At London Fashion Week, Girlishness Rules

At a time when public discourse about women is largely concerned with workplace equality and "leaning in," it has been surprising to see in London so many designers producing collections that are unabashedly girly.
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Lauren Indvik
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At a time when public discourse about women is largely concerned with workplace equality and "leaning in," it has been surprising to see in London so many designers producing collections that are unabashedly girly.
From left to right: Orla Kiely, Sophia Webster and Markus Lupfur. Photos: Imaxtree

From left to right: Orla Kiely, Sophia Webster and Markus Lupfur. Photos: Imaxtree

At a time when public discourse about women is largely concerned with workplace equality and "leaning in," it has been surprising to see in London so many designers producing collections that are unabashedly girly.

At Orla Kiely's Saturday morning presentation, the designer presented a series of clothes suitable for a school girl: lacquered, full-skirted rain coats printed with tiny black cats; wool coats and polka dot silk dresses with velvet or shearling collars; and fitted wool jumpers with straight pleated skirts. The models, with soft makeup and side ponytails worn low, twirled their umbrellas and idled near a single lamp post and a wooden bench. One came out holding a little Scotty dog. The only thing that seemed to be missing were their school books.

The theme was the same -- if done with prints bolder and more graphic, and cuts more mod -- at Markus Lupfur's presentation that afternoon, staged in a mock Manchester cafe. He, too, presented skirt suits and coats with fluffy dark collars and polka dot prints, and gray, pinafore-like dresses with large pockets. In his show notes, Lupfur described the kind of day such a girl would have in her clothes: winning a goldfish at a local fair, rummaging through a car boot sale, having a picnic. Lupfur's girl is less intellectual than Kiely's, but of the same age and girlish disposition.

Sophia Webster's presentation was even more overtly -- and almost mockingly -- feminine. Webster converted her pop-up in Covent Garden into a "Heartbreak Hotel," a series of rooms so colorful, fluffy and puerile that only a Clueless cast member seems suited to live in them. One model lounged about on a bed covered in sequined pillows and a pink faux fur throw; another at a vanity table doing her nails and chatting on the phone; and yet another in a closet piled high with Sophia Webster shoes -- which, true to Webster's signature style, were rendered in graphic prints and candy-colored hues, with playful adornments like fur, pom-poms and glitter.

Those familiar with the designers mentioned will no doubt point out that femininity and youthfulness are part of their DNA. New York and LA, too, have their girly girl brands -- Kate Spade, Milly, Nanette Lepore, Rebecca Taylor, BCBGMaxazria. But even those, Kate Spade excepted, have offered more grown up and less overtly feminine fashions over the years -- a reflection on their customers' changing views of themselves and their roles in the world and in the workplace. After all, it's a bit hard to imagine leaning in in pom-pom shoes and a pinafore dress, isn't it?