There was a moment on the first day of London Fashion Week when I wondered where I had landed, seeing Chinese designers Yifang Wan and Ping He on the catwalk and with a special presentation of Design by Shanghai at the Royal Opera House.
London Fashion Week lures leading lights from around the world because many international designers trained at its famous art colleges. The city has a well-earned reputation as a creative hub and the international fashion press and buyers flock there during Fashion Week fearing they might miss out on something new.
The city was sizzling with energy this week, with Burberry anchoring the spring collections and Americans Tom Ford and L'Wren Scott making it their preferred location. Given time, maybe other top labels such as Victoria Beckham, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen can be lured back to their hometown. Natalie Massenet, founder of Net-a-Porter and chairman of the British Fashion Council, claims that London is "a place where fashion stars are born".
The presence of the Chinese designers highlighted a subtle oriental theme threading through several of the collections. J.W. Anderson's supremely technical collection of structured, pleated and textured dresses, and origami-folded bib dresses brought to mind Issey Miyake.
He draped and twisted fabrics and experimented in a conceptual way that we've not seen since Hussein Chalayan's early days. Holly Fulton's crane and coy carp prints, meanwhile, had more obvious roots in the orient, along with fan-shaped bodices.
L'Wren Scott similarly was inspired by the East with her bamboo and wisteria embroideries stretched across a tautly tailored pantsuit and cheongsam dresses. Obi belts cinched kimono-style jackets over pencil skirts creating a tall, slender silhouette.
There was a distinctly sports luxe mood running through the collections, something that London designers are doing rather well because they like the casual urban style of parkas, bomber jackets and sweatshirts, but also have a strong sense of femininity in their collections in terms of embellishment and colour palette. Juxtaposing sportswear and solid footwear with rose pinks and floral embroideries counterbalances the potentially cloying sweetness with an element of toughness.
Erdem and Christopher Kane, for example, used sports silhouettes with dissected flower prints and iridescent fabrics (Kane), or flower and feather appliqués in graphic black and white (Erdem). These garments are also a key element of Richard Nicoll's aesthetic with T-shirts, shorts and biker jackets in white piqué cotton, with a smattering of sports fabrics for dresses, and silver stripes for a bit of cool glamour.
Antonio Berardi, usually noted for his figure-hugging red carpet dresses, loosened up his look with luxe sportswear - his oversized sweatshirts and jackets came in duchess satin, silky pink cloqué and silvery animal prints. Roksanda Ilincic, meanwhile, used a large yellow neoprene jacket and black cigarette pants with flat ankle boots to ground her fluoro-bright collection of long skirts.
Simone Rocha, meanwhile, dressed her models in pearl chokers but gave the collection an edge by embroidering clear plastic for coats and dresses, using black wet lace for full skirts and coats and accessorising the lot with masculine sandals. With the exception of Tom Ford's high-octane collection of spidery lace and mirrored-mosaic micro dresses with ankle or thigh boots and slick tuxedos that seem destined for the late-night partying of the jet set, London was focused on a feminine colour palette and a bouquet of flower prints, albeit reworked and reduced in scale.
Mary Katrantzou created pretty floral print babydolls encrusted with beading by the famous Paris embroiderer, Lesage. Preen's digitally placed flower prints on crisp white tops and dresses with asymmetric hemlines looked fresh and wearable.
Emma Hill kept her flower prints clean and graphic in her swansong collection for Mulberry set in an English country house garden.
Flower photo-prints featured in Vivienne Westwood's collection in intricately draped corseted dresses and slouchy jumpsuits.
Flower petals rained on the catwalk at Burberry Prorsum where English roses provided the theme for Christopher Bailey's classy collection of powdery petal-coloured separates and duster coats. This was a gentle, pretty look, a mood created using delicate Nottingham lace and soft Scottish cashmere that Bailey had sourced. He is a strong advocate of traditional British fabrics and it seems right that such a powerful British brand should do its bit to support some of these local crafts before they die out.
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