London Fashion Week: Designers champion romance and ruffles on day two

On the second day of the capital’s first digital-only fashion week, Olivia Petter observes how labels brought a much-needed dose of frivolous fun to the proceedings

Olivia Petter
Sunday 21 February 2021 10:20 GMT
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Day two, and the frenzy of London Fashion Week is usually in full swing. Come 11am, you’re on your second show of the day, espresso in-hand, and eavesdropping on a group of influencers speculating over who’s going to replace Anna Wintour at AmericanVogue. The show is running late, of course, because the editor of Elle is stuck in traffic, a model hasn’t shown up, and another person is passive-aggressively asking the PR why they haven’t been sat in the front row “as agreed”. You’ll see this happen approximately three times today. At least, you would if it wasn’t for the pandemic.

As the capital settles into its second day of the first-ever digital-only fashion week, the surrealism of it all is starting to hit home. For today should be a jam-packed schedule, featuring headline brands like Alexachung, Mary Katrantzou, and Jasper Conran. Alas, none of the aforementioned labels are partaking in proceedings this year. Just as other big hitters (JW Anderson, Christopher Kane, and Erdem) are notably absent from the remaining days of the schedule.

That’s not to say there’s nothing happening, though. This year’s reduced schedule still features some key players, including Molly Goddard and Simone Rocha, and shows are still taking place. It’s just that, rather than dashing across London and squashing ourselves in between strangers, we’re watching them from our living rooms, where the most taxing journey we’ll do will be between the sofa and the kettle.

Proceedings kicked off with a masterclass in minimalism at palmer//harding, whose autumn/winter 2021 collection was inspired by “the emotions of falling in love”. It’s a subtle message, one that has woven itself into delicate rope-tie dresses and smock-like shirting that conjures up an image of the kind of clothing worn by garment workers in the 18th century, when romance revolved around courting – an archaic dating ritual that has had an unlikely resurgence due to lockdown restrictions imposed during the pandemic.

Elsewhere, through a humble palette of camels, creams, and sky blues, the collection featured a series of striped culottes, loose-fitting suiting, and double-breasted trench coats perfectly suited to socially distanced socialising. But it was the leather two-piece, comprised of a belted shirt and trousers, that caught our eye. Structured in fit and cinched in with dramatic low-hanging tassels, this burnt toast-coloured get-up is exactly the kind of statement we plan to make at the pub as soon as lockdown lifts.

The brand has upped its sustainability efforts this season, too, and has pledged to prioritise environmentally friendly materials, uch as organic cotton and sustainable viscose. Additionally, from this season onwards, palmer//harding has committed to contributing £1 for every garment produced towards a social cause. The first charity to benefit from the initiative is Chayn.co, a survivor-led network that addresses gender-based violence and supports people experiencing domestic abuse.

Next, it was off – and when we say “off”, we mean moving our mouse and clicking on a different link on the British Fashion Council website – to 16Arlington, the cool-girl brand famed for its feathery frocks. The label is headed by design duo - and real-life couple - Marco Capaldo and Federica Cavenati, who, this season, were inspired by the work of French artist Hubert Duprat, who is known for his “Caddis” work in which he captures the insects Caddisfly larvae and furnishes them protective cocoons made out of gold leaf, opals, coral and diamonds. 

This idea of entrapment felt prescient given the current climate, and 16Arlington’s autumn/winter collection draws on this by covering its signature ostrich feathers in delicate netting on several pieces, including a show-stopping burnt orange coat complete with feather trimming and a black mesh overlay. Elsewhere, there were equally flamboyant creations in the form of a leather and marabou gown, ginormous puffa coats, and cobalt blue patent leather pencil skirts.

The intricacies of Duprat’s work were realised via sequin patterning and glistening velvet sheens. Ruffles found themselves draping off everything from blazers and trousers to strapless dresses while oddly placed belts (think around the thighs) offered an unexpected silhouette. The palette was as brash as the designs themselves, with electric blues offsetting the flaming orange shades.

Finally, the day concluded with one of Fashion Week’s perennial highlights: Molly Goddard. This season, the revered London-based designer was inspired by the depiction of families she’d observed in a variety of books she had at home, including Tina Barney’sEuropeans, David Douglas Duncan’s Goodbye Picasso and, oddly, a selection of DIY books. “I love looking at people (especially families) of all generations and how they wear clothes,” Goddard explains. “The contrast between characters and styles. A glamorous smoking grandmother, sulking teenage son, an old man in tweeds and a young girl proudly ready for a night out.”

This cast of lively characters is manifested by Goddard in a collection headlined by a series of prom-style frocks reimagined in the designer’s signature crunchy tulle. There are scarlet strapless styles with full ruffled skirts, long-sleeved lime green offerings, and an eye-popping cobalt blue style with a ruched waist. There are more structured offerings, too, some of which we saw last season, like a tier-skirted fuchsia gown topped a mesh sleeveless bodice. There is a harshness to Goddard, this season, though, as she notes how the tulle dress “becomes so loud and clashing that it is almost ugly” as if reflective of the previous year.

Elsewhere, traditionally British aesthetics were reinvented in the form of pink herringbone tweed miniskirts and tartan smocks coloured in clashing reds and pinks. And fuzzy florals found their way onto puff-sleeve dresses while socks were pulled up to the knees and laced in leather. The show, which was streamed on the BFC website and filmed in the brand’s studio in Bethnal Green, captured the brand’s playful spirit through a series of dynamic shots and a soundtrack of classical piano trills, the kind a child might try to replicate themselves after spending yet another day at home.

It seems that the monotony of the pandemic has got to Goddard, too.“I am quite fed up of seeing leggings and black puffa jackets for walks in the park,” she writes in the show notes. “Pieces in this collection are for celebrating and enjoying. Each item could have been handed down through generations, and now hopefully will be. Long-lasting, but spiced up wardrobe classics.”

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