London Fashion Week spring-summer 2016: patriotism with a twist

Craftsmanship, patriotism and a defiant streak were the inspirations for the spring-summer 2016 collections in London Fashion Week's new Soho venue

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 September, 2015, 9:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 September, 2015, 2:59pm

Location, location, location is what real estate agents constantly drum into prospective buyers and the same is true of fashion. London Fashion Week finds a new home in Soho, the once gritty, slightly sleazy area north of theatreland that is a centre for nightlife and edgy fashion. For spring-summer 2016, London runways seemed to look close to home for inspiration. Tradition, patriotism and craft were big news on catwalks this season, done with a rebellious British streak.

One minute we are watching Topshop Unique from a building that overlooks Westminster Abbey; then we are in City Hall where mayor Boris Johnson meets his council, watching the Preen show - when we are not distracted by the sunny views of the Tower of London. Simone Rocha takes us into the gilded palace of Lancaster House more used to entertaining heads of state. On another day we are up in the Sky Garden (of the so-called Walkie-Talkie) with Christopher Kane, the views regrettably obscured by drizzle.

Designers are clearly proud of their city and a sense of patriotism filters through their collections for next spring. Burberry Prorsum offers us sweet thigh-grazing lace dresses, with every inch of the intricate patterns made in Britain. Similarly, all the military gold embroidery on the peacoats, jackets and capes was made by the same embroiderers that decorate the coats of the Queen's Guard.

British pennies were not only heaped onto Gareth Pugh's catwalk but also stitched in their thousands like brassy paillettes on shorts, vests and shifts. Pugh's red and white colour palette meanwhile is the same as his favourite team - Sunderland FC.

Anya Hindmarch's kaleidoscopic presentation of shoulder bags, clutches and backpacks cleverly made the most of the abstract branding patterns from famous names of the British high street such as John Lewis, Mothercare and WHSmith.

Topshop Unique showed gentleman's cricket sweaters and Wild Strawberry and Jasperware prints, lifted from English porcelain tea sets, for garden-party tea dresses. Some saucy leopard print and red leather skirts added a streak of rebelliousness to the mix.

The ever-rebellious Vivienne Westwood, meanwhile, had protesters as part of her show, and presented some pretty lace tea-party dresses alongside swagged and draped ensembles inspired by portraits in the National Gallery.

The '70s and '80s themes still have mileage in many looks. Seventies flares and high-rise pants stood out on the catwalk among Antonio Berardi's ultra-glamorous red carpet tailoring and Thomas Tait's modernist nautical-inspired collection.

J.W. Anderson, meanwhile, made his own version of the famous Keith Haring-cum-Vivienne Westwood squiggle print (from her 1981 pirate collection), and went big on leg o' mutton sleeves circa 1980s.

In fact, there was a lot of sleeve action around the shows; the puffy mutton sleeves that were a signature look in the Louis Vuitton autumn collection have clearly been an influence with bell-shaped, puffy, slashed or billowing sleeves giving a sense of lightness and volume.

Body consciousness is clearly a thing of the past- apart from several thigh-grazing skirts. London's designers prefer a much more fluttery, asymmetrical look. Clothes have been twisted, draped, cut at diagonals, hung from one shoulder, patched and intricately worked.

There were also some pure lines with an unerring sense of colour at Jonathan Saunders, whose bias-cut dresses worked so elegantly in colour-blocked patterns and were a highlight of London Fashion Week.

The colour blocking and patchwork of patterns emphasise a new mood for craft emerging from the London catwalks.

There is an artisanal feel to the collections: the idea of taking affordable fabric such as cotton and playing with it using home dressmaker techniques such as smocking, ruching, naive embroidery and patchwork to create something beautiful and intricate. Roksanda, for example, hand-frayed tens of metres of pastel silk organza to create balletic mille feuille finale dresses.

Work such as this can be very labour intensive, as seen in Erdem's collection, which was inspired by pioneering Victorian women slowly going mad on the American prairies. It was the idea of taking a poor fabric, Erdem explains, such as cotton, cotton ticking and voile, and working it with embroideries of cameo medallions, stitching and lace, crafting romantic dresses that looked a real labour of love.

Christopher Kane's aesthetic was completely different, but showed the same train of thought: using the concept of craft to darn, patch and generally make-do-and-mend roomy knits, or constructing a lace dress in a fractured patchwork of primary colours.

That idea of using craft - folk embroidery in Temperley London's show - transformed the relaxed white cotton sundresses and kaftans into a look that expressed the joyous patterns, motifs and colours of Cuba.

Peter Pilotto, meanwhile, used colourful folksy smocking and ruching on its tiered white cotton dresses, or whipped up lace into tiered flounces. Like Erdem and Mary Katrantzou, Peter Pilotto is trying to forge a future away from its print heritage by investigating new ways of making fabric look even more interesting.

Craft also played a part in Huishan Zhang's collection, but it has much more of a demi-couture twist in the way he mixes lace, broderie anglaise and embroideries into sweet dresses.

Simone Rocha is known for her crafted details, but she took a step away from that this season to focus on a collection inspired by the kimonos she saw in Kyoto. Her airy ballerina dresses were cross-strapped with silks and crocheted plastic tubing while little tailored dresses were adorned with flat obi bows. The look added another dimension to the concepts of craft and embellishment that sum up London this season.