Out of the crypt and on to the catwalk
London Fashion Week brought us gothic grandeur in a ghostly church and modernism as pointed as Mr Spock's ears, says Tamsin Blanchard. Photographs: Peter Macdiarmid
Tuesday 05 March 1996
Full marks to Philip Treacy for his remarkable hats and a show that lifted London Fashion Week into an unmissable event. Full marks, too, to Alexander McQueen for whipping up a frenzied hype before his show, worthy of the hottest ticket in Paris. He showed his collection in Hawksmoor's shadowy Christchurch in Spitalfields, staying close to his East End of London roots. McQueen's ancestors are reputedly buried in the ghostly church - indeed one, in the form of a skeleton, was wheeled out to sit in the front row, alongside Bryan Ferry, Anthony Price, Philip Treacy (who provided the antlers and other headwear) and Isabella Blow.
Ms Blow is herself a great eccentric dresser and a Vogue fashion editor, but Alexander McQueen owes much of his success to her enthusiastic support and encouragement. He dedicated the collection to her and she whooped, clapped and cried in her Treacy showgirl black feather hat.
We were expecting sacrilege, and miniature crucifixes sewn on to eye masks, a thorn of crowns and nails apparently skewered through the hands of a model may be shocking to some. A pamphleteer stood outside the church after the show handing out photocopies of a "Homily Against excesse of Apparell". The homily might well have been the source of McQueen's inspiration, and the pamphleteer could just as easily have been on his payroll. It read, "Let not the outward apparel of women, said St Peter, be decked with the braiding of hair, with wrapping on of gold, or goodly clothing." And what did McQueen give us? Long manes of medieval braided hair; wide trousers made of distressed velvet in gold; builder's bottom bumster pants in couture brocade and the kinkiest lilac satin and black lace corset that has ever been laced up in the crypt of a church.
Alexander McQueen's clothes are not high on most women's shopping lists. But there was plenty on offer from both new and established designers for women who do not choose to live their lives in dramatic costume. Pearce Fionda, the four-season-old partnership of Andrew Fionda and Ren Pearce, presented their cleanest, most focused collection to date. Simple tunic dresses came in chocolate silk jersey. There were pea-green cotton shirts and masculine-tailored, wide pant trouser suits. And the spare Sixties feel gave the collection a modern edge that it might previously have lacked.
The other clothing highlight of the week came at Clements Ribeiro's show. After the first few hessian print suits that came dangerously near to the Prada print of this season, the personalities of the designers, Suzanne Clements and Inacio Ribeiro, both graduates of Central St Martin's, kicked in. Chocolate jersey cowl neck dresses with Moroccan silver belts slung low around their hips, a long grey suiting djellabah dress and a gloriously garish paisley print hinted at the Moroccan influences of the early Seventies. A double-breasted trouser suit was refreshing to see in bright coral pink. And delicate dresses and blouses came in flesh pink and faded green chiffon, embroidered with tiny sprigs of flowers and a sprinkle of glitter. But best of all was the knitwear - finely tuned stripes of blue, yellow and orange and a rich repeat pattern knitted into a fine gauge top.
The day after his show, Hussein Chalayan's collection was selling well. He used quiet tweed for his futuristic tailoring and latex to make skin- tight tops and figure-hugging dresses. For evening, Chalayan made simply draped shoestring strap dresses printed with a Flash Gordon art deco sunray motif.
There are two very different strands running through British womenswear at the moment. One is purely British, the Chalayan/McQueen avant-garde school, where jacket lapels are as pointed as Mr Spock's ears. Antonio Berardi, who showed his second collection last week, is an accomplished technician and promises great things. But he needs to develop a voice of his own that will stand up against the John Gallianos and Alexander McQueens of this world.
The other strand runs at a tangent between London and New York, where simple cutting and modern sportswear are key. Copperwheat Blundell designed by Lee Copperwheat and Pamela Blundell is a collection that caters to both men and women. The clothes are functional; for women they are also sleek. Techno fabrics and simple no-fuss shapes make them clothes that will stand the test of time. And that is something London needs, just as much as the hype and wonder of Treacy and McQueen.
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