London Fashion Week: Old guard proves talent

IF THE first day of London Fashion Week was all about showcasing emerging talent, yesterday saw the old guard proving that they’ve very much still got it.

On Friday night, graduates of Central Saint Martin’s MA course showed their collections at one of the most anticipated shows of the week. Alumni Christopher Kane and Roksanda Ilinic sat in the front row looking for the fashion stars of tomorrow, and the collections were as avant garde and utterly unwearable as we’ve come to expect from students of what is arguably the best fashion course in the world.

Yesterday, however, London Fashion Week stalwarts including Clements Ribeiro, Jasper Conran and John Rocha left the exposed nipples and S&M references to the kids. These are some of the more established labels on the circuit and, as such, day two of the fashion extravaganza – which sees designers showcasing their autumn/winter 2013-14 collections – was decidedly grown-up.

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Bohemian-flavoured husband and wife Clements Ribeiro went for a sophisticated urban punk aesthetic. Collars were heavy with jewels, shoes were flat, metallic and pointed of toe. Models wore mini kilts or tartan shift dresses, while delicate pieces came with chunky buckles.

John Rocha – whose celebrated daughter Simone will show her own collection on Tuesday – went for a slightly punky take on a buttoned-up aesthetic. Each model had a mass of black tulle in her hair like a gothic Miss Havisham. As ever, black featured heavily in his collection: it came in a simplified paisley pattern appliquéd onto a delicate chiffon skirt; and on nippy little jackets with graphic cutouts on the collarbone.

However, a palette of mossy greens, sugary pinks and warm reds added interest. Skirts were full, silhouettes princessy and whimsical. Coats too – whether a bell-shaped pink mohair number or a vivid green trench – were full-skirted, enveloping the models without overwhelming them.

Jasper Conran is another member of British fashion’s old guard, but his collections remain fresh and new. Conran was inspired by Mia Farrow, and this was a swinging collection with a strong Sixties influence. Dresses and skirts were boxy and simple, worn with patent shoes with low block heels. The catwalk was a riot of colour – bright orange, bubblegum pink, zingy violet – and there was a touch of the Sixties air stewardess about the models.

Conran’s pieces were deceptively simple, with spliced seams revealing a hint of contrasting colour and paillettes tumbling effortlessly from a short shift dress. Possibly one of the most wearable collections to be shown so far, it was approachable but not staid, commercial yet eye-catching, and as accomplished as you’d expect for a designer who’s been on the circuit for decades.

Of the four fashion weeks around the world, London is considered the most avant garde, the young fashion rebel. However, it is increasingly proving its commercial credentials in an industry that’s worth £21 billion to the UK economy.

This is the first London Fashion Week run by Natalie Massenet, the British Fashion Council’s new chairman. Launching the event on Friday, she said that at the recent New York Fashion Week there was “palpable excitement” about what lay ahead in London.

London Fashion Week continues to grow in size and influence, and this season is one of the biggest to date, with 57 shows over five days. Over the past few years, a number of designers – including Jonathan Saunders and Vivienne Westwood – have returned to London after showing at other fashion weeks around the world. This week Welsh designer Julien Macdonald makes his return, while notable new additions to the schedule include L’Wren Scott and Tom Ford.

The latter – one of the biggest names in fashion – will stage his first full-scale womenswear show tomorrow. Also tomorrow, Motherwell-born Christopher Kane presents his collection: the most hotly anticipated show of the week. This will be Kane’s first show since signing a majority stake deal with luxury conglomerate PPR, the first British label to do so since Alexander McQueen in 2001.

This is also one of the most accessible London Fashion Weeks to date, with the British Fashion Council teaming up with YouTube for the first time to broadcast 21 shows live online. Online customers will be able to buy looks straight off the catwalk, watch the show live and follow it closely on Twitter.

This season also marks a heavier presence of high-street brands. Topshop has been involved in the event for years. For autumn/winter 2013-14 it is joined by two more high-street brands. Rihanna showed her debut collection for River Island last night, while Whistles will present a collection at an intimate salon show today, with fans of the brand watching live online.