First came the athletes, then the editors.
While multicoloured "London 2012" banners from the Olympic and Paralympic Glames continued to hang in the streets of the British capital, the fashion world was already looking ahead to spring 2013. What they saw during London Fashion Week, which started on Sept. 14 and concluded last week, was a great deal of confidence, suggesting that the gang of young designers who have spent the last five years making London a mandatory stop on the fashion Grand Tour understands what it means to make clothes that sell, not just attract attention.
At the same time, none of these designers (Mary Katrantzou, Jonathan Saunders, Giles Deacon, Christopher Kane, Peter Pilotto) currently has a bag or fragrance bearing their names. But the ancillary stuff will come later. In producing collections that are retail-friendly without sacrificing characteristic British wit, most are better positioned to generate investor interest. References to collections as "commercial" were rife. And unlike in the past, this was no longer a diss.
Taking commercialism to an extreme perhaps, Katrantzou, for one, wryly took her print inspiration from old stamps and money notes. Unlike the European economy, though, the clothes were newly fluid, allowing the serrated edge patterns to run from neckline to hemline. And for the first time, she applied her prints to denim in collaboration with jean brand Current/Elliott.
"I think it felt right to strip things back to cut and simplicity and to show more skin," Jonathan Saunders said after his show. "I wanted to have lower necklines, shorter skirts and just do things simple, graphic – and sexy."
Like Paul Smith and Acne, the Scottish designer seemed to be on the same striped page as his New York contemporaries. But he also moved beyond the motif, applying a holographic finish and sequin panels to the fronts of cardigans and pencil skirts. Best of all, he left them unadorned down the back. Dress for dancing, dress for work: It's all the same, apparently.
Not that anyone was competing, but Erdem and Christopher Kane went head-to-head in the arena of novelty done right. Canadian-born Erdem Moralioglu embroidered PVC to mimic lace and then sewed swatches of lace into organza. He showed these intricate fabric hybrids in shades of "toxic" neon against powdery pastels, thereby twisting his signature couture style with new, exciting and unexpected elements. Although Moralioglu wasn't the only one to channel the 1950s (Temperley London's dresses did a fine job of that), his versions were gutsier, perverting the prettiness.
While Erdem took a cue from feminist sci-fi writer Zenna Henderson, Kane made Frankenstein's monster his muse, using plastic nuts and bolts to hold his clothes together and putting Boris Karloff's mug on a T-shirt. But then he folded pink fabric like cake fondant and applied squiggles of injection-moulded rubber in place of beading.
Over all, this much was certain about the London designers: They cannot resist colour.
When the Burberry Prorsum show opened with three variations of white, it hinted at a dramatic pendulum shift. As it turns out, though, this was merely creative director Christopher Bailey's palate cleanser; as the collection progressed, the pigments became more and more saturated, as if pulled fresh from a colour bath.
Yet the colour ratio was lower this season, in part because much of it was anchored by black and white. What looked to be black gaffer tape, for example, acted as a foil for Kane's precious pink. J.W. Anderson used it as a single band across the right breast of tops covered in a sponge-paint-style print – arbitrary but impactful. At Katrantzou and Peter Pilotto (designed by Pilotto and Christopher De Vos), black made prints more graphic, less trippy.
For his part, Canadian designer Thomas Tait is no stranger to black. His leap involved more colour, specifically silk coats, in bold citron, azure and International Klein Blue, that evidenced his impeccable construction skills and mastery of restrained volume.
And there was high contrast at Roksanda Ilincic as black and white helped to give an op art attitude to her conservative, elongated silhouettes. Like Tait, she used IKB and yellow along with shades of orange. Funk music accompanied the looks, underscoring fun over fussiness.
"We already know the customer has taken to colour so I'm glad we're still seeing it," Suzanne Timmins, senior vice-president and fashion director of the Hudson's Bay Company, said after Ilincic's show. "And black and white is one of the easiest things to sell; the colour with it is what lends newness."
By the final day of Fashion Week, many editors had ticked off all their London must-sees, although the smart ones would have stayed for Simone Rocha, who created strong silhouettes from beautiful crochet fabrics. All in all, 62 official shows were packed into five days, demanding serious stamina on the part of attendees. To keep things lively, many designers opted to choose venues outside the central Somerset House tent. Saunders, for instance, presented his collection in the temporary lobby of the Tate Tanks, the newest edition of the Tate Modern. No show has ever been staged there before and, thanks to an upcoming renovation, none will take place there again. Tait, meanwhile, chose the graffiti-covered underpass of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. To call it cool would be an understatement. And a tent erected for Burberry Prorsum was large enough to hold 1,500 guests (including a few Olympians) and boasted retractable walls that took full advantage of a sunny afternoon.
Burberry's Plan B, an enclosed show, would have been moot: It remains LFW's business behemoth and the collection has a certain imperative to be more accessible. Still, there will likely be high demand for its capelet in tangerine vinyl with metallic python trim, which resembled the offspring of a visor and an umbrella. As such items indicate, Bailey continues to innovate while adhering to brand codes that sell, rain or shine. In this way, he's London's champion.