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New directions: Inspiration for Autumn

Tomboys, vamps and foil-clad dolly birds...Take inspiration from the catwalk, says Susannah Frankel, and an autumn season that is brilliantly diverse

Pattern and print

This season's prints are more bold and innovative than ever and for those who find surface interruption fussy, more good news comes with the fact that they are also not even remotely girlish.

Rather, fierce would be a more accurate description of the surreal flowers, tangled branches and violently coloured reptiles that crawl across Nicolas Ghesquière's clever volumes at Balenciaga. The patchwork baby blanket print on inky black leather at Christopher Kane is equally an unsettling juxtaposition, if ever there was one. Mary Kantrantzou's print is more precious than perverse, inspired as it is this time by everything from Ming Dynasty porcelain to Fabergé eggs and establishing this designer as a name to watch. Less splashy souls might like to opt for the season's ubiquitous polka dot, as seen at Marc Jacobs and Stella McCartney, checks (Prada, Marni and Burberry, of course) and less classic geometries most lovely in jewel colours at Dries Van Noten.


The exaggerated shoulderline at Miu Miu which touches everything from twisted Zoot suit-style coats and jackets to sequinned tea dresses in black, white and more typically Prada-esque shades of sludge drive home the fact that the 1940s – and with that more than a degree of apparent austerity – are on fashion's agenda right now. The latter, in particular, are already among the most photographed pieces of the autumn season. Then there are the shoes to consider (and copy should anyone be foolhardy enough to dare): glitter-dipped ankle boots have a trompe l'oeil vintage sandal upper applied to their front. A more strict silhouette characterises Marc Jacobs' take on this era – think a high shoulder, peplums aplenty and a narrow, mid-calf length skirt.

This was also seen at Jonathan Saunders, the London-based designer who's been on something of a roll for several seasons now. More than a hint of the Forties also at Louis Vuitton and also John Galliano's swansong collection for his eponymous label.


The mannish trouser suit is as much a part of a modern woman's wardrobe as the little black dress, say, or a cardigan jacket. And Chanel Karl Lagerfeld features them all. The classic Chanel jacket was this time styled over masculine shirts and wide-legged black trousers designed not to be worn with the requisite talon heels but with laced military boots finished with tufted wool cuffs. Jil Sander, Celine and Paul Smith all regularly borrow from menswear, as so too does Yves Saint Laurent – that house's namesake famously appropriated men's tailoring and sent it down the couture catwalk on a woman in the first place. Such gender blending works both ways: Rick Owens is a designer as happy putting a man in elevated wedge heels as he is a woman in a single-breasted jacket with signature elongated skinny sleeves. Stella McCartney, for whom the Savile Row tailoring tradition adapted to fit the female form has long been part of the agenda, comes up with perhaps the most accessible take on a time-honoured theme.


Coming in a close second to the Forties, as far as any heartfelt nostalgia is concerned, are the Sixties. Enter Yves Saint Laurent, who first gave the world the youthful trapeze-line back in 1958 at the beginning of his brief tenure as successor to Christian Dior and carried it forward when he started his own line. More than half a century later and Stefano Pilati, today creative director of the house, has reinvented it, in everything from studded patent leather to more sensible black wool and monochrome tweed. Miuccia Prada, too, has long been indebted to the modernity of this decade also and her take on the Yves Saint Laurent Mondrian dress is just as strangely beautiful as might be expected. At Jil Sander, Raf Simons' colour blocking is a more muted treatment on a similar theme and it is well known that Swinging London is among the Burberry designer Christopher Bailey's favourite references.

Sweet Wrappers

Summer's much lusted-after neon brights have, for autumn, been replaced by a decidedly festive, upbeat and not even remotely shy take on sequins, sparkle and a palette that appears to owe more to a family size tin of Quality Street than anything more obviously hi-tech by nature. Certainly, such an unabashed display of shimmer and shine is likely to brighten up the party season. Gold is ubiquitous – gold stars at Dolce again – gold glitter from head-to-toe at Vivienne Westwood, big gold frilly knickers at Comme des Garçons and very slightly more decorous gold lamé shorts at Lanvin. Then comes the colour: the most unforgiving turquoise, bubblegum pink, spearmint green and tangy orange. It takes more than a little front to step out dressed like a sweet wrapper, but rest assured that a little fashion folly never hurt anyone, bringing a smile to even the most po-faced lips. Sometimes it's good to look marginally ridiculous – dressing to impress is meant to be fun, after all.


Designer-clad French maids. The Night Porter and Allen Jones. These are the things a fashionable being would do well to consider when she's dressing this autumn. It was the story from start to finish at the Louis Vuitton show, where everything from handcuffs and black rubber boots to high-shine corsetry and monogrammed army caps accessorised a look that is ultimately just as chic as it is politically incorrect. Givenchy, too, features visible (and quite formidable) patent leather underwear worn under black silk tulle and Roxy Music-inspired black panthers. For Giles Deacon at Ungaro, showgirl feathers, leather and lace reveal a similarly obsessive take while, for the designer's own label, an overtone of ultra-strict Victoriana more than hints at the fact that this is not simply a one-century wonder – shades of the madwoman in the attic here. Finally black leather greatcoats at Acne and leather motor-cross trousers courtesy of Junya Watanabe are a suitably tough take on an over-arching theme.

Shopping by Gemma Hayward