LONDON, OLD AND NEW
THE FASHION CARAVAN HAS MOVED ON TO LONDON, WHERE THE FALL SEASON IS BRINGING A WIDE VARIETY OF LOOKS, SOME OF THE MOST SUCCESSFUL OF THEM COMBINATIONS OF VINTAGE AND NEW ELEMENTS.
LONDON — The London fashion collections, which began on Sunday, got off to a slow start. It took Russell Sage’s and Blaak’s mixes of vintage-inspired and new looks, along with the Alpine styles of Britain’s most successful designer, Sir Paul Smith, to generate some excitement.
The main topic, however, was the continuing concern about whether there’s an impending crisis in British fashion. There are more shows than ever — 52 on the schedule, nine other presentations and at least 15 off-schedule events. But designers, retailers and the British Fashion Council worry whether all the fledgling talents have enough financial resources to compete against the megaliths now dominating the world’s luxury-goods industry. The liquidation of Hussein Chalayan’s company earlier this year continues to haunt everyone, and the thought is that, if someone of his talent can’t make it, who can? Chalayan isn’t showing here this season; he’s focused instead on preparing a small collection to wholesale during the Paris collections.
In an interview with the BBC last week, Alexander McQueen complained that the British government doesn’t do enough to support its young designers. He accused it of using designers for publicity purposes but not backing them up and called for the government to provide tax incentives for manufacturers to encourage them to produce for the designer end of the market.
“It’s sad really that you generate all this press for English fashion and sometimes English eccentricity, but they don’t really put their money where their mouth is,” said McQueen, who late last year sold 51 percent of his company to Gucci. “They expect you to do it all yourself, whereas in France the government really funds the fashion industry.”
Here, a look at the action from the first few days of the London shows:
Paul Smith: The newly knighted designer went off on a skiing holiday for fall and showed just why he’s a fashion mogul. Smith turned the Royal Horticultural Hall in Victoria into a winter wonderland with fake snow, huge fir trees and strings of lights meant to mimic a star-lit sky. To the sound of sleigh bells, he sent out the elements of the hip Englishwoman’s skiing wardrobe: glitter snowflake and Fair Isle knits; wool tweed coats, pants and skirts in bright diagonal stripes; cropped peacoats; shearling-trimmed denim jackets; flower-print or polkadot dresses; plaid pants, and enough jackets and ski pants to fill a sports store.
Smith also hit the key trends seen so far this season — lots of fake fur in the form of cute stoles, hooded cropped jackets or cuddly double-breasted coats; lace-trimmed skirts and dresses, and corset-style tops and dresses. And he produced some of the best accessories seen so far — striped tweed bags with chain-link handles or numbers with a Vargas-style print of a bikini-clad woman relaxing on a ski slope, hats ranging from popcorn-knit pieces to trilbys and high-heeled boots in striped tweed, Edwardian styles or with knit tops.
As with every show, there were some missteps. Velvet HotPants aren’t a good look on many women in any weather; the Edwardian bustle skirts appeared to be a last-minute idea, and not a winning one, while the presentation could have been more tightly edited. But the show was one of London’s few upbeat moments thus far and is further proof that Smith’s women’s line is finally hitting its stride.
Russell Sage: Sage started his own line four seasons ago and, with his stylish mixes of vintage pieces and new fabrics, was an immediate hit. The collection he came up with for fall stuck to that theme, executed, however, with a surer hand — perhaps a result of his sponsorship from the British savings-and-loan Britannic Money.
The title of Sage’s show, “Russell Sage is History,” was a double-edged quip — the designer now goes by Russell Onan Sage, while his collection further explored his patented mix of old and new. As the press release accompanying the show said: “Is something worth more because it is expensive or because the wearer loves it? Would the wearer respond in the same way if the dress looked and felt identical but was formed from a less-expensive fabric?” No, there weren’t any essay questions…
The best looks included the brightly striped, kimono-style dresses, the wool blanket coats and jackets, the silk and cotton bedsheet dresses and the old dresses worn over new copies. At one point, he sent out two models: one was wearing a sugary confection of a pale green vintage party dress while the other wore an exact replica in cotton wool. His finale was his mother’s water-stained wedding dress from 40 years ago. Thanks to his sponsor, he also sent out a string of jackets and dresses made of banknotes pasted together.
Sage’s theme has been explored by others — most notably Miguel Adrover and Imitation of Christ — but so what? Perhaps the only way fashion can truly create something new in the years ahead is to resolve its current fixation with the old.
Blaak: Sachido Okada and Aaron Sharif made a hit on Monday evening with their first-ever runway show, a model of a controlled, tight collection that some of their older peers could learn from. But while they’re newcomers to the catwalk, Okada and Sharif are old hands at the game — they started their label two years ago while they were still students at Central Saint Martins and have been selling to Browns Focus in London and other stores in Japan. Their experience showed as they twisted the current trends into their own style with fishtail skirts, jackets with flaps that attached at the shoulders (less tricky than it sounds), striped denim skirts, coats and jackets, ribbed knits with balloon sleeves, bondage skirts and dresses, bloomer-style pants and leather skirts worn with bib-fronted striped shirts. This is clearly a team to watch.
Julien Macdonald: One of Britain’s most flamboyant showmen, Macdonald didn’t disappoint this season. He redecorated the ballroom of the Grosvenor House Hotel as an old-style music hall, complete with a battered, dark wood runway and plush red velvet curtains emblazoned with his initials in big gold letters.
Macdonald continues to broaden his scope beyond his signature knitwear. For fall, he focused on slit-to-the-hips sequined dresses, barely there minidresses in rose-patterned sequins, gold flapper-style dresses over velvet tops, studded leather jumpsuits with hand-painted flowers, crystal-covered skirts in harlequin patterns and bejeweled denim tops, pants and jackets perfect for all the Morris Dancers out there. The few readily identifiable knits owed a clear homage to Azzedine Alaia.
Macdonald’s style is unabashedly over-the-top. He doesn’t even mind being labeled “the British Versace.” The designer knows his customers — and those British and American actresses looking to make an impact at the Academy Awards will soon be beating down his door.
Clements Ribeiro: It’s a constant fashion debate — is it best for a designer to adopt a trend or create his or her own? The design duo of Suzanne Clements and Inacio Ribeiro have been firmly in the latter camp as two of the creators of the Bohemian Chic look, and their striped knits, romantic dresses and unique color sense were aped by many others. But last season, they transformed themselves, hitting every major Eighties trend seen in all the other fashion capitals. They continued with that strategy in their runway show on Tuesday night. Military looks, fur, lace, leopard prints, flat caps and ruffled hemlines have been all over the runways in New York and London, and Clements Ribeiro had them, too. And for those who missed them the first time round, the duo replicated some of their own greatest hits, such as polkadot cashmeres, dragonfly sequinned tops and skirts and Grecian-style tops and dresses. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with following the crowd. It’s just that one has come to expect Clements Ribeiro to be leaders.