On the Runway

London Fashion Week: Past & Present - From Corrie Nielsen's Ode To Elizabeth to Jean Pierre Braganza's Future-Perfect Outlook

The first day of London Fashion Week kicks off to a rollicking start

Sass & Bide Fall/Winter 2011; Photo by Anthea Simms

Sass & Bide Fall/Winter 2011; Photo by Anthea Simms

Jean Pierre Braganza Fall/Winter 2011; Photo by Anthea Simms

Jean Pierre Braganza Fall/Winter 2011; Photo by Anthea Simms

Corrie Nielsen Fall/Winter 2011; Photo by Anthea Simms

Corrie Nielsen Fall/Winter 2011; Photo by Anthea Simms

You know that fantasy Anglophiles have of the British upper class dressing in head-to-toe equestrian gear with dandy accessories? Well, according to Caroline Charles, that may very well be a reality. Clearly a line for a more mature woman, Charles showed modest takes on tweed suiting, sheath dresses and eveningwear set to Materpeice Theatre music. Most looks were topped with bowler hats and cumberbund belts, which skewed costumey. The standout? A midnight blue velvet le smoking, its louche jacket a glisten of soirée sequins. With a look like that, one could easily waltz in to any of London’s famed private member’s establishments and be warmly welcomed.

Corrie Nielsen, last year’s Fashion Fringe winner (as judged by John Galliano), centered her collection on Elizabethan dress. First looks, all charcoal wool suits-of-armor with decadent blanket-wrap skirts and shoulder slings, captured the supreme power of the famously feisty redhead Queen. Hair was even sprayed a ginger hue and pinned in a regal pouff. Ornate accordion pleating, used everywhere from the back of a tulip skirt to pantaloons, added textural interest. Glimpses of what Mr. Galliano saw in Nielsen, a native of Florida, revealed themselves when she lightened her fabrics and worked empire-waist cylindrical skirts into frothy tissue-silk delights.

Speaking of little pleasures, at Sass & Bide, it was hard not to revel in the sound of complete backstage chaos, which I could hear clearly from my seat. Above the Nicki Minaji stereo boom. Opening with a tribal printed shift finished with leather fringe, the collection played with African motifs in a high-key coral colours. From brushstroke prints and scallop leafing to offish plaids (wrong with the implied theme), designer Sarah-Jane Clark and Sarah Middleton had clearly done their Pantone research. Honeysuckle – in the form of suede suits, shoulder wraps and cropped pants – was predominant. Topping off the dancehall-ready ensembles were the Schiaparelli-meets-Queen Latifah sculptued hats, which certainly gave a sense of “all hail”.

At Jean Pierre Braganza’s afternoon show, linear style was given the bespoke touch. Burnout stripe chemises offered a new twist to the humble sailor top, while a burst of material added the femininity of a peplum to the traditional waistcoat. Symmetrical cutouts and precise tailoring gave the simple dinner jacket (in sizzle red) and petit robe (in noir) a vixen’s vivre.

Finally, Turkish design star Bora Asku’s packed the house for this extreme-ornate showing. Thank goodness he stuck to simply black, gray and clover green, as my eyes could barely process the six (or was it seven?) different materials used in each look. Yes, Asku can demi-couture with the best of them but his eveningwear often read as overwrought and frighteningly complicated – take a long gray crumpled raw silk gown with leather bodice, mesh insets, silk panels and cable knit detailing. Much too much. But maybe it’s just me. After all, the shows so far are full of spectators dressed in twelve trends at once. This point was carved deeply when a passing woman lacerated me with her spiked handbag. Perhaps effort is the new nonchalance? I’m not convinced and plan to take this up with the princess of insouciance – Lou Doillon herself – tomorrow. Stay tuned.