London Fashion Week has drawn to a close — and what a whirlwind five days it was. Those who had flown out from New York were plagued with snow on the one end — I was only able to fly out Thursday evening, after two morning flights I had been slotted for were cancelled — and those who attempted to fly into London the Saturday morning were redirected to Newcastle on account of heavy winds.
But once we were there it was a wonderful time — my first full Fashion Week in the city. Here were the highlights, in chronological order:
1. The Central Saint Martins MA student show.
The Central Saint Martins MA show is famous for showcasing the next generation of fashion talent in London — Alexander McQueen, Christopher Kane, Jonathan Saunders and Mary Katrantzou all made their public debuts there. Friday evening’s show put forth an equally promising (and diverse) array of talent — in particular, we fell for Drew Henry’s MA collection, which combined boxy wool coats and separates with deer hide.
2. Emilia Wickstead’s polished collection.
With the exception perhaps of Tom Ford (more on that later), I was most looking forward to Wickstead’s show, held in the beautifully lit Royal Institute of British Architects on Saturday afternoon. She is easily one of the most talented designers in London right now, with a distinctly feminine, English (almost regal) and yet not unmodern aesthetic. She opened the show, for example, with a calf-skimming black leather coat seamed with Elizabethan pearls. And the coats? Those were spectacular.
3. Hunter’s “raining” runway debut.
Hunter held its first London Fashion Week show to debut its expanding ready-to-wear line under new creative director Alasdhair Willis. The show itself was quite the production: an industrial site converted into a dark forest, with a black runway filled with a half inch of water, through which models trudged in a variety of waterproof gear in shades of black, green, blue and purple. A magician played card tricks on the runway before the show and performed a bizarre act of calisthenics at the end — right before the runway “rained” cards. A bit Burberry-like, no?
4. House of Holland’s debauched debutantes.
Easily the most fun show of London Fashion Week was House of Holland’s, at which Lily Allen sat prominently front row. Designer Henry Holland drew on the English society girls of the ’60s and ’80s (captured so perspicuously in Julian Fellowes’s novel Past Imperfect), transmitting their flippant, entitled demeanor through shaggy fur coats and shoes, metallic skirts and pants, and shirts and jackets emblazoned with the words “Riche Bish” in lurid hues — blue on green, hot pink on red.
5. Julien MacDonald’s church-inappropriate gowns.
Julien MacDonald landed one of the best show venues: the Royal Courts of Justice which, if you haven’t been, happens to look rather like the inside of a church. There was something spectacularly incongruous about seeing the models, dressed in long, sexy, semi-sheer and spectacularly beaded gowns, walk through pointed stone arches onto the runway. The man next to me, a prominent fashion critic for an Italian newspaper, said they looked like dresses for the call girls of Russian oligarchs. He had a point.
6. The launch of Grace’s little black dresses.
The Saturday Group — which can be perhaps most broadly described as a fashion marketing firm, but is involved in so much more — debuted its latest project at a small dinner Friday evening: Grace, which is entering the market (as L’Wren Scott once did) with a line of 14 black dresses, all sexy and mostly form-fitting. Saturday Group co-founder Erik Torstensson said the line is designed to be the evening complement to its young and already quite successful denim line, Frame Denim, which is now carried by a wide range of retailers, including Barneys, Nordstrom and Shopbop. As a testament to the Saturday Group’s star power, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley opened the show. Torstensson’s girlfriend, Net-a-Porter founder and British Fashion Council chairman Natalie Massenet, was also in attendance. Dresses will be priced at 250 to 500 pounds (about $400 to $800).
7. Preen’s “Star Wars” girls.
The fashion world was delighted when Rodarte showed gowns printed with the faces of Luke Skywalker and C-3PO. When Preen showed dresses with the face of Darth Vader, guests were again delighted but also bemused. What are the odds that two designers would show “Star Wars”-inspired collections in the same season? Preen’s Justin Thorton said backstage that it was a total coincidence — he had started with the year 1977, the year that “Star Wars” and “Annie Hall” was released, and he used both as points of inspiration for his collection. “We wanted to do this sci-fi sexy geek,” he said. “A hot kind of geek.” It’s also worth noting that the next movie in the series will reportedly begin filming this year.
8. Sophia Webster’s heartbreak hotel.
Of all the shows at London Fashion Week, accessories designer Sophia Webster certainly deserves an award for best set. The designer converted her pop-up shop on King Street into a “heartbreak hotel,” where models lounged in girly paradise in fluffy pink bedrooms, complete with cluttered vanities and a large bubble bath, wearing playful, attention-grabbing heels and boots decorated with fur, pom-poms, glitter and graphic embroidery.
9. Alice Temperley’s grown up collection.
Alice Temperley, whose name has become internationally famous since Kate Middleton began regularly wearing her gowns and coats, promised a collection that was darker and sexier — i.e., anything but Kate Middleton — this season. The collection, frankly, was still pretty demure: We still saw the same beautiful Temperley prints and embroideries on silk dresses and lust-worthy coats. Some of the hems were higher, and there was a little more transparent lace, but otherwise it was classic, beautiful Temperley — and that’s a good thing.
10. Topshop’s asocial front row.
It was a paparazzi madhouse in front of the Topshop Unique show on Sunday as Kate Moss, on the arm of Sir Phillip Green, chairman of Topshop’s parent company Arcadia Group, entered the show’s venue at the Tate Modern. She was seated in what was without a doubt the best — and iciest — front-row lineup of the week: from left to right, there was Kendall Jenner, Anna Wintour, Green, Moss and Moss’ model sister, Lottie. Once Wintour and Green saw each other, they talked non-stop and Moss was left on her own. Jenner and Wintour appeared to avoid eye contact, though we saw Wintour take a long look at Jenner’s black leather leggings/boots situation during the show.
11. Natalie Massenet’s coup at Jonathan Saunders.
Jonathan Saunders’ show was held on a cool Sunday evening at the Tate Britain, and guests were left waiting outside the venue until just a few minutes before the show was scheduled to start, when Massenet opened the doors and ushered people in. When a security guard tried to stop her, she said crisply, “I am the chairman of the British Fashion Council.” Guests cheered — we were glad to see her use her power for good. Inside, Saunders showed tight dresses and coats patterned with what looked like a half a dozen fabric swatches, which later morphed into layered leaves. The Tate Britain, dark at night, provided a dramatic backdrop. Rather unfortunately, most of the looks were worn with super high Christian Louboutin stilettos — difficult to wear on a normal day, but nearly impossible with a skirt hemmed tightly around the knees. Luckily, no models fell.
11. Christopher Kane’s “pages” dresses.
On Monday, most of the editors of big international magazines showed up — first to see Christopher Kane — and the atmosphere was noticeably different: Suddenly, it felt like we were back at work, and not just on a fun London vacation that happened to include fashion shows. Kane debuted his first handbag range at the show, but more exciting were the clothes, particularly a set of dresses layered with dozens of squares of silk organza that looked like the pages of a book.
12. Back stage at Burberry with Christopher Bailey.
Between the setting — a large glass greenhouse in Hyde Park — the front row and this season, two live musical performances, Burberry’s show is so dazzling that it’s only about 10 looks in that one remembers to look at the clothes. The Bloomsbury-inspired collection shown Monday was one of Burberry’s strongest in recent years — a sign that the company will remain in good order, creatively speaking, when chief creative officer Christopher Bailey adds CEO to his title this spring. There were rings of jostling press around Bailey after the show, broken through briefly by Burberry Chairman Sir John Peace and his family, who sweetly congratulated Bailey on another strong collection. Afterward, he told us about the necessity of “letting go” of certain creative details as he transitions into the CEO role.
13. Tom Ford.
Tom Ford’s show, held Monday evening, was every bit as elegant and mysterious as you’d expect it to be. After an invite check at the door, guests were admitted to a dark, carpeted hallway, where male models handed out glasses of champagne. Then the room: also darkly lit, with a medium-sized runway and seven or eight tiers of plush gray couches. (“Are they custom?” several people wanted to know.) All the walls were mirrored. The American magazine editors I’d seen earlier that morning in fashion sweatshirts and white sneakers had completely transformed: out came the wool crepe, the beaded dresses and feathered skirts. Clearly, everyone had come dressed for Ford — myself included, slightly self-conscious in a low chignon and an oversized red-orange coat purchased just that afternoon. Then were the clothes: ’60s-style skirt suits with boxy jackets, a dark suit with a plunging neckline, sequined jerseys emblazoned with “Tom Ford 61″ (a nod to Jay Z’s tribute to Tom Ford) and fur. The collection showed a lot less skin than we’re used to seeing from Ford, but it was still sexy. The focus this time was on the hips, where the clothes were tailored tightly. In lieu of a full finale, the final model turned halfway around on the runway and gave a sweeping back glance at the photographers before Tom Ford came out and took his bow. He, obviously, was the best thing we saw on the runway.
14. Ashish’s light-up sneakers.
I have fond memories of childhood dressing — pink tutus, glittery sandals and light-up sneakers. The good news is that if you still want to dress that way, you can, thanks to Ashish, who put on one of the most fun and lighthearted shows of London Fashion Week. He showed ball dresses, shiny pants and sequined everything (most memorably, a varsity jacket that spelled “F U University”) styled with tiara and My Little Pony hair. Every look was accompanied by white platform sneakers that lit up with the models’ every step. Lily Allen, who sat front row, already has a pair, of course — and better yet, they’re coming to Topshop.
15. Simone Rocha.
It’s a sign of good things to come if Conde Nast’s Anna Wintour appears at your show — and Rocha’s PR (not to mention, Rocha herself) must have been very excited to see her there. This collection was excellent through and through. Rocha managed to use a wide variety of colors, textures and shapes — from yellow python jackets, skirts and boots to shiny dresses with exaggerated, Tudor-style hips — that still looked distinctly Rocha. She is certainly one to watch.
But best of all was being in London: walking over the Thames to the Tate Modern on a sunny morning with a clear view of the city on one side and Big Ben on the other; zipping by the British Museum or Royal Courts of Justice in a chaffered car; observing the street style of London’s fashion set, which was more experimental and less pointedly expensive than the fashion you see at other fashion weeks. There were times I couldn’t believe how fortunate I was that this experience was part of my job.
Those were the highlights, but I promise there were less glamorous moments too: filing until 2 a.m. in the basement flat I rented in Bloomsbury, chomping on my ninth sandwich at Pret-a-Manger, sprinting to shows in muddy sneakers I would forget to change before going in (the British Fashion Council generously provided us with a driver, but I generally preferred to walk, to see as much of London as I could.) I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.