Witches invade the catwalk – as McQueen continues to cast spell

London Fashion Week's relentless march into autumn 2011 – and, eventually, your wardrobe – paused yesterday morning to celebrate one of its most illustrious sons.

Alexander McQueen, who died a week before last year's London Fashion Week, was remembered at a launch event for the forthcoming retrospective of the designer's work at New York's Metropolitan Museum.

Vogue editor Anna Wintour and the ubiquitous Samantha Cameron gathered with press at the Ritz hotel, where McQueen showed Taxi Driver, his first collection after graduating, in 1993. Back then, he had but one rail of clothes with him; this time around, mannequins flanked the speakers' podium, dressed in some of his most innovative creations, including the tartan dress from his 2006 collection The Widows of Culloden.

The exhibition will open in May but while McQueen's long relationship with British fashion was cut short, his legacy was visible yesterday as the shows continued at a relentless pace with appreciative nods to the designer's contributions and influence.

It was design duo Meadham Kirchhoff who really captured some of the vitality and subcultural ire that were prominent during McQueen's early years. Their catwalk was littered with large mocked-up shrines, bedecked with written tributes, floral offerings and candles, to the era of punk. "Everything I am is borrowed" read one scrawled tribute, and the show kicked off with a quote from the film The Cement Garden, starring Charlotte Gainsbourg. "For a boy to look like a girl is degrading," her voice intoned over a silent audience, "because you think that being a girl is degrading."

Upon which, an army of models dressed in witches' hats, Salem-style smocking and ragged-edge tailoring, stormed along the walkway, taking Dawn of the Dead-esque synchronised steps. It sent more than a few shivers down the well-dressed spines of those present.

Meadham Kirchhoff are known for tipping fashionably bourgeois styling on its head, and this season was no exception. "Punk meets Chanel with a hint of depression," declared Alex Fury, the fashion director of SHOWstudio.com on Twitter.

Meanwhile Mary Katrantzou's morning show had his hallmark, with digitally manipulated prints on architectural pieces. As did strict and severe dresses with punched leather bodices and harnesses at Marios Schwab.

While Samantha Cameron was at the Kirchhoff show, Anna Wintour was not, despite having praised British fashion's "sense of humour" earlier in the week ("It's something we could afford to have a little bit more of here in the States," she added after the Topshop Unique collection on Sunday). This humour was at its most prominent today, with several young names on the schedule, as well as talent-scouting initiative Fashion East.

Designer Roksanda Ilincic presented a collection of superbly elegant silk and satin gowns that would have looked sophisticated but that they came in howling oranges and vivid cobalt blues, some irreverently trimmed with fun fur in Dayglo shades, raffia and feathers. The result was a surprisingly modern take on red carpet dressing; let's hope the celebs take note.

And at Fashion East, three up-and-coming names explored everything from Joan Baez influences and American colonialism to the work of Louise Bourgeois. One name, Simone Rocha, is familiar to most, thanks to her father John, whose own catwalk show was on Saturday. She showed minimal and deconstructed tailoring, cut sharply and with sheer panelling and fur patches spliced in, to an audience made up of buyers, press and art school kids, reminding us exactly how varied a melting pot of talents London Fashion Week draws from.

The shows continue today, with a schedule devoted to showcasing the best of British menswear, before the fashion pack jet off to Milan to see what the Italian labels have to offer.

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