Everyone needs a little cheer right now and London Fashion Week gave us plenty to be optimistic about. The richly embroidered doll-like dresses of Erdem, the slick androgynous tailoring of Todd Lynn and the gilded lingerie-as-outerwear of Richard Nicoll reminded us that creativity and commerciality can flourish in a recession. Young British designers might not have million-dollar businesses backing them but they are full of passion and prepared for hard graft.
The confident debut of Kinder Aggugini, ex-John Galliano and Calvin Klein, focused on romantic, faded rose prints and polka dots for dresses, mixed with masculine tailoring. At Luella, you could detect a 1970s Carnaby Street vibe in the short red rain mac and the little Sergeant Pepper military jackets worn with crimped hair and sparkly gold tights. Variety is one of London's great strengths and John Rocha included his poetic vision with a sculpted silhouette, slim on top but fully rounded on the hips, with cropped flounced skirts and padded Tudor-inspired headbands.
There was also the wonderful and the weird. Erdem's stunning printed and embroidered dresses gave Christian Lacroix a run for his money and newcomer Peter Pilotto similarly revealed his skill as a printer, with brightly faceted mineral prints (quite a London trend) on short, draped dresses. Marios Schwab's breathtaking 3D mineral prints and body-con dresses, with slashes that peel open to reveal Swarovski crystals, show that even experimentation can be truly elegant.
On the flipside, there were the curious punk couture outfits at Giles, with stiff trapeze skirts projecting sharp spikes and shaggy mohair arm-warmers, which showed artistic defiance in the face of the recession.
An 80s vibe was the underlying trend around the catwalks, with big shoulders, tiny curvy skirts and bright colours. However, there was the alluring presence of lingerie inspiration from Richard Nicoll, Jasper Conran and Christopher Kane. Nicoll fitted pink, corsetry dresses under see-through 'flasher' macs. Conran cleverly juxtaposed sensuous organza dresses that flashed big knickers with neat buttoned-up tailoring that had a whiff of French allure, while Kane hinted at lingerie with nude organza dresses trimmed with rows of black ribbon, evoking the graphic lines of Kandinsky. Kane says he began his collection with a big black marker pen and a sheet of paper and these linear ideas were born
Of course, the current 80s trend might look great on a teenager discovering big shoulders and legwarmers for the first time but those with memories of the second decade that style forgot might prefer the cropped jackets, riding coats and tapestry flower knits of Paul Smith's country-house look, layered with swags of pearls.
Aquascutum, meanwhile, illustrated how its signature check tailoring, tapering pants and jacquard dresses look good on all ages by using vintage models such as Yasmin Le Bon and Susie Bick, along with young celebrities such as Daisy Lowe. Vivienne Westwood did the same thing by getting Jo Wood (estranged wife of the Rolling Stones' Ronnie Wood) to play headmistress to a host of dishevelled St Trinian's girls in quirky asymmetric tartan outfits and equestrian jackets from her Red collection. Westwood and many other British designers demonstrated an extraordinary sense of optimism and confidence, considering the economic climate, for which they should be applauded.