Lessons in borrowing from the past while moving forward

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The Independent Online

This was contemporary fashion's most wanted designer's answer to every other pale and not entirely interesting take on 18th and 19th century dress the catwalk has witnessed over the past few seasons and it put most of them to shame.

Here were precious, little narrow-waisted jackets with immaculately covered buttons, tiny ruffs at the throat and layered, mousseline lapels: their frayed edges fluttered like the pages of antiquarian books when models walked.

There were vintage lingerie-inspired trousers, crafted out of an intricate patchwork of silk and lace and with tiny ribbons gathering their cropped hems.

This was certainly Ghesquiere's most unashame-dly romantic collection to date. The brilliance of it was, however, that it was far from mere fairy-tale fantasy. Instead, an androgynous edge, an ultimately entirely flattering long, lean silhouette and more than a few ultra-slick, rock-chick references - a silver filigree belt printed on to the hips of a pair of mercilessly narrow jeans; a black T-shirt printed with the words "Devils In Balenciaga" - made it very much a modern and commercially viable reality and one that is rather too complex for the high street copycats to plagiarise.

Later, the great Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons seem-ed similarly preoccupied with looking back although, as always, with a view to moving fashion forward as she has done passionately for almost a quarter of a century now.

The designer famed for making the sort of opaque statement more associated with conceptual art than fashion would only say that her offering for next season was inspired by "a lost empire". In Kawakubo's hands this entailed Union Flags, layered with tartans and Hawaiian and camouflage prints all wrapped around the body in ever-more complex ways: any nostalgia aside, the point here was that clothes were constructed with "no patterns" the designer said.

It all made for sweet and at times even rather moving viewing. Kawakubo insists there is never any political thinking behind her clothing and, on this occasion in particular, if there was any overriding meaning it was obscure.

However, as pale-faced models came out in crowns constructed out of everything from plaster of Paris to cardboard and old car parts and embellished with flashing rainbow-coloured lights and stars they brought a smile to even the most fashion weary face.