Medieval chic gives a new spin on old retro

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The Independent Online

Retro fashion is back for next autumn, according to collections seen last week New York. Yes, again. But at London Fashion Week, which started yesterday, the capital's young designers demonstrated how retro doesn't have to mean a shortage of new ideas.

For while the 1920s, 1930s and 1970s have been put back on fashion's agenda, how about medieval chic? This was the proposal by Danish designer Peter Jensen at his show in Covent Garden yesterday, and as unpromising as tabard-shaped cardigans and chainmail-style knitted snoods may sound, it was a triumph.

For his muse Jensen selected not one of the usual suspects - Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn - but Christine of Denmark, a 16th-century beauty who married the Duke of Milan at the age of 11. A recondite choice, but it worked. Conservative dresses in rich blue or black velvet, a wet-look nylon bomber jacket with a ruff collar or starched-white cuffs on a blouse all very cleverly suggested the young princess's courtly dress in a modern way. An elegant bias-cut blanket coat in checked dark-green tweed was another example of the tailoring which is emerging as a strong trend.

The only visual source used was a Hans Holbein portrait of Christine in her mourning clothes, said Jensen after his show. "I've always been fascinated by her," said the designer, into his 10th season. "Very unusually for the time, she had all her own teeth."

They might not have the commercial might of the fashion industries in New York and Milan, then, but London designers know how to mix wit with nostalgia. That is part of the reason why the capital has a deserved reputation for producing the young talent that, for better or worse, usually grows up and moves abroad. A number of sponsorship initiatives act as greenhouses for these creative seedlings.

Yesterday, Fashion East drew a hopeful crowd of talent-spotting editors and store-buyers to a show held in the Bluebird Café on the King's Road. Knitwear specialist Louise Goldin showed black-and-white jacquard sweater dresses that were as tight and short as possible without being indecent. The T-shirt designer Henry Holland sent out neon-coloured tops printed with rhyming jokes.

But it was Danielle Scutt, showing for the second season, who displayed the most promise with short, boxy power-dressing skirt suits in prawn-cocktail pink, the kind of power-dressing that Sigourney Weaver might have worn in Working Girl. Scutt's cowl-neck jersey dresses in splashy prints were also a slice of bad-taste 1980s Americana. While back-combed hairdos and patent stilettos were a bit too literal, thanks to a vibrant colour sense and an eye for detail, Scutt made a retro cliché seem fresh.

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