This is what I love about London fashion week: you can rely on this city to put the cat among the pigeons.
As Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet says, we should be very proud that Burberry planted the British flag in the brave new world of see-now-buy-now. This is fashion, so change is always good, right? But, with all due respect to the newly appointed dame, Euripides also said that we should question everything. And that is exactly what London fashion week did.
At first glance, see-now-buy-now is straightforwardly progressive. As Burberry’s Christopher Bailey says, having expanded their audience from the hundreds of bums on seats to the virtual millions, catwalk shows now need to service that audience. Most people watching the shows are not buying for department stores with a year-long business plan in mind, they are buying for their own wardrobes and their mind is on what to wear on Saturday.
But is see-now-buy-now really a good thing for the consumer? It will give women more opportunities to buy the clothes they want as soon as they see them on the catwalk. But that is perhaps in the brands’ interest, not ours. Fashion design serves us best not when it gives us what we already know we want in 14 new colours, but when it expresses something about what we want to wear that we hadn’t quite articulated. The subtle joy of the current system is that there is a six-month gap when the ideas articulated at fashion week exist only as ideas, before they are monetised into retail. Will the kind of fashion that looks peculiar at first glance, but stays with us and grows on us until it becomes a trend – the most interesting kind – survive in a see-now-buy-now world? The London catwalks made a strong case for fashion as ideas, rather than fashion as straight-to-retail.
The seven trends of London fashion week
1. Major coats
Shivering on the red carpet is so analogue. Everyone at fashion week is lusting after a coat, the bigger the better. As the audience streamed out of Alexander McQueen there were as many people lusting over the eiderdown coats as there were over the unicorn dress. Coats were the major story at Topshop Unique, always a strong sign that the high street will back them as fashion’s major autumn statement. (Money, it seems, is no object at Topshop Unique – those luxe caramel ponyskin coats ain’t gonna come cheap, Topshop label or no.) At Burberry, the neat trench was sidelined in favour of Withnail-scale greatcoats, and two-sizes-too-big peacoats.
2. The governess gown
Fashion isn’t always in thrall to the bright young things. Ageing gracefully is very autumn 2016. This week, the industry honoured the 90th birthday of front-row survivor Joan Burstein of Browns boutique, and Hannah Weiland of Shrimpsnamed her 91-year-old, leopard-print-wearing granny Esther as her ultimate muse. On the runway, the governess gown is the new party frock. It’s a bit Valentino, a bit Brontë. Look for a flat, square bodice (no decolletage, no waist-cinching), an ankle-skimming hemline and long sleeves, luxed-up with indulgent fabric and intriguing colours. The governess gown came in a gorgeous rich green velvet at Preen, and a dreamy patchwork of lace at Erdem.
3. Pieces of silver
Fashion-as-construction was a running motif of the week. “If you really want to create something different, you need to start with function and construction – not just change the decoration on top,” said new Mulberry designer Johnny Coca. You could tell designers were thinking about construction just by looking. Fancy rose gold has been banished and replaced by utilitarian silver hardware. Zips gave a cabbage-leaf curl to frilled skirts at JW Anderson, while the new Mulberry Bayswater can be taken apart with its press studs. Silver studs outlined the gorgeous curving lines of black tailoring at Antonio Berardi, while at Christopher Kane, clothes and handbags were scattered with staples as a minimalist take on embellishment.
4. Pink isn’t just for Mean Girls
“On Wednesdays, we wear pink.” Actually, come autumn, we will wear it on Monday, Tuesday and every other day of the week, if London fashion week has anything to do with it. There was powder-pink quilted satin and rich raspberry lace at Alexander McQueen, and a serene pink wool coat at Roksanda. Preen’s finger-licking sugar-pink cashmere – best of all, the sweater with a gathered seam along the shoulder line – was topped by a rich pink, ruched velvet gown. Pink’s unusually strong winter-season showing was rivalled only by oxblood, which was looking fine everywhere from Mulberry to Roksanda.
5. Highwater frocks
Your neckline should be just that next season: a line at your neck. Halfway up it, in fact. If you thought this season’s ubiquitous polo neck would get the chop for next autumn, think again. In fact, the polo neck is now dominating eveningwear as well as daywear, and all the fanciest frocks will soon have an above-the-collar collar. Mulberry gave us high-necked cocktail lace, while, at Topshop, a sheer raspberry dress was topped with a black pie-crust collar. At House of Holland, a red-and-black polo-neck sweater dress was pure 80s glam, while Emilia Wickstead paired a ribbed polo-neck sweater with a grand ballskirt, for next party season’s warmest (and coolest) dancefloor look.
6. Venetian-blind chic
Remember when the “bandage dressing”, school of Hervé Léger, was a thing? Next autumn, the ties that bind are loosened to give us venetian-blind chic. Think vertical ribbons of fabric, with space or sheer lace between them. The fashion industry’s beloved pleats, but gone peek-a-boo, in other words. The trend that began in New York, at Proenza Schouler, was picked up at London’s most fashion-forward labels. At JW Anderson, the venetian-blind look came in white for the full office-chic look, while, at Christopher Kane, ribbons of black silk fluttered between ivory.
7. Showgirl sequins
This one’s for you if you were worried that sequins were a bit, you know, basic. Sequins next season are anything but. The way to wear sequins now is in a slightly tongue-in-cheek, Marc Jacobs showgirl way (see Preen’s louche tumble of sparkle under a cloud-fluff coat) or in a futuristic, sci-fi way (House of Holland revisited the sequin-polo-neck-as-cocktail underpinning, which Raf Simons did at Dior two years ago, and we are still not over). The most appealingly leftfield idea of all came from Christopher Bailey: a sequinned tracksuit top layered under a wool coat is an idea to steal from the boys on this season’s Burberry catwalk.