On the Runway

London Fashion Week: The New Design Guard

The last day of shows ended the season on a high-style note

Marios Schwab Fall/Winter 2011; Photo by Anthea Simms

Marios Schwab Fall/Winter 2011; Photo by Anthea Simms

Aquascutum Fall/Winter 2011; Photo by Anthea Simms

Aquascutum Fall/Winter 2011; Photo by Anthea Simms

Mary Katrantzou Fall/Winter 2011; Photo by Anthea Simms

Mary Katrantzou Fall/Winter 2011; Photo by Anthea Simms

It’s true that fashion news editors drink up fresh design talents like a bottle of True Blood, myself included. Gratefully, today was ripe with new names who will undoubtedly have illustrious careers. The first in Greek-born Mary Katrantzou. Through influential whispers, she has quickly ascended from experimental newbie with a thing for brainy concepts to London’s wonderment woman. Today’s early show delivered morning glory once again, this time with smaller-scale engineered floral, Ming dragon and object prints. First looks were spherical mini-skirts, their sculpted shape picking up on the ‘60’s influence we’ve spotted (and cheered on) this week. The best style of this series were a brief dress with a vivid goldfish bowl splashed across the bodice and a strapless sheath with 3D rosebuds dotting along the skirt. But was this still familiar territory? Just as conclusions were being drawn, out popped languid silhouettes, some velvet, some silk, and long skirts with stand-away waists. Next came knits, (a first for Katrantzou) shimmering with ornate patterns that channeled those Versace early ’90’s silk men’s shirts. That may sound like a ludicrous reference to throw into the mix, but Katrantzou did wax peotic to me just three months ago about how early Versace is one of her biggest influences. Well, Donatella, if things with you and Christopher Kane ever sour…

Meanwhile, at Marios Schwab’s show, the ultra-staid pearl necklace was the designer’s starting point. The show began with broguing-inspired (the process of adding perforated details to the classic shoe) leather dresses, the best in oxblood. If you like teal, (I really don’t. It’s a colour for rental cars, not clothes) there were some well-done sheaths with corset and cup detail as well. A few Grecian belted frocks were strong, though hardly new looking. As for Marios’ promised take on pearls, it was lackluster. Instead of toying with scale, colour and connotation of the oyster gem, Schwab’s linear trimming left a sense of “that’s it?” Maybe if I hadn’t read the show notes, I would have been less unsatisfied. Others raved about his “return to form” while I reminisced about last season’s textured outerwear, so there you go. 

You might have read about Joanna Sykes in my September ’10 fashion news pages, where I went out on a limb and suggested she could be an able challenger to the great Phoebe Philo. If today’s show, her first as head designer for heritage brand Aquascutum was any indication, we have ourselves a match, Philo vs. Sykes, round 1. Let’s challenge the uncontested Philo to whip up outerwear as coolly natty as what we saw today. Working in a  timely palette of essential orange, classic denim blue, beige and gray, Sykes churned out mixed-media super-luxe coats as shown on supermodels such as Lara Stone. Their were too many standouts to mention, but a flak field jacket with fur sleeves, a trad-look blazer in bonded tencho-fabric, a modish crinkle patent topper and a pea coat with a chopped puffa-vest layered atop were tempting to rip from the runway and run out of Victoria House wearing. Cut-out suede separates, angular riding boots and plunging crepe-jersey easy evening looks finished off this highly-desirable show. Canadian buyers, we, the coat-wearing Canuck public, urge you to snap up this line in large quantities.

Meanwhile, at Meadham Kirchoff, a bizarre witch-hunt hunt was underway. The collection of blood red, cream and black apron and drindle-skirted looks was shown on a possessed of blondes. The drama of both the staging and styling might have mis-led some to see the it as another eccentric offering from the niche label, but if you broke down the ensembles, many wearable pieces – the dirndl skirt, the strict blouse, the cropped wool jacket – could be found. 

Emilio de la Morena is another name I included in my coverage of London Fashion Week last season. He is a dressmaker through-and-through with a good sense for flattering proportion and alluring silhouettes adored by The Roitfelds and The Dellals. Charlotte Dellal was even on hand to inspect with footwear, custom made for the show. While opening red silk and slipper-pink multi-layer frocks were lovely, the designer quickly lost his course. Leather ticking didn’t quite work and sheer shimmer metallic looked inexpensive. Finding his footing again, styles that layered wrap skirts over sheer lace dresses got the show back on track.

Fashion East, a presentation that highlights three fledging designers as overseen by style force Lulu Kennedy, is a fantastic nonprofit concept for emerging talents, giving them resources to make their collection shine – venue, hair and makeup, lights, important editors. Of the chosen ones  – Simone Rocha (daughter of designer John Rocha) stood out. Her chiffon-sleeved blazers, gingham-collared sheer shirts and crazy-good lucite wedge bended-brogues were enough to ignite her career. Remember the name.

Surprisingly, our final show was also one of the very finest. Coming off the prestigious Dorchester Prize and a Daphne Guinness endorsement, Thomas Tait proved he is more the new minimalist on every fashion scribe’s shortlist. A gifted tailor, he sent out a beautifully accomplished collection with purity of vision, yet subtle interest. Take almost indiscernible navy and black long-sleeve pleated dresses, pristine white ankle-grazing pants, rounded slope peacoats, floor-grazing tankdresses with leather-carboard turtlenecks and wool-cashmere jackets cut-away to create a penguin effect. A couture-look long suede skirt and crisp white shirt begged to be worn by Tilda Swinton, and soon. Wth this impessive collection, Tait, a reserved Montrealer, sends us back to Canada proud of our homegrown boys (All five of them, counting Jean Pierre Braganza, Mark Fast, Erdem, and Todd Lynn) who are respectively ruling London’s style tribes.