London calling: The best autumn collections
The best autumn collections upheld a woman who is loud, proud and dangerous, says Susannah Frankel. She's a sight for sore eyes
Ugly. It's not the most obvious buzzword but London's finest collections upheld an unconventional – if not plain confrontational – take on female beauty across the board. Spring's sugary colours were replaced by dowdy hues.
Khaki, oxblood, grey and, of course, black were accented with flashes of virulent green, yellow, purple and tomato. And there were more off-shades too, most prominently mustard and poison green. Move over also the bourgeois silhouette that has dominated the catwalk for so long has gone in favour of severe, boxy lines that either stand away from the body with aggressively sharp edges, or drown it entirely.
Christopher Kane himself described the moiré featured in his show as "disgusting" and the overall look as "a bit sick". This smelt of Teen Spirit, from models' lanky, centre-parted hair to their pallid complexions and heavy black-leather ankle boots and Mary Jane shoes. Here ribbon trim was replaced by more black leather, padded and tied into stiff bows. The silhouette was narrow but never tight throughout – nasty more than nice. Kane said he was inspired by Joseph Szabo's portraits of the ambivalence of adolescence and young girls in clubs "hanging around smoking". The look was as tough as it was accomplished and challenging, too, which after the sweetness of the designer's summer collection, was good to see.
JW Anderson's woman was no shrinking violet either. At times the clothing she walked in was so stiff she appeared barely able to bend her knees – not that that stopped her. Vinyl trouser suits – part space age, part surgical greens – were juxtaposed with tufted tartans and quilted skirts and jackets that, rather cleverly, were styled with un-quilted copies underneath, just in case our heroine is self-conscious enough to worry about her girth although clearly the message is: why should she be? The influence of the early work of both Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto was at play here: Anderson's not the only fêted designer to look to that just now and it's a smart move.
Way back when, these designers questioned the need for flagrant status dressing and to do so once again seems more than justified. Who wants another little black, beaded cocktail dress or a logo-heavy handbag? Only emphasising the fact that this was a collection for women who dress for themselves as opposed to any would-be admirer, bodies were enveloped entirely: one could only guess at the form within.
If ever proof were needed that heavy, almost industrial fabrics, have ousted gentle chiffon and lace it came in the form of Acne's show. Oversized dungarees suspended from huge, elasticised straps and worn over Puffa jackets, quilted sweaters tucked into wide-legged, high-waisted trousers, a violent lime fleece worn over more inflexible vinyl, scratchy wool corsets fitted over bulky sweaters and jackets and quite the most ungainly footwear imaginable made for a collection that was as fashionable in its utilitarian viewpoint as it was witty.
Sarah Burton's catwalk debut for McQ was, similarly, crafted in humble fabrics and boasted a strong-shouldered, waisted silhouette – this time achieved with wide, leather chain-belts. There was nothing much delicate about any signature embroideries: they were quite as robust as the clothes. McQueen being McQueen the finale was a big one: "a never-ending forest" was home to a disco/absinthe shack presided over by the fiercest supermodel of them all, Kristen McMenamy, and conceived by theatre company Punchdrunk.
Given that poking fun at the fashion establishment appears to be the order of the day, it should come as no great surprise that punk was a prevalent reference for more than a few designers. Kinder Aggugini's show (Appropriation: "the action of taking something for one's own use, typically without its owner's permission" read the show notes) featured prints that morphed the work of the Chapman Brothers, pictures of cowboys on 18th-century wallpaper, children's TV icons and Delft porcelain and scattered them across kilts, boxy jackets, men's shirts and more. It looked like a messed up take on Hermès. "The work of celebrated artists and artisans, represented as my own," the designer stated further. "There is no collaboration, just pure theft."
A similarly anarchic vocabulary was central to Louise Gray's finest show to date, from the models' sky-high Mohicans and millinery courtesy of Nasir Mazhar to the fact that more than a few garments looked like vintage clothing torn apart at the seams and put back together again. Except, of course, that it was all made from scratch and few of us have such technical expertise. What looked like ribbon appliquéd on to clothes, for example, was in fact woven into jacquard.
Jonathan Saunders' collection was reminiscent of Prada at its most studiously dowdy somewhere between the mid- and late-1990s. The slightly wrong colours, the colliding geometric (Formica?) prints, the A-line silhouette and more all spoke of that moment that was as prim as it was marginally improper: imagine a librarian on the edge, perhaps, and you get the picture. Saunders' work is becoming increasingly polished and this was all put together to perfection. It will no doubt sell to women of style the world over but, make no mistake, just beneath the ultra-stiff, starch there lurks a woman possessed.
There's no mistaking Meadham Kirchhoff's woman who looks as mad and bad as a hatter and is in no way trying to hide it. The designers said that this show represented their take on glam rock and it was a riot from start to finish. Neon yellow and SOS orange wigs, sparkly pink and blue painted ears, tinsel chubbies, rainbow-coloured sequinned trouser suits, metallic leopard-print knickers and more came together to form a picture of a woman who shouts her individuality from the rooftops. A crazed total look belied the commercial value of signature, small but perfectly formed knits and equally accomplished, hand-finished tailoring that regularly cater to more restrained followers of this increasingly accomplished name.
Peter Jensen's idiosyncratic muse this season was Thelma Speirs, half of Eighties-born millinery label, Bernstock Speirs, and a DJ in her spare time. As an homage to the woman in question all models wore grey wigs, just like Thelma's own hair, and the silhouette was, for the most part distinctively tomboy-ish, something that Jensen is more than a little familiar with, not to mention adept at realising. Preppy plaids, crisp shirt collars, brightly coloured ankle socks and flat, pointed masculine shoes all came together in suitably eccentric style, only added to by the odd pair of rabbit ears balanced atop the aforementioned do (rabbits are Jensen's signature) and flocked red and black headphones.
Giles Deacon described his show as "the further adventures of the disco Jacobean fairy tale... If it was winter and your country house set on fire what would you rescue: things with sentimental value or some nice clothes?". The latter was saved of course and it was here that London Fashion Week's resident ugly duckling transformed into a swan. Scorch prints and embroideries embellished this princess's fire-ravaged clothes. Tailoring was strict to the point of ecclesiastic, jacquards were woven with heraldic and religious iconography, empire- line gowns spoke of innocence more than experience, starched, buttoned-up white collars of repressed sexuality and, yes, there was a whiff of the mad woman in the attic, too. This was a heartfelt collection of beautiful clothes, finished to couture standards and destined for big-entrance dressing over and above an everyday wardrobe. There was nothing red-carpet clichéd about it, however. Any Oscar hopeful wishing to stand out in a crowd would do well to look here.
Finally, to Sibling, and the loudest, proudest and most dangerous take on a jumper it is possible to imagine. Shapes were scaled up, colour was hard as nails. Oh, and models sported Mickey Mouse pom-pom ears and sparkling balaclavas with nothing as user-friendly as a space for eyes, nose and mouth to be seen. Leigh Bowery would have loved this look that was moody if not plain angry, and uproariously comedic too. So what if it might frighten the horses? In the immortal words of John Lydon: "We don't care."
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