Feb 27, 2015

    Shock and awe at London Fashion Week

    "AUSTERITY" may be the watchword of British Prime Minister David Cameron's administration and a theme of the Tories' electoral platform. But British fashion designers, it seems, have not received the memo. Or they have, and disagree.

    Not that they stated their position, exactly. They showed it.

    London Fashion Week, which ended on Tuesday, provided about as concise a rebuttal to the whole concept of dialling things down and managing expectations as seen on a catwalk.

    Forget minimalism, restraint, stripping away excess, reducing things to what is necessary. Fashion is, after all, by definition unnecessary. Why pretend otherwise?

    Imagine ideas, textures and transgression - load 'em on! Though some of the following shows were reviewed via online images and some in person, the message came through either way: Celebrate the more.

    Literally, in the case of Anya Hindmarch, who added furs, knitwear and pyjamas to her accessory offering this season, all marked with her characteristic haute humour (roadwork signs on leather bags or intarsia outerwear: "Stop" and "Go", directional arrows and the like).

    And metaphorically, thanks to Mary Katrantzou and her exploration of "horror vacui", an art term that refers to "the filling of the entire surface of a space or an artwork with detail".

    Juxtaposing the ornate against the technologically advanced, and examining how embellishment can be a bridge between past and future, Katrantzou (whose work was seen remotely) sent out neat grey flannel trousers and T-shirts embellished with moulded materials; ornate two-tone damask duffel coats; brocade and cellophane frills; and three-dimensional techno squares.

    The experimental excess of designers Peter Pilotto and Christopher de Vos at Peter Pilotto - reduced to a snakes-and-ladders squiggle on space-age separates - and Jonathan Saunders' Come Fly With Me 1960s graphic stripes on squared-off tops and A-line skirts were all fine, but ultimately unsatisfying (as was Thomas Tait's collection, inexplicably shown in the near dark, so aside from some leather, pleating and a deep-cuffed trouser, it was hard to tell what was going on).

    The problem was, as someone tweeted this month after Mr Cameron introduced the "Living Within Its Means" slogan, "Oh, dare to (expletive) dream, Dave."

    Gareth Pugh (seen online) did, returning to London for the 10th anniversary of his brand with an all-black exaggerated ode to warrior queens that was maximalist in its minimalism, from razor-tailored capes and wide-legged trousers to leather tunics and Amazonian breastplates, Elizabethan puffa robes and feral dresses made from bristling fur - or plastic straws. No joke, and no holds barred.

    Jonathan Anderson did, taking his J. W. Anderson collection full-on into the 1980s, complete with big blousons and scrunchy leather boots, wide-wale corduroys and big side-buckled skirts ("big" being the operative word, even viewed through a screen).

    "I liked the idea of elevating things that go slow and take time," Christopher Bailey said backstage after his Prorsum show. Presumably, as chief executive and chief creative officer of Burberry, time is something he does not have much of.

    But Mr Bailey continued: "I love the contradiction of this existing in tandem with the superfast digital world. I wanted something that felt touched by the hand, that celebrated craft. Because often so much goes into our work, and you can't see it. I wanted people to see it."

    Though hippie deluxe is not a style normally associated with the more buttoned-up Burberry, it brought a tactile dimension to the brand that was rich with possibility. Judging from the reaction of attendees like Sam Smith, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn and Kate Moss, they'd vote for it anyway.