Valentino is not one of the most innovative fashion designers. He is slick; his clothes are smart. They (and he) are groomed. His clothes don't strain over the hips. They don't ride up the torso. They don't pucker over breasts that are squashed into wobbling blancmange. His clothes flatter. They exude confidence, even if they will never be so startlingly inventive as to frighten the horses.
London designers could take a leaf out of his book. No, they shouldn't suffocate the originality that makes London fashion week worth a look - despite being sandwiched between the mightier markets of Paris, Milan and New York. But London designers should think about how their clothes will look on the body, rather than presenting fashion drawings come to life, without much critical appraisal of how these will look in the third dimension. And they should think of saying no to the obsessions of interfering stylists desperately trying to make their mark (of which more later).
Antonio Berardi, a new name on the London scene, decided to spend every penny he could beg or borrow for his first catwalk show. He invested enormous effort in every design that toddled out on to the catwalk like a much- loved child. Here were high and narrow jackets with clever fan pleats for short sleeves, and tiny, tattered evening gowns, (certainly an antidote to Valentino's sleek chic). Here were ideas fizzing with passion, commitment and drive. Here was the work of a boy who doubtless has about enough cash left for two tins of beans, unfairly judged by the same people who had, just a few days before, ooh-ed and aah-ed at the sublime skill of multimillionaire Valentino.
But fashion isn't fair. And what was glaringly evident at Berardi's show was that thought for the proportions of the human body in movement had somehow got lost. Berardi should cajole a slim friend (or better still, a not so slim friend) to walk up and down in front of him wearing each outfit before expecting anyone else to consider it as something a living, breathing, moving woman might want to wear. Still, 10 out of 10 for a brave first effort.
There's something about London fashion week that makes one behave like a schoolmarm marking term reports and handing out detentions to naughty pupils. One wants to take Berardi to one side and tell him to treasure his talent, but not to treat it carelessly. One also wants to take young Hussein Chalayan aside and suggest he would do better to hang around with a different crowd in the playground. Ditto Sonnentag Mulligan and Betty Jackson. One wants to tell them to avoid the playground bully, otherwise known as The Stylist.
There's a well-worn phrase, "Those that can, do. Those that can't, teach." Translated into fashion speak, it becomes "Those that can, design clothes. Those that can't, style those clothes for fashion shows." It is the stylist - a relatively new force on the fashion catwalk - that bears the responsibility for putting grey tights with visible waistbands, or florist's ribbon tied around necks like hangman's nooses, up on the catwalk. Designers often have fragile egos. But they would do better to stick their fingers in their ears rather than to listen to "modern", arch and desperately trendy friends.
So one wants to tell Betty Jackson that it is OK to create clothes for people who are quiet and nice. One wants to tell her not to be overruled by the trendiest girl in school who also happens to be the only girl in class who can get away with flip-flops and black tights under a summer dress.
One wants to tell Barbara Sonnentag and Tracy Mulligan - whose catwalk finale appearance in slim trousers and slinky little shirts was the only good-looking thing in their show - to follow their instincts, to present women's clothes for women rather than to be misled by an overbearing stylist. One wants to commend Clements Ribeiro for doing their own thing.
Let's call Hussein Chalayan up to the teacher's desk. He's the one who likes to bury clothes in his garden to make them age, who has done amazing things with rip-resistant, waterproof paper and whose cutting-edge tailoring has earned him a nomination for the British Designer of The Year Award (the winner will be revealed tonight).
So Hussein, where were the paper ball gowns, the rosy, floral prints, the clever cutting on stiff, edgy fabrics in this week's show? What were all those nipple-revealing T-shirts, constricting skirts and fabrics so fine they had puckered under the machine needle doing there instead? What was Bjork, who usually looks so stunning in your designs, doing looking lumpen and squeezed into a suit that didn't flatter her? Does one suspect the bullying voice of a stylist telling you what to do rather than letting you listen to your own odd romantic instincts?
London isn't like anywhere else. We trade on originality and invention. In the past few years we have produced some of the most exciting designers in the world. But so far this season, London Fashion Week has looked either overstyled or copy cat. Is that only because it has, for the first time, come behind both Milan and Paris? Or is it because the new breed of London designers are listening too attentively to informants who travel the Milan, Paris route and come home with hints of how collections can be "re-directed" and "made modern".
Of course, that makes London designers no different from their New York counterparts, several of whom pay careful attention to trends emerging in Europe before revealing their own wares. But New York is about big business, the commercialisation of trends, while London used to be where those trends were born. Our designers should do their own thing. But there are tricks to be learned from abroad: those of presentation and proportion. Making clothes fit the human body is a good start. Vivienne Westwood, who has been showing in Paris for several years now, has been a willing pupil. While losing none of her exuberant originality, Westwood's latest collection, shown the day before Valentino, was groomed and sleek and gorgeous. London's newest talents would do well to take note.Reuse content