Accounting for taste

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 October, 2011, 12:00am

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Paris

Why bother traipsing around Hollywood when you can celeb watch at Paris Fashion Week? Veterans such as Karl Lagerfeld, Miuccia Prada and Jean Paul Gaultier were joined by newcomers such as Opening Ceremony duo Humberto Leon and Carol Lim and Clare Waight Keller for Chloe. Joining the front-row regulars, American twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen hosted an event for their accessories label 'the Row' and A-listers witnessed the much-hyped yet lukewarm debut of Kanye West's high-fashion label.

The French capital's cutting-edge style was just the thing to make us temporarily forget about the world's economic worries. Although some collections seemed strangely heavy and autumnal, others displayed unreserved enthusiasm that served as a welcome reminder of fashion's uplifting powers.

The Sonia Rykiel girl came down a neon-yellow catwalk all girlish sunshine and positivity. Along with her were Kenzo's new design team, who went with bold, bright colour blocks and modern shapes.

White-hot styles made this virginal shade the colour of next season, as shown at Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Celine, Commes des Garcons and Hussein Chalayan. Ice cream hues and girlish pleating were also big runway hits, giving us a happy, candy-coloured outlook, while sheer, light, see-through fabrics put a spring back in our step.

Laid-back elegance and wider shapes reigned - as waistlines dropped to the hips in an ode to the roaring 20s. Softer, relaxed vibes and looser silhouettes hinted that fashion is moving in an easier, more flippant direction, while favourite fabrics organza, broderie anglais and leather brought home the concept of contrast.

The creative spectrum here ranged from the minimalist camp, including avant-garde designer Hussein Chalayan who did ultra-modern drop-waist dresses in sorbet colours and sinister dark floral print, to eccentrics such as Manish Arora (newly installed at Paco Rabanne) and Vivienne Westwood.

Phoebe Philo at Celine is well aware of the power of well-proportioned simple separates. Clean, sculpted jackets, tops with peplums and pleated leather skirts reigned. Chloe's minimal yet feminine collection referenced the 60s and 70s, with fluid boho pleats, mod-cut tops and chic loose shorts.

Rumours of Marc Jacobs taking over at Christian Dior were flying thick and fast at the Dior show in the Musee Rodin, but there were no surprises or big announcements, disappointing those who had been waiting with bated breath since John Galliano was given the boot. Instead, at the helm was studio director Bill Gayten, who referenced the house codes with reinvented classic Dior bar jackets. After being panned by critics at its couture show, the label played it safe with pretty ready-to-wear. Lace and organza dresses had a lingerie twist and the ever sylph-like Karlie Kloss modelled a striking floor-length black-lace bodice gown.

Jean Paul Gaultier dared to send girls down the runway to the sound of spoken commentary, but those sexy high-waists, stripes, casual draped dresses and faux tattoos spoke for themselves.

In Paris, history repeated itself. There was the jazz age (get your flapper outfits ready) and the 60s and 70s - re-liberating retro proved still in vogue. Loewe worked in graphic vintage-looking prints and added deep purple and gold for extra luxe.

For vintage pin-up sexiness, look to Rochas or Roland Mouret. Little waists, light organza headscarves and cat-eye shades stole the Rochas runway show, while Mouret's gorgeous tailored body-con dresses were given a whimsical 40s makeover.

I almost fell over Salma Hayek, husband Francois-Henri Pinault and Kylie Minogue on the Yves Saint Laurent red carpet while attempting to eavesdrop on rumours of personnel shuffles at the company. Stefano Pilati went with pretty satin ruffles and scrolls, creating girlish volume, but perhaps not to the grandiose effect we have come to expect of YSL.

Issey Miyake's new design director did a poetic take on a blooming flower with athletic elegance, joining Chloe, Gaultier, Rykiel and even Mouret in championing effortless femininity. Modern folksiness at Dries Van Noten, Hermes and Valentino contrasted with big urban lapels at Givenchy and Balenciaga's bold, strong-shouldered 'it' jackets. Stella McCartney offered broad-shouldered manly jackets atop lacey, wavy cut-outs on mini dresses. Meanwhile, Maison Martin Margiela tailored menswear pieces to feminine shapes, with excess fabric darted to great effect.

Gender-bending styles were elegant in Haider Ackermann's signature aristocratic ethno-chic. This designer is going places fast - he has already turned down nine contract offers (but won't say with which houses).

Prints at Balenciaga, Loewe, Dries Van Noten and Lanvin were punchy. Last season, Givenchy caused a stir with rottweilers and orchids but this year Lanvin grabbed attention with a snake motif slithering across jackets and bejewelled around the neck of a dress. Strong shoulders and tapered shapes complimented soft silk dresses that were classic Lanvin.

Dries Van Noten's gorgeous combinations told a more subtle story, one of rainforests, vintage etchings and sparkling night- scape photographs - all serving to gently drive home the concept of contrast.

Givenchy's palette might have had plenty of pale pink but those boyish sharp blazers, often sleeveless, reminded us of early McCartney. Models Natalia Vodianova and Gisele Bundchen trailed seaweedy streams of Givenchy's silver sequins and leather fish scales, exemplifying one of the biggest references of the season. In the midst of the madness, the calming influence of water and life under the sea seemed to resonate. For some, it was literal: fish, mermaid and shell motifs, for others, more romantic: flowing fabrics, sheers, iridescent sheens and the liberal use of sequins.

Karl Lagerfeld's Chanel underwater fantasy played out to the siren song of the band Florence and the Machine, with singer Florence Welch appearing Venus-like from a shell at the Grand Palais venue, the wondrous escape we had all been waiting for.

Folksy influences this season had Valentino, Hermes and Chloe attracted to rustic innocence. Hermes' elegance shone through, with colour-block suedes, long hemlines and pure-white peasant pieces. Even Rue Du Mail showed that Parisian style can play nice, with voluminous peasant shapes and rich textures.

Valentino placed femininity on a pedestal. We dare you to not covet the pretty laces and sheers in this sensitive, modest collection. I find it hard to fault McQueen, who also zoned in on femininity and womanhood. OK, the outfits are hardly ideal for wearing to the mall (just imagine all that beaded lace hemming getting caught in the escalators) but I'd honestly sell my grandmother for one of the shimmering princessy frocks.

Girlish princess tiaras and a fairground theme had models playfully perched on a giant white carousel at Louis Vuitton. Appropriately, newlywed Kate Moss, still fashion's reigning queen, closed the splendid show.

HIGHLIGHTS

Chanel

Divine aquatic inspirations played on water, pearl and oyster effects as garments shimmered with sequins, ruffles, sheers and iridescent sheens, but the mystical was made contemporary with low, shell-heeled sandals and boots. The cleverest under-the-sea reference were delicate pleats of tulle subtly mimicking gills. Pearls were a prominent feature, in model's hair, down backs and trimming jackets. Young, sporty shapes and drop waists again signalled Karl Lagerfeld's recent youthful turn at the famous French house.

Jean Paul Gaultier

The veteran's tongue-in-cheek style hit the mark with languid shapes and tough tattoo motifs. The Frenchman's format was an old-school fashion presentation, where each look is announced and described to an intimate audience (of a few hundred in this case). The relaxed, long, draped dresses were divine, as were sexy trenchcoats and a cheeky lingerie finale.

Alexander McQueen

Lace masks and extreme corset shapes seemed a nod to fetish, but powder-soft fabrics, iridescence and gentle hues said otherwise. These perfectly sculpted dresses were simply artful, with corset tops, exaggerated hips and fishtail skirts. The house of McQueen constantly references fashion history using coveted couture-like techniques. Here, Sarah Burton even adds her own feminine flirtation on top of all those disciplined lines.

Valentino

Hair braids and flat bejewelled sandals were bohemian touches that set off Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli's best collection for Valentino to date. After only a few seasons, the pair have shown confidence in designing for the Valentino woman. Initial detractors, who dwelled on the duo's accessories background, can now eat their words on this impeccable, subtle line. Dreamy lace, prim necklines and even a light smattering of leather - it was demure and romantic but not in any way silly.

Haider Ackermann

The French-Colombian wunderkind, finally being appreciated, took the trouser suit and spun an exotic world around it. Beautiful, relaxed draping of liquid-like fabrics worked with noble references to the East. We love the sharp jackets that tied at the waist, loose low-slung silky trousers in amazing colours and feminine wispy robes. Poetic.

Louis Vuitton

The cheeky, naughty-but-nice attitude at LV was adorable. Far from being fluffy, apart from the palette, Marc Jacob's designs were seriously constructed, with big oversized collars and full skirts. Pastels, short shorts and tiaras were all sweet touches. Jacob's proclivity for sheers and cut-outs was also well indulged. The plumped-up silhouette, barely touching the body at times, was rendered on beautifully textured broderie anglais and organza.

Jing Zhang

New York

Fashion historians maintain that fashion can be a good economic indicator, citing the lipstick index and the rise and fall of hemlines in line with financial markets. If we were to adhere to this theory, what then would we make of the bright, optimistic colours and florals that adorned the New York runways? Perhaps they point to the end of the financial meltdown? Although, judging by the headlines, perhaps not.

Nonetheless, who wouldn't feel lifted by the sight of Jason Wu's voluminous skirts in sunshine yellow, bubblegum pink and lapis? For a young designer, Wu has become a master of making couture shapes young and contemporary.

Florals and bright colours are hardly original or groundbreaking for the season, but young designers such as Wu, Joseph Altuzarra and Peter Som, as well as veterans Diane von Furstenberg and Ralph Lauren, tackled these themes with a fresh take.

Som and von Furstenberg's answer to making florals current is oversizing and abstracting the patterns. Som piled large roses washed in various colours on top of each other onto cigarette trousers, A-line dresses and swimsuits. Von Furstenberg did them on feminine jumpsuits, circle skirts and signature wrap dresses. Larger-than-life flowers - poppy prints in red and blue - at DKNY brought to mind the canvases of Donald Sultan, and Altuzarra's gorgeous tropical futuristic print was a central feature of his sporty collection.

Vivienne Tam's bright chiffon dress with dramatic floor-length sleeves made us sit up and pay attention while Tommy Hilfiger's collection explored every major colour in the spectrum in bold contrasting ponchos, kaftans, swimsuits and leather separates.

BCBG Max Azria was teeming with colour-blocked dresses with hemlines demurely falling to just below the knee or elegantly grazing the floor.

Another Asian-American designer making waves on the New York scene is Derek Lam, whose raspberry-coloured leather trench coat, buttercup yellow dress with plunging neckline and pink separates were sartorial equivalents of mood enhancers.

Other trends to come out of New York include exotic safari chic, the idea of lightness and transparency, a modern athleticism and a nod to The Great Gatsby. For her first runway show, Tory Burch was triumphant, with French-inspired dresses in stripes that recalled Coco Chanel in Deauville.

Michael Kors and Donna Karan both explored the African- tribal playbook. Kors sent out variations of the safari theme: suede shorts, utilitarian jackets, animal-print frocks and tie-dye maxi dresses with python-skin detailing on the neckline. Some outfits were paired with gladiator sandals, which are bound to be big hits come spring. Karan evoked a mostly earthy palette, broken in parts by vivid purple and yellow. She played with proportions, with dresses that were tight and body skimming on top then flared into full, multilayered skirts, before ending with a gorgeous medley of column dresses paired with African-inspired neck- pieces or embellished with tribal markings.

Lightness, by way of nudes and delicate wisps of fabric, was expounded by Francisco Costa at Calvin Klein and Phillip Lim. Costa showed slip dresses that hinted at the lingerie worn underneath. The Brazilian used a lot of seaming and pleating details on his dresses, giving them a kick and a swish.

Ralph Lauren returned to form with a collection that oozed with the roaring 20s and another nod to The Great Gatsby.

Dropped-waisted numbers, bias-cut silk dresses with feather wraps, beaded evening dresses and softly tailored white suiting all harked back to that glamorous elegant decade - a great stylish escape from our humdrum daily affairs.

Blue Carreon

Highlights

3.1 Phillip Lim

Easily one of the best New York collections of the season, Lim is the toast of the hip, young fashion set. In contrast to ubiquitous floral prints and trippy colours, his was all solids and subdued palettes. Inspiration came from the freedom of a soaring kite, which manifested itself in airy blouses and dresses and square tops in light, gauzy fabrics.

Marc Jacobs

He closed New York Fashion Week with a show that was a frenzy of references, from Chorus Line, to saloon, to flapper, to Annie Get Your Gun. Dropped waists and boxy silhouettes were paired with big pockets and buttons for a utilitarian sensibility - a very 'of the moment' look that few can pull off. It was an orgiastic mix of paillette-covered dresses, cashmere sweatshirts, transparent skirts, shiny gingham separates and plastic cowboy boots bound for plenty of editorial coverage.

Ralph Lauren

A solid collection filled with luxurious beaded evening gowns and silk dresses in white, silver and pale blush, plus a medley of menswear-inspired suiting. But while the Great Gatsby-esque gowns and dresses were breathtaking, the Easter egg-hued sportswear pieces that opened the show, such as knitted cardigans that appeared to have been attacked by moths, showed a refreshing edge to the usually highly polished label.

Accessories

1 Anya Hindmarch's fascination with 'lost and found' items on the London underground, in particular a beautiful battered doctor's bag, inspired this season's hero piece, the Bruton.

2 It's an urban jungle out there and Bruno Frisoni's tribal-inspired clutch at Roger Vivier will help you look the part. Also noteworthy is the geometric-patterned Prismick, with the must-have T-bar sandal.

3 Mulberry's Emma Hill does like to be beside the seaside and, as well as a doggy rain-mac for seafront walks, there's the Heritage satchel, updated in animal print for the label's Travel collection.

4 Jimmy Choo's Tamara Mellon ticks all the boxes when it comes to influences. Braiding, patchwork and tassels illustrate the brand's artisanal skills on tribal sandals and there's sportswear influences in the colourful new Justine bag and Tailor wedged trainer, and a hint of bondage in the Cadence clutch.

5 Giuseppe Zanotti is very on-trend, using colours of the Mediterranean. There are still lots of strappy platforms but also an experimental swooping, curving heel-less style, which Zanotti wittily describes as 'the phantom heel'.

6 Bally looks like it's been playing a schoolyard game of cat's cradle, with designers Michael Herz and Graeme Fidler finding multiple ways of twisting and knotting straps in red and camel leather to create sweet sandals.

7 Colour in bloom is the theme at Sergio Rossi, with colour- blocked courts featuring fluoro trims, and voluptuous flower prints on heels. Designer Francesco Russo occasionally cuts out and embroiders flowers and attaches them to sexy lattice-laced sandals.

8 If you love Tod's Gominos and ballerinas, then the brand's Indian-embroidered, hand-beaded designs are a must for the spring, along with the new on-trend Smoking slipper. However, the Ago sandal, with its saddle-stitched straps, is an archive piece cleverly updated by Derek Lam with a hand- moulded sole.

The transfer season

As we've seen in previous seasons, fashion careers can rise and disappear in a heartbeat. While some houses have been miraculously revived (think Mugler, thanks to Nicola Formichetti and Lady Gaga) others are busy wooing fresh blood, resulting in a merry-go-round of hires. There is a new guard approaching, members of which are vying to be fashion's next miracle worker.

There's still talk about a hook-up between Marc Jacobs and Christian Dior, and the chain-reaction such a move might trigger. Also rumoured are moves to LV by Tom Ford or Phoebe Philo. Meanwhile, the French regard Haider Ackermann a hero amid talk that he turned down Dior.

Elsewhere, Rodolfo Paglialunga, who cancelled a Hong Kong visit earlier his year, bowed out of Vionnet.

Chloe's Hannah McGibbon was replaced by Clare Waight Keller, who left her post at Pringle of Scotland to Alistair Carr.

New York's Opening Ceremony duo, Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, celebrated their Kenzo debut with bright colour blocks and a house party.

Yoshiyuki Miyamae made a thoughtful, well-received and poetic start at Issey Miyake.

Two Chinese natives who met at the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture, in Paris, Ling Liu and Dawei Sun, took the helm at Cacharel.

At Gianfranco Ferre, Tommaso Aquilano and Roberto Rimondi were replaced by another duo, Stefano Citron and Federico Piaggi, for SS12.

Maverick Indian designer Manish Arora took the helm at Paco Rabanne, giving us extravagant metallics in a bid to revive the label.

Singer Kanye West's high-fashion debut was the talk of the town - for mixed reasons - as he sent urban-inspired, revealing outfits and big furs down the catwalk.

When asked what she thought of West's collections, US Vogue editor Anna Wintour (never one to mince words) replied: 'Ask someone else.' Brutal!

Jing Zhang and Francesca Fearon

Milan

Milan is being obstinate. The powers that be in London have rescheduled their shows to accommodate next year's New York Fashion Week, which itself has been rescheduled to avoid the Labor Day holiday in September. But uproar has accompanied Milan's refusal to do the same, meaning many style setters, buyers, editors and models will have to skip London next year if they are to attend Milan, causing tempers to flare.

Spring-summer fashion here blew hot and cold. On the runways there was a hint of the aforementioned storm as fiery, revealing Latin looks were paraded with glamorous deco outfits worthy of an Indian summer evening. Anna Wintour, Jefferson Hack, Stephen Gan, Emmanuelle Alt and Angelica Cheung fanned themselves amid a freak European heat wave.

The tropical safari vibe that caught the eye of editors in New York was also present in Milan. Alberta Ferretti's African prints and big utility-pocketed blouses channelled casual safari that was softened with sheers and chiffon.

No 21 by Alessandro dell'Acqua gave us a chic Polynesian print while Dolce & Gabbana was positively popping with summery, tropical food prints, such as eggplant, berries and chillies, on cute two-piece numbers and sexy summer dresses. Also hinting at exotic undertones was Bottega Veneta's Thomas Maier, who sent saturated jewel hues down the catwalk with layered and liquid textures.

The raw, unabashed sex appeal of Italian fashion is almost a clich? but this time - appropriately, given the weather - the focus was on steaming summer evening attire. Roberto Cavalli would usually be the safe bet, but here it was Salvatore Ferragamo and Emilio Pucci that raised temperatures and bared sexy suntanned flesh.

Ferragamo silk scarf dresses were flirty and daring with deep magenta, metallics and sun- kissed hues making for dazzling looks that wouldn't go amiss in the poshest clubs of Monaco or St Bart's. Not bowing out quietly, a technicolour-scarf-inspired collection at D&G bid a bold goodbye to fans.

Peter Dundas sent haute gypsies out on to the runway at Emilio Pucci, and with them a hot Latin vibe in passionate red, venomous yellow and pure white. The hues were so vivid and the cuts so daring, you almost overlooked the precise workmanship, eyelet embroideries, stunning appliqu? motifs on liquid charmeuse.

Let's also imagine a high-fashion, modern-day Frida Kahlo. Fringing, frills and matador jackets stirred sizzling Mexican vibes at Moschino, with gold jewellery, crosses and embroidery providing bold Latin accents.

Roberto Cavalli, king of pulse-quickening styles, showed us a different side, playing with gothic themes on an elegant, long, low-waisted shape and floaty boho prints. There was classic Cavalli bling, in animal prints and gladiator-like gold skirts, but these were tempered by unusually serious, skinny-lapelled jackets.

Other jackets we liked were the urbane versions at Emporio Armani, set in a palette of white, light green, blue and pale pink, and trimmed with strong black lines that recalled classic Chanel.

Strikingly modernist patterns on 1960s-inspired daywear at Marni set a quirky retro mood. But it was the smoky basements of the 20s and 30s jazz age that many turned to for inspiration. Perhaps the era of the Great Depression feels appropriate for many Italians today.

Cavalli did it with languid deco shapes; Frida Giannini at Gucci recalled the era with lowered hemlines, bold geometric graphics and lots of fun fringing. This 'Hard Deco' collection had no sprightly colours or sanguine models. It was all about creatures of the night, as structured ensembles smouldered down the runway as the iconic house celebrates its 90th anniversary.

Veronica Etro followed in a similar vein, presenting prints inspired by futurist artist Fortunato Depero - cleverly simplifying the classic Etro paisley into graphic swirls paired with tromp l'oeil deep V-fronts and halternecks.

While these designers borrowed from the solemnity of the 20s, others, such as Versace and Prada, took to cute, girlish shapes and saccharine, sorbet hues. This playfulness bodes well for spring-summer and comes as a welcome reprieve from those lingering, heated looks and drop-dead glamour.

Fendi fans are in for a treat with great daywear in candy stripes, perforated leather and relaxed pyjama pants.

The imitable Prada evoked camp 50s American diners - apricot, mint, raspberry, peach and lemon shades made for very tasty styles. Inspiration from vintage customised hot-rods and Thunderbird cars had Miuccia Prada painting flames on buffed leather skirts.

Championing a crisp, cool summer was the new Versace glamazon, which sailed in the seaside theme, with pure Grecian whites, hazy sorbet pastels and starfish, mermaid and shell motifs. As the house rises again (see collabor- ations with H&M and Lady Gaga), this was one of Donatella's best recent collections. Floaty femininity was balanced by tough-girl studs, crystals and leather. Add plexi-wedge heels, sexpot minis and cropped jackets, and you have a winner.

Cool water and the seaside also provided an antidote to the heat at Giorgio Armani, MaxMara and Sportmax. Armani's soothing palette of pale azure and greens worked well with the clean lines on lovely bias-cut jackets. Most memorable was the trio of shimmering finale gowns. MaxMara's minimalist pieces in white with splashes of cool aquamarine were complimented by Sportmax's plays on 'reflections on water'.

Although hot Mediterranean spice was not uncommon, the Italians do seem to have become calmer, with relaxed elegance setting runways aglow. Anna Molinari at Blumarine bucked the trend, with acidic 60s neon combinations, leaving audiences unimpressed, but she scored better with a feminine line for Blugirl.

Every season, when I leave Milan, I pledge to learn Italian. Not only to finally enjoy Rossellini, Visconti and Fellini films properly, but also with the hope of divining the mysterious ways of Italian show timings.

Jing Zhang

HIGHLIGHTS

Prada

These perky, ice cream-hued blondes had a sense of humour. Wonderfully shaped boxy jackets provided a shell to flowing shin-length pleated skirts. The collection was an interesting mix - a Jetsons vibe capped off by Stepford Wives-style coats. We can already see those curve-enhancing, rhinestoned one-pieces, flame heels and leather A-line skirts in fashion journals.

Jil Sander

Perhaps one of the biggest hits in Milan, Raf Simons refined a collection that had just the right amount of quirkiness. It started as a stark white stiff-collared line- up - buttoned up and prim, with dangerous hints of Nurse Ratched. Lighthearted gingham and paisley prints were modern and refreshing, but our favourite pieces were the inspired Picasso knit tops.

Dolce & Gabbana

Mambo Italiano blared out to a line up that was cheeky and full of Sicilian sensuality. Bejewelled one-pieces and light sheers were worthy of a 50s showgirl. The bright tutti-frutti technocolour prints and crochet worked perfectly for the sexy, fun-loving and liberated Dolce & Gabbana lady.

Marni

Following the previous season's success, Marni's subversive modernist patterns were a hit. Bright shift dresses and tunics had a suburban housewife twist and we adored the sexy sheer underskirts that peaked out. Consuela Castiglioni showed great thoughtfulness in a collection that was quirky and unconventionally beautiful.

Gucci

Actress and Weibo star (with more than seven million followers) Yang Mi was front row as eye candy for the brand's biggest market: China. Smoky eyes, deep V-necklines and sexy jazz girl glamour were set to metallics, black, white and gold in luxurious wearable pieces. Sharp-lapelled jackets and flapper dresses inspired by the Empire State Building were easy favourites.

London

The Duchess of Cambridge, the success of the recent Alexander McQueen retrospective in New York and the upcoming Olympics are just a few reasons why London has become a hot spot for top fashion. We just hope it doesn't suffer too much from the scheduling showdown over next year's fashion weeks.

Media and buyers were in town to see the latest from Burberry and Tom Ford, who joined Paul Smith, Mulberry, Vivienne Westwood and a slew of young local talent such as Giles, Christopher Kane and Jonathan Saunders. If they were anticipating athleticism in a nod to next summer, they were to be disappointed - instead we witnessed lovely, feminine, upbeat fashion with a spark.

British designers are moving away from street and casual trends, presenting polished, demure and ladylike collections, as illustrated by Erdem, Jonathan Saunders, Marios Schwab, Vivienne Westwood and Antonio Berardi. Westwood's Red Label usually mixes street and tailoring but the hair and make-up were her only wacky moments in a very restrained presentation of cleverly twisted and draped suiting.

Schwab's cool, ladylike glamour, drawn from early 1950s film noir, featured a veil of fine iridescent black mesh over pastel fitted dresses, giving the models an air of mystery. And similarly retro, poolside glamour from Alice Temperley offered up plunge-neck jumpsuits and languid, draped satin robes over shorts, accessorised with sunglasses and white turbans. All very glossy.

The 50s inspiration hovered over several collections: looking particularly prim and proper at Jonathan Saunders, with his Miami housewife theme; Daks' nautical seaside look; and Erdem's graceful princessy outfits in botanical prints. Erdem and Saunders are two of the designers who make London the go-to destination for stunning print dresses.

Peter Pilotto merged amazing hothouse floral and aquatic prints with scuba suit references into a very polished, sculpted look, and popular newcomer Mary Katrantzou worked money-spinning magic with a mash-up of herbaceous border, coral reef and discarded industrial products, all in one printed dress. The effect was both intriguing and vibrant.

We liked the lovely pared-back aesthetic of Osman in a palette of bright colours and Roksanda Ilincic's sporty couture theme - minimalist retro elegance in bold hues. Antonio Berardi's polished tailoring and high-wattage glamour were highlights of what was a vintage week for British fashion.

Holly Fulton chose aquarium prints with art-deco motifs and sea shells, explaining that she was inspired by a woman who spends so much on her holiday wardrobe that she can then only afford to visit a tacky English seaside town rather than the Mediterranean. How many can identify with that?

Quirky humour and originality in British design generate instant and widespread appeal. London's two biggest brands, Mulberry and Burberry, turned nostalgic and presented quintessentially British tones for spring.

With great irony, Burberry's Christopher Bailey offered up 'walk in the Dales' parkas and trench coats for soggy English summer days, but worked in autumnal colours, richly textured and handcrafted in woven leather, ethnic beading and mosaic patterning. Underneath lay swishy pleated dresses and little sexpot numbers in swathed prints inspired by sculptor Henry Moore. Burberry put up selected items immediately for order online - getting to front doors within eight weeks - which might explain those autumnal hints.

Emma Hill's sense of humour played on a kiss-me-quick seaside theme for Mulberry, with lollipop-coloured dresses, glammed-up hoodies, hot pants - and lots of bags. This being the British seaside under observation, there was no swimwear but cute wet-weather, dog-walking gear for both pet and owner.

Despite the wit, in recent years London fashion has become increasingly grown-up and sophisticated. The days of the madcap student designers are long gone, replaced by something polished and feminine, with just enough of the edge Britain is traditionally know for. Although there was no Duchess Catherine front row, sister Pippa did make a surprise appearance at Temperley.

London's coveted status is not just due to the unbeatable glow of royal glamour, but also the raw talent on offer. Because of a big push by the British Fashion Council, we'll be able to judge for ourselves, as several hotshot designers land in Hong Kong tomorrow for an exhibition at The Space in Hollywood Road.

Francesca Fearon

HIGHLIGHTS

Erdem

One of the Duchess of Cambridge's favourite designers, Erdem provides a perfect wardrobe of print and lace coats and dresses for the modern princess. Collages of blue and buttercup yellow wildlife prints, flower embroidery and lace in a trench coat, prim dresses and shift dresses looked enchanting when worn with gloves and a boater.

Christopher Kane

Nowhere was the flower look sweeter and sportier than at Christopher Kane. Girlish beauties paraded simple shift dresses cut loose and understated but in luxurious brocades. Scrapbook flowers were applied to dresses and embellished with beading or imprisoned between layers of aluminium organza so fine it was almost invisible.

Jonathan Saunders

Saunders is the go-to designer for the London fashion crowd. The Florida housewife circa 1950s, in her brightly printed separates, was the starting point for this almost-kitsch collection. Clashing mixes of mandala prints and brocades for shirts, jackets, slightly prim sundresses and bouffant skirts worked in a Miami deco palette of pool blues, cantaloupe, lime and apricot.

Top trends

A day at the beach

Head for the seaside in mermaid coral reef prints, anemone ruffled chiffon dresses and pearl and seaside accessories.

Pleats please

Pleating on skirts, shirts and dresses ranges from soft bohemian to sporty.

Ice-cream colours

Sorbet hues and sugar almond pastels dominated in London and Paris while Mediterranean blues lit up Milan.

Full jackets

Although masculine fitted jackets are still in fashion, the latest trend is volume with roomy sleeves and shoulders.

The jazz age

Art deco beading and fringed flapper girl dresses from the roaring 20s, with a bit of Gatsby glamour thrown in.

1950s Florida housewife

Fashion's latest take on the Mad Men 50s look, with cool January Jones-style fresh-looking cotton sundresses, shirts and bouffant skirts. But there is a subversive element: clashing prints. Match with cat-eye shades and a light organza headscarf.

Alta moda

Showing signs of the delicate craftsmanship of couture.

Peekaboo fabrics

Sheer organzas, silks, tulle and broderie anglaise. Fine Swiss cotton lace, crunchy thick guipure and fine Chantilly lingerie lace all work to a naughty but nice effect.

Plexiglass heels

Taking us to daring new heights.

Leather

Making a relatively early appearance on pleated skirts, perforated coats and oversized jackets.

Florals

A summer staple, reinvented on lace, prints and appliques.

Take a shining to

With everyone looking to water, it was no surprise to see lots of shiny, shimmering surfaces, especially metallics, plastic, beading and lurex.

Retro headgear

From brimmed Downton Abbey hats and 50s headscarves to veiled box hats and Frida Kahlo headdresses.

Girlish peasant shapes

Dresses, shifts and trousers get loose, innocent and bohemian.

Peplum

Flaring fabric that hems a jacket, skirt or sleeve - this season we even see it on top of trousers.

Jing Zhang and Francesca Fearon

Talk of the town

Model citizens: still a firm favourite on the catwalks was American Karlie Kloss and her famous strut. Freja Beha Erichsen, Daphne Groeneveld, Jourdan Dunn and Arizona Muse were also headliners, along with top Chinese models Shu Pei and Liu Wen (above right). London clocked up the biggest number of Chinese and Korean models in its shows, including the likes of Jia Jing, Sui He, Fei Fei Sun, Xiao Wen Ju, So Young Kang and Miao Bin Si. We wonder which market they are targeting ...

Royal watching: Paris chalked up two princesses: Britain's Beatrice at Elie Saab and Charlene of Monaco at Akris (clearly there are two Alberts in her life: the prince and the designer). No sign of the Duchess of Cambridge in London, however. The nearest we got was her sister, Pippa Middleton (right), at Alice Temperley.

The best parties: Debbie Harry had everyone dancing among Renaissance paintings and frescos at Gucci's 90th-birthday bash and museum opening, held at the lavish Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.

Roberto Cavalli is rumoured to have splashed GBP800,000 (HK$9.9 million) on a mega-party at Battersea Power Station to launch his London store. Lounge-lizards were entertained by a burlesque act flown in from New York.

Bulgari held an elegant soiree in its Milan hotel on a sultry autumn evening to flaunt its new Monette handbag and jewellery line based on signature vintage coins.

In its second 40th birthday party of the week (the first was in New York), it was all the fun of the British seaside at Mulberry. Ice-cream wafer invitations and pinball machines went with alcoholic lemonade to wash down fish and chips and ice-cream cones.

The Trussardi family celebrated an impressive 100 years with a star-studded bash at the Castello Vecchio, a stunning historical landmark in Milan.

Hogan's Karl Lagerfeld limited edition launch at the Hotel Salomon de Rothschild, in Milan, was again host to a fashionable cast, including the kaiser himself.

Tod's soiree at the Italian Embassy in Paris hinted at the cosy relationship between owner Diego Della Valle and the political elite. Gorgeous frescos and the stunning garden were easy on the eye and delicious cocktails were certainly easy on the lips for partygoers.

The most bizarre, quirky bash of all was Louis Vuitton's cocktail party in Deyrolle, the Parisian taxidermist, where among stuffed giraffes and lions, and displays of butterflies, were enchanting animals from Louis Vuitton's small leather goods line made by British puppet maker Billie Achilleos.

Jing Zhang and Francesca Fearon