Christopher Kane updates the little black dress at London Fashion Week

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When Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel created the little black dress in the Twenties, she could hardly have foreseen the sexy leather and lace versions which graced London Fashion Week today. The enduring appeal of the classic garment is thanks to the fact that it can be constantly updated, and several designers took full advantage of this quality.

Christopher Kane’s interpretation, as always, was a fresh one. His autumn/ winter 2010 collection took black leather dresses-along with skirts, tops and jackets- and hand embroidered them with flowers. In a less accomplished designer’s hands this combination could have looked contrived or bizarre.

However, Kane, whose latest direction is always the subject of much speculation before his show, is adept at fusing eclectic themes and the result was slick and exciting.

The key components of the collection- black leather and flowers- were combined with patent finishes, gem-like studs and lace. Dresses came mainly in short sheath or pencil shapes, some with shirt-style tops in leather or lace.

Diagonal panels and collars of lace or patent leather appeared on skirts, dresses and blazers.

Bad-girl biker jackets came in matt and patent leather and instead of a Hell’s Angels style skull they were embroidered with the kind of posies that might decorate a strict church minister’s tablecloth. Imagine a very grown up take on a teenage Sunday school dropout smoking by the bike sheds.

Kane’s inspirations were typically eclectic, combining a desire “to do flowers differently,” the Women’s Institute, gemstones from the Vatican and a young Priscilla Presley.

If Kane’s vision was of a rebellious bad girl, Antonio Berardi’s take on the little black dress- and his collection in general-was pure bourgeois seductress. With a more risque nod to vintage Yves Saint Laurent he showed knee length and thigh high black tuxedo dresses which recalled Laurent’s ‘Le Smoking’, while a sheer pussy bow blouse echoed a scandalous see-through version created by the late French designer in 1966.

Berardi, who returned to London Fashion Week last September after showing in Milan and Paris, focused on a pencil shape, and his knee length dresses came with long or capped sleeves, velvet and sheer panels or lace inserts; most provocatively over the breast.

Alongside the little black dress Berardi showed long velvet column gowns in monastic black and cardinal’s red; their backs made from nude silk panels covered in crystals. Expect them to crop up on the red carpet soon, since Berardi’s strong celebrity following includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Victoria Beckham and Sarah Jessica Parker.

Other pieces in the collection included trench coats, puffy skirts made from crystal pom-poms and tailored trouser and skirt suits in grey wool; all delivered with an impressive polish.

This quality was also in evidence at Nicole Farhi’s show, held at the Royal Opera House. Over the past few seasons her collections have benefited from cleaner shapes and this one was particularly strong. Highlights included camel wrap coats and body skimming evening dresses with draping.

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