From Richard Malone’s vibrant opener to Christopher Bailey’s Burberry curtain-call, London Fashion Week showcased great things from the Irish and major Brit-brands shifting gears. Rachel Marie Walsh reports on next season’s trends
Malone kicked off the week with his second ‘proper’ show, meaning one where models walk instead of standing around an installation. All the better for capturing the bounce and sweep of his beautiful dresses via live-stream. The Wexford native is always a feel-good ticket. He is constantly inspired by the female archetypes traditionally overlooked by high fashion. Fish markets and “iron-fisted women” were his starting point for autumn and the collection included his signature bold blues, reds and fuchsias as well as stripes and fringe-detailing. Age inclusivity is a priority design-wise and was also reflected in his audience, where both his grandmother Nellie and model du jour Aboah sat front row.
How aspirant that his clothes engage you so visually that their sustainability seems a bonus. In fact, sustainability is “a given” for the designer, who reiterated his commitment to the Tamil Nadu weavers who produce his fabrics in the show-notes. His bags are entirely recycled plastic… none of this is as important to a customer as looking good, I know, but Malone has her covered there too.
Anna Wintour came to JW Anderson! She wore a Burberry scarf and knee-boots. Her camel coat’s fur-lining was faux (wisely, as there would be anti-fur activists patrolling Burberry’s show later) and she wore a red blouse and pencil skirt with clashing prints.
The secret to perennial style, it seems, is choosing pieces women any age will want and staying around same weight you were when you began shopping. La Wintour also did some smiling at this show and why not? Anderson was inspired by suspension, you see, by kites, flight-suits and anything else that could impart some buoyancy. Richard Smith’s kite paintings were source imagery. This translated to pretty drop-waist dresses, hip-belted trench-coats and voluminous trousers with long-line waist bands. Best of all were the wire-hemmed, umbrella-shaped skirts that bounce when you walk! More skirts should do this. This collection connected with those past through knife-pleats, paisley-prints and scoop-neck vests we’ve seen before. Models were shod in baseball boots, fruits of the brand’s recent Converse collaboration.
High-street stores are notorious for pilfering ideas from the catwalk. Some are successfully sued but most only benefit from designers’ public grousing, which ultimately highlights their bargain copies. Simone Rocha, however, becomes more inimitable each season. It is no trick, she does it by rejecting the acceleration of the fashion cycle (which drives some brands to produce collections for Pre-Fall, Cruise, Resort, etc) and making her biannual collections as dense with detail and beautiful references as possible.
Her studio is in a Hackney ward called de Beauvoir, an address that always reminds me of Memoirs of A Dutiful Daughter because while there is more than a touch of Simone de B’s feminism about Simone R’s work, you don’t put your father’s established name on your clothes without working your tail off. Quite often in fashion we praise “effortless” style or beauty but it is not unreasonable to expect a luxury-priced garment to look like it spent hours on a dummy and many more on a seamstress’ table. What elevates it otherwise?
There is always an artsy starting-point with this brand and this season’s was Mary Freer (1809), the pink-cheeked portrait-subject of Romantic painter John Constable. Her cap-sleeved white dress is in the DNA of Rocha’s own. This collection has too many rich looks to describe. The designer said she wanted each to look “generous,” so layered lacquered tweed and voluminous sleeves, trimmed lace and net dresses with goat fur. She had floral-detailed Victoriana coats and swathed tailored pieces in gold tinsel and mesh. It is a right, then, that Rocha also insists on age-inclusivity, because you will want to pass this stuff on.
It may have been Brexit-nudged or a desire to out-stripe all the brands now self-defining as ‘British heritage’ but Mulberry took over Earl Spencer’s house in St James Place the weekend. This was not just for a show but “Beyond Heritage,” a schedule of brand-themed events in the Grade 1-listed mansion. Gin-tasting, bag-making, broken tea-set sculptures and a talk with Creative Director Johnny Coca were on the public menu, fresh evidence of LFW being as much about instantly engaging customers as luring buyers for some brands.
All show clothes went on sale immediately. Press was built into the project, with a shop-able “edit” by Vogue UK and a talk by online influencer Who What Wear UK. There was styling advice and a millinery collaboration. I have not come across anything like this roll-out by a single brand in London before, even global mega-label Burberry stops short at exhibitions. The clothing collection looked made for a big day out, especially those broad-brim hats. Their silk swirls resembled cupcake icing and contributed to the whole country-reception-comes-to-life vibe. Apple green — also big in New York shows like Marc Jacobs and Alice+Olivia — is shaping up to be one of the season’s hot colours. I can’t fault the girly line-up, who doesn’t like a floral tea-dress, flare-trousered suit or poet-sleeve blouse? Even the heel-height was family do’ appropriate.
Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s saviour and sustenance, gave his last show on Saturday. There should have been some kind of plaid parade down Bond Street but instead he did a star-flanked show full of clothes far more engaging than the beautiful famous people. Bailey’s been with the brand 17 years but you probably know little about him personally. He is drama-free, a self-deprecating Yorkshireman with a Manhattanite’s work-ethic. Donna Karan discovered him at the Royal College of Art in 1996 and brought him to New York for two years. Her highly commercial, urban uniform approach (to both DKNY and her main-line’s ‘Seven Easy Pieces’ capsule wardrobe) has something in common with the streamlined collections he used to position Burberry far from chav-dom.
There is no such thing as a London uniform but he did put out accessible, reliably smart clothes as suited to City workers as Home Counties mummies. A certain vision of London — young Brit rockers and actors in trenches, all messy hair and barely-there makeup —made Burberry eminently exportable. His long-term collaboration with Mario Testino sustained an image of youthful exuberance even as the fashion began to look formulaic. This weekend’s show was not about re-fluffed classics but everything Bailey’s done for Burberry. Literally: this was bits of collections past and present present cut and stitched together to greet the future. Were he and the label a married couple one might think he Frankenstein-ed everything he’s ever given and devoted to his ungrateful husband and threw it out for the world to see. But they aren’t, and these complex pieces are his blaze of glory. The collection of souvenir-worthy pieces went on sale immediately, thanks to the buy-now/sell-now model Bailey pioneered.The rainbow motif that appears throughout highlights his long-term support for LGBTQ+ rights and causes.
And off he goes, igniting loud buzz about a potential replacement (widely predicted to be Phoebe Philo, whose own job is under interview, reports The Business of Fashion). For the moment he’s confirmed only charity work and time with his family as priorities but at just 47, he’s still within a style-watcher’s bailiwick.
Stars on the rise are always fun to see, not least because you have bragging rights — and maybe an evidentiary skirt — when they hit peak-shine. Fix your telescope on Matty Bovan, late of talent-incubator project Fashion East. The Guardian calls him ‘London’s Great Bright Hope,’ which seems a bit dismissive of the riotous colour on display this season, but there is something special happening with this York-born Central St.Martin’s alum. Rihanna and Rita Ora are already fans of his elaborate pieces, which pull together clashing colours, deconstructed tweeds, pearls, webbed knits and even puff-paint. He seems both part of fashion’s in-crowd (beloved of Marc Jacobs and Love magazine’s Katie Grand), and openly contemptuous of it (defaced Coach bags are among his latest accessories). London may be welcoming a new enfant terrible. Milliner Stephen Jones did the hats for his AW18 collection, filling some with celebratory balloons.