That '70s show - London Fashion Week brims with retro style
British designers turned to the past for inspiration, with resplendent results
Lunar New Year and the Oscars were clearly going to be major distractions over London Fashion Week as the biannual catwalk parade moved from New York to London, but British fashion benefits from both.
London designers such as Erdem, Julien Macdonald and Antonio Berardi are popular on the red carpet, while Lunar New Year proved to be the perfect time for Chinese travellers to converge on the capital's big fashion stores and get spending.
Britain's designers are becoming major brands, but still keeping their edge. Christopher Kane, Temperley, Erdem, Matthew Williamson and Vivienne Westwood are all doing their bit to boost the British economy by £26 billion (HK$311 billion), but have not lost their reputation for creating super-cool fashion. Christopher Kane, Roksanda Ilincic, Nicholas Kirkwood and (opening this summer) Erdem all have flagship stores in Mayfair, adding to the city's vibrancy.
There were plenty of Chinese tourists in London over the Lunar New Year holiday, and Fashion Week adds gloss to their shopping trips. According to Global Blue, which tracks UK spending by overseas visitors, China was the single biggest contributor, making for 25 per cent of all tax-free spending last year, with shoppers spending an average of £745 per transaction on fashion and jewellery.
This is welcome news to designers on the catwalk presenting their latest collections. All eyes (as always) were on fashion powerhouse Burberry Prorsum, but as Justin O'Shea, buying director of Mytheresa.com says: "Erdem and Christopher Kane specifically have the weight of British fashion on their shoulders." Nevertheless, he predicts: "There is no question they will be the top designers of the future."
London's runways were awash with ideas, with the '70s theme still going strong - sweet news for those who've invested in flares and fringing for summer. The colour palette and the bohemian vibe was particularly pronounced at Burberry Prorsum, where nostalgic '70s tracks such as George Harrison's My Sweet Lord sung live by Clare Maguire set the mood for patchwork ponchos, fringed suede coats, patterned trench coats, tiered lace dresses (recalling '70s designers Bill Gibb and Thea Porter) and mirror embroidery.
The '70s had a particularly strong influence on the colour palette, with rust, mustard, teal, burgundy and brown painted across most collections, from Roksanda to Preen by Thornton Bregazzi (with its pretty flounced dresses under cropped sweaters) and knit specialist Lucas Nascimento. As in New York, black was sidelined and there was much more white, but it was those rich warm tones that were the main story. Roksanda commissioned special wavy-lined tapestry fabrics in these shades for her long feminine silhouette, adding a shot of pink or blue and luxurious shaved fur to produce a whiff of glamour to these organic textures.
The glitter of ribbed lurex knits and a mood for decadent opulence underpinned many collections. Lurex, another '70s favourite, glinted under the catwalk lights at JW Anderson, Matthew Williamson, Christopher Kane and Topshop Unique, where the glitter of sweaters was mixed with shearling-trimmed tweed jackets and crinkled PVC skirts. The overall mood at Unique mixed modern with vintage such as Aran knits under dolly dresses, dandelion-printed knits that morphed into embroideries and huge shearling jackets over floral dresses. Picking her inspiration from great models of our time, it was, creative director Kate Phelan says, "a celebration of British style".
The glimmer of metallics (copper, bronze and gold) added a decadent touch to many collections, especially in the luxurious tapestry, brocades and jacquards, which seem to have replaced prints in the hearts of British designers. Rococo-patterned tapestries cropped up at Simone Rocha, where they were either tailored or wrapped the body in girlish Victoriana-style dresses. At Mary Katrantzou, rococo brocades were provocatively melded with techie 3D foam rubber packing material on dresses, with mixed results.
Katrantzou recently produced a very successful pre-autumn collection and wanted her catwalk show to reflect her artisanal craftsmanship. So she experimented, combining glass filament fringing with these spongy pyramids and rococo embroideries on shifts, and coloured fur with industrial plastic components - a challenging proposition to wear.
Erdem handled his vintage brocades in a very different way, creating a character, a novelist who has fallen on hard times, who uses all the frayed and distressed fabrics around her (he created a retro 1950s home set for his show) to whip up dresses in which to live out her fantasies. "She has an ocelot coat but has to repair it with shearling as she has no money," says Erdem of his character, or "she is ripping off the curtains and making an evening gown". The resulting effect had infinite charm.
Meanwhile, the shimmer of bronze brocades for long luxurious coats and evening parkas over slinky slip dresses and masculine trousers at Temperley London captured the opulence of the 1920s and, in particular, the work of Paul Poiret, who conceived a lush orientalism for fashion. The clothes are oversized, easy and relaxed with opulent orientalist embroideries. "I love this whole feeling of long evening coats, dinner scarves and flat shoes, so you've got the masculine elements mixed in the ultra-feminine details," says Temperley of her collection.
From the brocade cocktail dresses at Erdem to the lamé tops and tulip skirts at JW Anderson, there was a ladylike undercurrent at many of the London shows - even the Unique show gave a sense of a girl wanting to look grown-up. So when it came to Christopher Kane, the ladylike mood was in full swing. He delivered a beautifully tailored, velvet-trimmed crombie coat that opened his show; bold velvet-trimmed tailored dresses and a stunning orange coat with a lightning bolt pattern. One really felt that if the pressure of London's future is resting on his and Erdem's shoulders, they are more than up to the task of supporting it.