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More sex please, we're British

The stiff upper lip is a lie – London designers are  feeling kinky for autumn, says Rebecca Gonsalves

Sex sells. It’s an irrefutable truth, and – in fashion – one that is most often acknowledged on the catwalks of Milan and Paris. For autumn, London designers got in on the act, too, albeit in a typically subversive way, as mad passions turned into kinky business.

This was apparent at Jonathan Saunders, where shiny vinyl and slick rubber dresses were feminised by a retro-waisted silhouette and lingerie details such as moulded cups and waspies. Wet-look, wipe-clean fabrics cropped up again and again on the London catwalks: as PVC and laminated silk twill at Roksanda Ilincic; circle skirts and minis in patent leather at Topshop Unique; while varnished nylon trousers punctuated JW Anderson’s collection of strapped, flapped and peep-hole strewn designs.

 The subversive appeal of a flasher mac in patent leather at Richard Nicoll or French maid ruffles re-imagined in gingham by Meadham Kirchhoff and placed on a velvet dress may be expected from the exciting talents of London. But even Burberry, that powerhouse of British stoicism, was game with sheer latex pencil skirts and trench coats revealing a new side to the house as well as the models’ underwear.

So, the British stiff upper lip and “no sex please” attitude has been turned on its head this season, on the catwalks at least. But making a statement on the catwalk is all very well – how to wear the trend on the street without looking like you walk it is another matter.

Leather has become a staple of the winter wardrobe for more than just jackets and boots, so a skirt or dress is an obvious place to start. Black, cherry red or grey are the shades least likely to raise eyebrows in the office, while those feeling more adventurous should opt for attention-grabbing, slightly “off” colours, such as Whistles’ pale green, and patent finishes with all their wipe-clean connotations. After all, you don’t need to have seen ITV’s seminal 1990s drama series Band of Gold to understand the  subtext of patent red leather.

There’s a delicate balance to maintain – the severity of leather should be somehow softened. Nicoll paired his patent pencil skirt with an oversized mohair sweater for a reason. Not only does a softer texture create a sense of security, it provides a clash that makes it perfectly modern. Playing with proportions is important, too: a second-skin skirt can be at once toned down with the addition of a mannish shirt or boxy jacket.

Buckles are a more subversive way to nod at the trend. Zara’s high-waisted cuff-hemmed trousers seem innocent enough, while the razor-sharp point of its buckled court shoe is seriously fetish-worthy. Accessories are key to this look, too. A pair of leather or latex driving gloves will add just a hint of the dominatrix, while a waspie – a truncated corset – provides a glamorous retro touch that a wide waist belt will echo. Lingerie details on cocktail dresses, as well as underwear as outerwear pieces, are more familiar ways to play the siren.

After all, dressing for the role you want to play is just the beginning.