Remix, mashup, collage, cut and paste… call it what you like but there’s no doubt that many top brands and its in-house designers took the view that they needed to offer several stories, looks or themes this season. This, I guess, is to make sure every customer has an option within the brand’s collection. Even if sometimes this did result in some confusion: short or long, narrow or full, dark and goth or bright and ‘60s? All in the one show? And sometimes in the one outfit!?
Regardless, the season looked in two halves and split for lots of reasons: the big names and the responsibility of the brand, the global turnover, the requirement to grab everyone’s attention and to offer something fresh and different whilst actually offering more of what sells. On the other side of the fashion coin are those who have a name, a look, a story and whose creative focus is on developing and refining that story. Designers whose closer contact with the women who actually wear the clothes brings a different perspective to their work. There is also the split between stylist-designers, whose technical knowledge is limited and whose creative impetus is in the pieces and the images, and designers who can cut and detail their pieces to the more classic standard and concept of being a true fashion designer.
With that distinction in mind, let’s look at the four cities in chronological order and see what conclusions we might come to. In New York, I know I want to start with The Row. Consistent and divine in every piece, the clothes have actually had a far-reaching influence by not striving to be odd, “designery” or directional. The limited colour palette, the quality of the fabrics, and the luxury finish mean the work speaks for itself.
Ralph Lauren springs no surprises in fashion terms, or novelty stories to grab our attention. But surely his clients, the pieces and the merchandising all tell a story of restraint. By not being silly, or going so far away from his signature as to shock, or confuse, his oeuvre simply works as clothes. On its own terms.
Co is a name I always look at for the quiet modernity of their clothes. Intelligence in fashion is a novelty and designers Stephanie Danan and Justin Kern clearly have it. Nothing overstated but nothing boring. Streamlined and edited, this is the essence of pure line and clothes to be worn by a broad range of clients.
Proenza Schouler can sometimes overwork the pieces, or slightly try to “show off “ their undeniable skills. But not this season. This collection read as though Eileen Gray was a fashion designer today. Pure graphic and architectural lines, fantastic pieces and beautiful colour palette… the complexity of cut and construction was under control.
Gabriela Hearst is a star for many customers already, so to witness how her brand develops and moves forward will be fascinating. Good clothes, well-thought through and a balanced collection. Yet, in a crowded market does she have staying power and the expertise to balance this and continue developing her signature? I guess we will find out soon.
Tomo Koizumi rightfully grabbed all the headlines with this collection, but personally, I’m still confused as to who will buy a huge ruffled nylon confection? Brandon Maxwell showed another déjà vu collection; this time fifty years of American fashion — which featured a touch of Halston, a dash of Bill Blass, a bit of Oscar de la Renta and even some Norman Norell and Pauline Trigere. It was actually lovely, but retro is the only word to apply.
Sies Marjan offered a lot of original colour and construction concepts, so much so that it looked rather as if it didn’t belong in New York but London or Paris.
Moving swiftly on to London, where times are tough. Who stood out and which camp do they fall into? The truth is, in London, through the brilliant UK educational system, most designers in this city have technical expertise. And this underpins the often creative madness they show us.
This was really demonstrated by the hugely talented Matty Bovan, who actually majored in knitwear from CSM. The knitwear in his latest collection was fabulous. What I personally love about Bovan’s work is oddly the lack of nostalgia and retro. There was, especially this season, a kind of artists’ gallery assemblage to the looks and an off-kilter silhouette often with sleeve emphasis. He is a special talent in his textural and colour collage, which seemingly just arrive in each look. He is his own invention and I look forward to the next step in the journey.
Palmer Harding are also supremely talented, in a totally different way. Focussed on a specific shirt, tailored but not tailoring, restrained Englishness, the clothes are simply great and I hope they find more and more clients who appreciate their special, clever and extremely well thought through and constructed pieces.
The same words could also be applied to Victoria Beckham. During all her years of wearing clothes by many great designers, Victoria has obviously absorbed a great deal of knowledge and expertise on what goes into great pieces. Her fabric and colour choices, as well as her attention to finish and detail, are of the highest standards. There is modernity combined with classism and a desire to move forward each season, but without a lurch or a jolt. She simply continues to refine the Victoria Beckham style and fashion signatures. I also loved David Koma, whose finish, construction expertise and sharpness are simply terrific. This season I thought was particularly strong and demonstrated his skills in a brilliantly edited way.
Roksanda was stunning. Great silhouettes, marvellous colour… in all, a really beautiful collection. I think she has a personal and strong creative voice. However, she really must understand that not everyone is tall. It’s not precisely size that matters with many of the looks, but simply being tall enough to carry the visual strength of the pieces.
Richard Quinn was very good but it’s now time to see where his signature is taking him. It felt a bit as though Ungaro-Marc Jacobs-Demna Gvasalia had strayed into the design studio, and a new editorial eye is required.
I confess I have very real problems with many of the most famous and successful London designers. I don’t think the clothes are flattering, the collections often seem disjointed and jump willy nilly from season to season. This is definitely my problem, not theirs; but I also wonder about their supporters who lavish praise on them. J. W. Anderson, Christopher Kane, Simone Rocha, Molly Goddard, Halpern, Peter Pilotto, Mary Katranzou and Erdem did their thing with varying levels of success, or failure, I leave you to decide.
I close London with Margaret Howell, who offered Margaret Howell. Simple, spare, British, rigorous, androgynous, and one hundred per cent fabulous.
Now onto Milan. Jeremy Scott for Moschino was fabulous fun Las Vegas showgirls. It should be good, he’s done it before for his own label, but it worked really well for this house too. Gucci offered Alessandro Michele’s winning formula. Under the styling and theatrical presentation, this season there was a real dialogue between the soft romantic fluid pieces and the more tailored structured pieces. The broad-shouldered jacket was already much in evidence on fashionistas around the shows, this firmly stamped the seal of approval on this item.
Moncler x Simone Rocha
The extraordinary project with Moncler and a group of guest designers once again proved wonderfully exciting — with Pierpaolo Piccioli, Simone Rocha, Hiroshi Fujiwara, Richard Quinn, and Craig Green offering inspirational capsule collections.
During all the ups and downs of the various designers brought in since the departure of the founder, Jil Sander has not always been on target. But Lucie and Luke Meier have now settled into the house, and this season combined very successfully new clothes and the heritage of the house. Not slavishly referencing the past but taking its signatures as mood inspirations perhaps. The streamlined purity of Sander, the slightly androgynous feeling, and the clarity of tailoring all combined in a beautiful collection of desirable clothes.
Brunello Cucinelli is expensive and it shows. These are the kind of clothes that say, “effortless and confident.” No fuss or clutter, just great pieces subtly updated, reproportioned or nuanced colour variations. Maxmara, both in the main collection and in Maxmara Atelier, focussed tightly on the heart of the name and the label. Camel and black, shots of colour, great coats, clean lines and real clothes for a huge range of lives and the women who live them. It’s a reality where life beyond the catwalk is clearly exposed, it’s very clever. Oh, and those fourteen coats at Atelier, fashion perfection!
Are you a Prada fan? The creative impetus of Miuccia Prada can be divisive. She does what she wants and believes in, and her political and intellectual life is as important to her as her fashion house. She is able to reflect on both in her attitude towards clothes and accessories. This season, the ache and pain of dark romance pulsed through the collection. In this feeling and thought, she was not alone during the month of shows. Distorted roses, decaying petals, shattered imagery and garments pulled apart and reassembled appeared again and again. Prada combined classic Prada elements; fifties couture, military and heavyweight versus fragile. It’s the dichotomy of reality. And I think it’s fighting seduction. The beauty of an off the shoulder cocktail dress fit for a movie star and the bulk of a khaki felted wool combat jacket in the same collection. Brilliant and as ever thought-provoking. Women versus femininity.
Bottega Veneta has a new designer, Daniel Lee, and this was his first major showing. It was an interesting collection but I am reserving detailed judgement until the second collection. My only observation would be that sadly clever on the catwalk rarely translates into sales in the store.
Giorgio Armani looked classic and lovely, and perhaps linked into our renewed interest in elegance? It’s not edgy or innovative, but it looks fresh in today’s fashion context and maybe clients who’ve never worn Armani will now investigate this master.
Agnona takes us back to The Row. Although ostensibly more grunge, it was in fact about a relaxed, easy, modern, luxurious elegance in layered pieces in a tightly controlled colour palette. I think it was my favourite collection of the entire season, please take a bow for Simon Holloway. Two years since his debut at the house, this Englishman whose pedigree is Chloé, Rykiel, Rodriguez and Lauren, really succeeded for me in encapsulating where fashion might be going.
Finally, Paris, which I discussed in depth not long ago. Lutz, Theyskens… innovative exciting clothes for life, but not edgy, not junior just extremely focussed. Koché, Celine, Chanel and Dior: collections to buy and wear.
So what is my summing up of four cities and the season? On the whole, it’s not the moment for madness, wild inspiration, and overworked themes. These kinds of collections look so odd in difficult times. We often say “nobody needs any more clothes,” but then of course they do. Yet, in today’s world, it is important that what any of us buy feels right. The mantra of “buy better, buy less” doesn’t have to mean buy boring, buy classic… but it does throw the onus on a designer to have ideas that translate into reality. New elegance, dark romance, military, softly oversize, luxury, tailored and deconstructed are all great trends for the season but none of them is new, bizarre or difficult to translate from catwalk to closet. Investment, classic, adaptable, useful and other additions for your existing wardrobe can spell dull, but this season isn’t dull: it’s realistic in a world where fashion seems to have suddenly grown up. Many pieces have a covered up silhouette, colour balances between black, naturals and colour, fabric textures are exciting from silky slippery satins through to thick cocooning blankets. I think it’s about fashion facing a modern reality, and in my view, that’s great news.
words. Tony Glenville