After, let's face it, a borderline-disastrous couple of years for Mulberry, all eyes were trained firmly on Johnny Coca's debut show this Sunday. It's a tall order for a Spanish designer to revamp a beloved British brand, and one with its own deeply embedded sensibilities — a rich heritage, an air of polite rebelliousness and a city-to-country blend that some say only the English can grasp.
But, as the former accessories designer of Celine (and creator of the famed Trapeze bag), Coca is without a doubt the right man for the job. This year more than ever, we've seen that fashion houses rely on bags for sales — and none more so than Mulberry. This year, rumors abounded that Alexander Wang had left Balenciaga for his inability to produce an It-bag, and Alessandro Michele showed that accessories designers can successfully helm an entire ready-to-wear label.
And so the stage was set for Coca, in particular, in the Guildhall — a 15th century imposing town hall in London's financial district. Inside, mirrored panels reflected the vaulted ceilings and impressive stonework, and a particularly English piece of Victoria sponge cake awaited each of us on our seats.
Show notes promised us a collection routed in Shakespeare, tradition, royalty and punk rock, to name a few of Coca's influences. All off to a perfectly Mulberry girl start by the sounds of things, and the first looks did not disappoint. Heavy, felted-wool capes were studded with poppers, which lent a relaxed feel — implying the Mulberry girl would not be held back by something as impractical as a cape.
Swinging, asymmetric kilts gave way to shorter hemlines and yet more silver hardware, and tailored trousers were sharpened with neat, scholastic front pleats. Among the preppy, and some may say safe, looks came harder pieces in the form of chains looped to toughen-up skirts, and shrunken leather biker jackets. Mongolian lambswool in a rich, dark emerald green lifted an otherwise staid yet technically impressive knit dress, though two plunging chiffon minidresses felt a little out of place in such a cool collection.
We can't go much further without mentioning the shoes — oh, the shoes! Yellow and white patent leather petals were layered to form chunky creepers, with fine silver chains around the ankle. Thicker platform sock boots with a hint of neon felt decidedly Celine, in the best way possible. The shoes from this show will rocket straight to the top of nearly every editor's wish-list, a development we definitely weren't expecting.
Oh, and the bags? The bags were excellent and genuinely innovative. After years of watching other houses churn out Mansur Gavriel rip-offs or endless cross-bodies, we saw actual new, lust-worthy shapes: Oversized triangular pouches with handles grasped tightly looked sure to be a hit, and word that Coca's lowered the brand's prices will certainly not hurt sales either.
Was it a groundbreaking clothing collection? Not exactly. It's not going to set the world alight, the way some young London designers do. But far more importantly, it was exactly what Mulberry needed — a sparky, cool revamp, that will undoubtedly boost sales.