From glam rock to grunge, Susannah Frankel rounds up the very best of the capital's fashion week – and discovers a bold new mood of fun and femininity

Fashion's new-found "realism" is well-documented by now. As if proof were needed that it has taken root, that came in the form of black-navy-and camel-clad fashion editors at last week's London shows, all of whom have clearly taken the Céline/Chloé/Stella McCartney autumn/winter aesthetic to heart and run with it.

Literally. Even shoes were more likely to boast the new, more pragmatic mid-heel than a high-rise platform sole. Those who wore the latter stumbled about in them looking too last season for comfort. Not that comfort was ever the point.

There is a downside, however, to fashion that may, only whisper it, be described as nice – a word that every schoolboy and girl knows is synonymous with bland and even boring. It might have seemed fresh in its minimal, no-frills maturity six months ago and is certainly a pleasure to wear, but is it really what those looking for inspiration and aspiration on the catwalk want to see?

It seems only apposite that, with London Fashion Week's heritage as creative melting pot par excellence preceding it, this was far from the look that dominated for spring/ summer 2011. If there was anything well mannered and/or bourgeois about the collections shown in the British capital, it was ironic almost across the board. Major influences, meanwhile, included nothing more po-faced than the 1970s, as seen through the eyes of everyone from Joan Jett to Marc Bolan – not shy, then. There was fondant or neon-bright colour and, above all, a youthfulness with a hard edge that was both witty and pretty to behold.

As if to emphasise the upbeat mood, Abbey Clancy and Kelly Brook (who both seem like sweet girls) took to the runway for Giles Deacon, returning to London after a year showing in Paris. Giles – as the label is known – was inspired by the Nineties but certainly not in the minimal sense, hence Crayola-coloured Pac-Man cardies, spotty separates and big white and sugar-pink trainers and/or Day-Glo sandals. Backstage, the designer said "it's all good fun" and indeed it was. If Deacon's heart lies in the big-entrance gowns for which he is best known, they were there, too. Couture staples including feathers, bows, beading and more were all treated in a manner that was irreverent and good-humoured.

Well-mannered good looks – originally created by the likes of Sir Norman Hartnell and Sir Hardy Amies – were subverted at Christopher Kane also. Here, perforated leather day suits (coated to look fake), matching knee-length lace dresses and cardigans were the story, in colours so eye-poppingly bright they might not unreasonably be described as nasty. The in-the-know humour of the collection in question might have seemed plain cynical were it not for the perfect – absolutely perfect – execution and finish. A fashionably jarring touch came in the form of Argyle cashmere knits in more classic shades, thrown over narrow shoulders.

Michael Van Der Ham's debut solo show – previously he has been part of the Fashion East initiative – also sprang from the bourgeois. Think the kind of fabrics and colours that might be worn to a provincial wedding, patched together to achieve a distinctly unprovincial, and even quite droopy, silhouette – lilac, rose, devoré, brocade and so forth. If last time around it seemed implausible that this designer's one-off designs would develop into a coherent ready-to-wear concern, this season it seemed more likely.

Richard Nicoll's collection, he told American Vogue's newly rechristened website Vogue.com, was inspired by Angie Bowie and who would ever argue with a woman who steps out in a black crystal embellished cardigan and patent leather hobble skirt. Here was more hide, in white and soft pink, "don't mess with me" corrugated collars and more than a little point d'esprit worn over visible bras. The production of the clothes was more sophisticated than ever. The look was fierce.

More than 20 years ago, John Galliano made lingerie-inspired bias-cut silks and satins the thing to see and be seen wearing beyond the boudoir, and few have ever rivalled his interpretation on that theme. For spring/summer 2011 both Marios Schwab and Meadham Kirchhoff tried their hand at it, however, and to highly accomplished effect. It's not easy to modernise this particular style but Schwab did just that, with neon blue, pale pink and black slips printed with pentagrams and more occult symbols, some short, others falling to mid-calf, and with webs of spaghetti straps when seen from behind. These were worn with tattoo-print leggings and/or cropped leather jackets the colour of burnt sugar. It was beautifully done – feminine but never saccharine sweet. Pink and blue blooms framed the Meadham Kirchhoff catwalk, courtesy of fashion's favourite florist, Wild At Heart. The silhouette this pairing is known for has more in common with a big, frilly nightie than a slip and it is rather brilliant for that. The crazed colour of models' hair was only upstaged by the bright primrose, violet, rose and poppy red of the clothes themselves. Any girlishness was undercut by leather jackets, military green canvas and a voiceover featuring the original scary fairy: Courtney Love.

Antonio Berardi is a designer whose production is more refined than most in London and a slickly realised silhouette that flatters the finely honed anatomy of the woman wearing it looked ultra-chic for that. These were extremely glamorous clothes, aimed squarely at a confident woman, the kind that throws a voluminous pale and interesting silk organza trench coat over her frock, say, and off she goes, without a thought for the cost of dry-cleaning. Chiffons appliquéd with snowdrops were more romantic, in line with the prevailing mood.

If there was romance in the floral-printed chiffon at Topshop Unique it was taken up a notch with crystal embellishment, the biggest, crimped hair of the season and perspex-heeled shoes which were much less gentle in flavour. At times this collection has appeared rather too sober for its own good. This time, though, it was as long, lean and pop-tastic as today's fashion-savvy high street customer could wish for.

If anyone knows fashion should be fun it's Vivienne Westwood, who may use her runway to promote her politics but who continues to design sexy, sassy and pretty clothes alongside. There was signature, cinch-waisted tailoring, more narrow cotton trouser suits, draped silk jersey dresses, checked tunics, striped shirts, sailor pants, ruffle-fronted blouses and more. The overriding sense here was of a woman who is still more than happy to be a fashion designer speaking to a customer who will be equally delighted to wear her clothes.

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