted in the air. Christ Church is considered the masterpiece of the 18th century architect Nicholas Hawksmoor and also, according to McQueen, “is where my ancestors were baptized in 1790 and where a lot of my relatives are buried.”
The models came out to a soundtrack that ranged from 19th century orchestral music to “Apocalypse Now,” and the clothes also spanned the centuries. “It’s about war and peace through the years,” McQueen said afterward. “I think religion has caused every war in the world, which is why I showed in a church.”
Military looks were all over the London runways this season, but McQueen put his own signature on them with slashing, his low-riding bumster pants and tricky tailoring. There were bumster cadet pants with sharply angled cuffs; 18th-century-style gold brocade admiral’s coats worn with ripped lace dresses; tops with photo prints of GIs or the starving, and slashed-sleeved jackets. But this collection was even more commercial than spring’s. He also did soft gray flannel jumpsuits; big camel coats with fake-fur collars; demure suits in pinstriped flannel cut on the bias, and button-through skirts, dresses and knits that allow the wearer to create her own look. “They can be worn short or long or at an angle,” McQueen said. “They’re very adaptable.”
The designer is now taking the collection to New York, where he will show it in a synagogue on March 28, and then on to Japan. Clements Ribeiro, which generated almost as much pre-show buzz as McQueen, also faces increased expectations. In their third season on the runway, Suzanne Clements and Inacio Riberio refined their “suburban couture” style, mixing luxurious fabrics with nylon, polyester and other manmade fibers. Their show in the tents at the Natural History Museum included gold-and-white damask suits; striped cashmere tops, worn with bold pants of paisley furnishing fabric; cashmere blend coats over geometric-print silk tops and pants, and beaded georgette dresses lined with nylon mesh.
While McQueen and Clements Ribeiro were the two clear winners, there were other bright moments. Among them:
* Philip Treacy: He proved he’s the hatmeister supreme with creations inspired by everything from mussel shells to barbed wire.
* Jean Muir: In the second season after Muir’s death, the house’s design team came up with a collection that remained true to her roots but with a younger feeling and slimmer silhouettes.
* Antonio Berardi: The former assistant to John Galliano showed in his second collection that he’s someone to watch. He did great fitted tweed military suits, but lost his way with a host of bias-cut yellow silk dresses.
* Bella Freud: She hit with her saucy ribbed knits in everything from cardigans to minidresses.
* The People Corporation: Everyone trooped to its showroom near Sloane Street to see this line by Roland Mouret, which is backed by Onward Kashiyama. Retailers described the streetwear collection as “Helmut Lang at a good price.”

SECOND CHANCES: Secondary lines are sizzling here. And some of the hottest are going for the youth vote. Alberta Ferretti has rethought Philosophy di Alberta Ferretti, shifting from all jeans to a complete sportswear line. Volume has already reached $22 million, and this collection should keep up the momentum. Ferretti went Seventies’ aspiring bohemian with bold color mixes, audacious suede maxicoats, crushed velvets and amusing micro argyle prints.
At D&G, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana are also riding the youth wave, shuttling from the club scene straight to the bank. Sure, the collection is formulaic — commercial thrift-shop looks, a little Mum, a little more tramp. But it’s a formula that works: Sales increased 100 percent last year, to $44 million. And fall has all the requisite elements — bright lacy lingerie, animal prints, lady coats and, of course, all those utterly shameless D&Gs that keep the ravenous club rats coming back for more.

GIANNI’S SALUTE: War is hell. But the clothes sure look good — a notion not lost on Gianni Versace this fall. He first tossed open his war chest for the couture, and now his military directive is filtering through the ranks to Istante. The collection Versace showed Sunday night was a study in Soldier Chic of a commercial sort. It all starts with olive — the new camel — alone or with brights. In Gianni’s camp, almost everyone’s an Officer and a Lady, so there are scores of smartly-cut coatdresses, coats and jackets over short skirts or sensible pants — and not a hiphugger in sight. But he also manages to toss in plenty of glittery skintight knits, treated leathers, animal prints and peek-a-boo lace. Hey, this is Gianni’s army, not the Marines. Earlier, Versace offered a sneak peek at the Versus collection he’ll show in New York — he’s tempering the bad-taste quotient with quieter prints and colors this time around.

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