At London Fashion Week, designers refocus on good clothes

A model in a daffodil yellow coat with faux fur collar
Burberry’s first collection under new creative director Daniel Lee debuted at London Fashion Week © Bloomberg via Getty Images

Daniel Lee’s Burberry debut swept through London Fashion Week like a breath of fresh air. The city is in need of a pick-me-up in the aftermath of Brexit, Covid and Liz Truss’s disastrous “mini” Budget — not to mention the ongoing public-sector strikes over pay.

Editors and buyers who usually skip London and head straight to Fashion Week in Milan appeared south of the Thames on Monday night, in London’s Kennington Park, to see whether Lee could restore the magic at Britain’s biggest and best-known luxury goods brand — and help the company achieve its goal of increasing revenues from £2.8bn to £4bn within five years.

It might not have been magic, exactly, but Lee did succeed in making Burberry worth watching again. He has been tasked by chief executive Jonathan Akeroyd, who joined Burberry from Versace last year, with emphasising Burberry’s “Britishness” as it seeks to recapture market share from European rivals such as Gucci, Prada and Moncler.

Lee did it not with the Mayfair-meets-Bloomsbury Englishness of former designer Christopher Bailey, who sat front row, but with enormous faux furs, clashing Burberry plaids and frayed kilts-over-trousers that evoked the look and spirit of early Vivienne Westwood and ’90s grunge. The decision to pitch a tent in Kennington, an area once known for its squatters, instead of returning to Bailey’s grand, orangery-style showspace in Hyde Park, spoke volumes.

A model in large faux fur hat, checked skirt and sweater
Daniel Lee’s first collection for Burberry included clashing Burberry patterns, frayed kilts over trousers . . . © Filippo Fior

Model in below-the-knee coat with faux fur collar
 . . . and trenchcoats with faux fur lapels for a grunge interpretation of ‘Britishness’ © Filippo Fior

The response on social media was “mixed”, according to Bernstein analyst Luca Solca. Department-store buyers were more upbeat, speaking warmly of the bags, outerwear and menswear. “He’s speaking more to [former chief creative officer Riccardo Tisci’s menswear] customer than I expected,” one said.

The theme that emerged over the rest of London Fashion Week was one of paring down and stripping back, and focusing on clothes over spectacle.

“Our business is to make clothes; it’s not about anything else,” said Molly Goddard, alluding to the handbags and fragrances that are the main profit drivers at larger labels. “I wanted to do a show that felt very simple and stripped back . . . Just focused on clothes that felt wearable.”

And so she narrowed the voluminous tulle dresses that are her signature under bands of black grosgrain, with sleek square necklines, some layered under softly moulded schoolboy blazers or heritage-inspired knitwear — the latter an increasingly important sales category for the nine-year-old label.

A model on a catwalk in sweater-top dress
Molly Goddard focused on wearable clothes, with simple ankle-length dresses . . .  © Ben Broomfield @photobenphoto

Model on catwalk in tulle skirt and blazer, with a large tote bag over one arm
 . . . and her signature tulle skirts paired with heritage knitwear and schoolboy blazers © Ben Broomfield @photobenphoto

“Pared down” was how Emilia Wickstead described her first live catwalk show since the start of the pandemic, unveiled in front of just a few dozen guests at the Royal Academy. The interiors and insouciant outfits in David Lynch’s 1990 TV series Twin Peaks inspired the show’s “slapped-on” lipstick, lumberjack-check jackets and crushed satin dresses, she said.

Her enveloping wool coats and handsome V-neck jumpers, tucked into full skirts, had a cosiness and casualness that made them appealing for the office, something Wickstead said her customers are increasingly seeking from her. “As a brand, we are a lot more focused on separates,” she said.

16Arlington, a label also known for its evening dresses, likewise broadened its daywear offer with thin, slouchy knits, croc-embossed leather jackets and pencil skirts in ice blue.

Model in satin gown with low-cut neckline
Emilia Wickstead returned after a three-year hiatus to show a collection inspired by David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’ . . .  © Ben Broomfield @photobenphoto

Model in voluminous check coat
. . . with references to mid-century, suburban Americana and 1990s grunge © Ben Broomfield @photobenphoto

Those collections, and the small but elegant show that Roksanda Ilinčić hosted at Claridge’s, were a departure from the recent haute couture shows in Paris, where designers employed a mix of surrealism, opulence and fantasy to woo fashion’s top spenders.

Model in a gown with large curving shapes sweeping around it
Roksanda Ilinčić was inspired by Japanese artist Atsuko Tanaka, with voluminous sculptural dresses . . .

A model in jacket over full, ankle-length skirt
 . . . and easy-to-wear pieces that highlighted the female form, such as cinched jackets

Irish designer Simone Rocha, whose shows often lean towards the fantastical, said she wanted her collection to “feel really grounded, from the earth”. She took inspiration from west Ireland’s hay festivals, inviting Dublin folk music group Lankum to play a set and stuffing delicately embroidered tulle dresses with dried raffia. It looked a bit grand under the dome of Westminister’s Central Hall, but the admirably age-diverse cast of models again kept it grounded.

A model in an ankle length, full skirted dress
Simone Rocha was inspired by the Irish harvest festival of Lughnasadh, with tulle dresses stuffed with raffia . . . © Ben Broomfield @photobenphoto

Model in a loose-fitting shirt-like dress
. . . and age-inclusive casting © Ben Broomfield @photobenphoto

Like Rocha, Erdem Moralıoğlu stayed close to home — figuratively and literally. Figuratively, in that his focus remained firmly on the graceful, historically inspired evening dresses his customers have come to him for for more than 15 years; and literally, in that the collection was inspired by the terraced Georgian house he acquired in London’s Bloomsbury neighbourhood a couple of years ago.

Backstage, Moralıoğlu said he recently learnt that his house had once been a “home for fallen women”. They, the absinthe-green paint uncovered during renovations and a clutch of nude drawings found in a fireplace inspired the collection of gigot-sleeve lingerie dresses and crumpled-silk evening frocks embroidered with black irises. In spite of their Victorian references, the clothes were firmly contemporary — the output of a designer confident in his aesthetic codes.

A model in long, fitted down with voluminous sleeves
Erdem Moralıoğlu discovered that his London townhouse used to be a ‘home for fallen women’ . . .

A model in loose-fitting below-the-knee dress
 . . . and thought of these women when designing his autumn/winter collection

Northern Irish designer Jonathan Anderson has that kind of confidence in spades. He teamed up with the Scottish dance choreographer Michael Clark, steeping himself in the archives both of Clark — including one poster memorably illustrated with a phallus, which was transferred to a crumpled shirt and trousers — and his own 15-year-old namesake label. Past hits, including furry going-out tops with front pouches, coats with enormous leather lapels, and origami-fold tops and trousers were reworked, refined.

“When I see old things [I’ve done], I usually hate them, so it was nice to improve on them,” Anderson joked afterwards. It was all very wearable, full of things — such as a frayed glen-plaid coat and slip-on sneakers slicked in crackled green lacquer — which the audience appeared eager to buy.

A male model in green trousers and patterned top
Jonathan Anderson collaborated with Michael Clark, featuring poster designs from the choreographer’s archive . . . 

Model in trouser suit, with trousers that protrude at a sharp angle
 . . . and reinterpretations of his own most famous designs

Christopher Kane is a designer whose clothes consistently manage to be both wearable and surprising — aided by an eclectic set of references that this season included intestines, 1980s Scotland, waitresses, chopping boards and “working-class” animals including piglets and rats, he said.

The photorealistic images of animals were made using AI image generators and printed on to long, slim mock-neck jersey dresses with slits high enough to reveal the models’ bottoms as they walked. Intestines were translated into bustles that unravelled over the hips of charcoal-grey trouser suits and a red PVC minidress, made still more interesting by the flat, stand-up collars (inspired by the chopping boards) that framed the face and lengthened the silhouette.

Model in strapless dress with ruffles around the hip
Christopher Kane referenced intestines and chopping boards with ruffled minidresses . . . 

Model in long dress split to the thigh
 . . . and images of animals including piglets and rats, which were printed on jersey dresses

Not every designer was bent on paring back. Ian McKellen opened 2022 LVMH Prize winner Steven Stokey-Daley’s lovely show with a thunderous reading of Tennyson, days after fellow actor Florence Pugh performed a monologue for (and written by) Harris Reed, who used 108 metres of discarded gold lamé as the starting point for his theatrical, Schiaparelli-ish red-carpet dresses.

The actor Ian McKellen in a sailor outfit
Ian McKellen opened Steven Stokey-Daley’s show with a reading of Tennyson’s ‘The Coming of Arthur’ . . . 

Model in chunky sweater over full length skirt
. . . while the collection referenced Daley’s great-grandfather’s life at sea and queer narratives

There was a great energy, too, at Priya Ahluwalia, where models walked to a soundtrack of Lauryn Hill and Tupac in body-hugging dresses with ruffled collars and cuffs (for women) and tracksuits and tailored suits (for men) made youthful — and distinctly Ahluwalia — with their colourful bands snaking across jackets and down the sides of trousers. Ahluwalia is still a relative newcomer to womenswear, and her offering there is not yet as developed or desirable as the menswear.

A model in a body-hugging full length gown
Music was the starting point for Priya Ahluwalia’s collection, with colours borrowed from album covers . . . 

Model in patterned tracksuit
 . . . and patterns inspired by music notes and waves

Yet she has a good instinct for branding, and the recurring “A” in zebra-print belts and silky co-ords felt cool rather than obnoxious. That, and the savvy expansion of her label into new categories such as shoes, is what makes her a designer to watch — and another breath of fresh air.

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