One of the highlights of New York Fashion Week was Hood by Air’s vehement dissection of high-end fashion: Shayne Oliver and his team managed to create garments that felt like part of a cohesive aesthetic vision, but also looked out-of-control. I hoped to find the latter quality in London, which has always hosted the most eccentric of the four major fashion weeks, but flicking through the online galleries I saw caution — and conventional cutting — among designers who favor deconstruction, like the label Marques Almeida. Do the brilliant pioneers of this form, beginning with Kawakubo and running through Margiela and Galliano, inhibit young talent? Not so with Oliver, apparently, but London’s youthful elite seem too conscious of the gods — and not sufficiently aware that the fashion audience can spot disarray that’s done by the book.
I was more intrigued by the number of London designers trying to integrate several historical periods into their collections, as Raf Simons did recently at Dior in Paris. In one show, Simons reached back to the 18th century and also looked ahead to the future; in another, he considered how the romance of the 1950s relates to the idealism of the '60s and the sexual freedom of the '70s. Looking at Jonathan Anderson’s enormous leg-‘o’-mutton sleeves mixed with Keith Haring–like squiggle prints, I saw a similar if less artful collision of periods. Anderson relies heavily on the discordant gesture — those fat sleeves, for example, or a pair of shoulder-strap bags slung across the body, so that the straps suggest military dress while the hip-straddling bags evoke the silhouette of a 19th-century bustle. But his cleverness too easily shows.
I preferred Erdem’s take on Victorian dress. Although he told reporters that his inspiration was American homesteaders in the mid-19th century, the designs seemed open to interpretation — as they should be. In dainty floral prints, with exposed shoulders and frilly high collars, the clothes never exhausted their theme. Nor did they look the least bit costumey.
The most stimulating shows were by Christopher Kane, Simone Rocha, and Christopher Bailey of Burberry. Bailey’s genius is in timing — and in repackaging British motifs like a toned-down Sgt. Pepper jacket over a knock-around lace minidress. Of course, he offered trench coats, but my eye went straight for the flashy straps of the backpacks. Could it be time to reassess the luxury handbag? Rocha’s beribboned and bell-shaped dresses in pink and cream were gloriously over-the-top, though I also admired the plain lines of mid-calf poet dresses with draped or gathered sleeves.
As for Kane, he took a single shape — a squiggly circle, much like a drop of liquid seen under a microscope — and masterfully worked it through the whole collection. There were patchwork and cutout looks that followed the shape, few better than a long, fitted black dress sliced open down one side and around a shoulder. Tailored jackets had similar curves at the hem. In the lace, in the plastic textures, and chemical-like explosions of prints (think tie-dye), there were hints of Kane’s early obsessions, but now the results look more sophisticated.