London designers are renowned for their creativity and sensationalism — if not their commercialism. At London Fashion Week, intense color, print, embroidery and embellishment — sometimes all four on the same garment — are a given; so are fantastic proportions and silhouettes that rarely leave the runway for real life.
But that is not what London Fashion Week delivered for spring 2015. There was a surprising uniformity to many of the collections. The shapes were more classic and easy to wear. A good many — Preen, Markus Lupfur and Richard Nicoll among them — were heavily sport-inspired. Just as many took up rave culture as a theme: Sophia Webster, Fyodor Golan and Ashish most candidly. Embellishment — mainly in the form of plasticky florals and geometric perspex — also popped up over and over again, at Peter Pilotto, Roksanda, Tom Ford and Mother of Pearl.
It's not just that so many of the London collections looked the same as one another, they also picked up on many of the same themes and styles as the collections we saw in New York: the sportiness of Alexander Wang, the rave-inspired pieces at Jeremy Scott and Marc by Marc Jacobs, the lavishly embellished garments at Delpozo and Rodarte. Many London designers, it seems, are striving for looks that are less quintessentially British in favor of ones with more universal design appeal.
Is this a bad thing? Yes and no. Certainly it has been a good thing that London has developed, over the past decade or so, an international reputation for original ideas. If designers adapt their looks with mass appeal in mind, they may lose what makes them special. But it also suggests that London designers are getting more serious about building global brands (and the British Fashion Council, we know, is pushing them in that direction). Christopher Kane took an investment from Kering a year and a half ago, which allowed him to open a flagship store and launch a handbag business. LVMH bought a majority stake in Nicholas Kirkwood a few months later, with plans for more stores and possibly a handbag line. With the backing of a minority investor, Roksanda Ilincic, too, was able to open her first store this summer, with more to come. There are major upsides to designing clothes that sell.
And those upsides are starting to change the way people feel about commercial fashion. As Cathy Horyn pointed out recently, straightforward, sellable clothes are no longer the antithesis of high fashion; they are the benchmark. There's a newfound admiration for designers who, like Tom Ford and Christopher Bailey in London, and Jenna Lyons and Joseph Altuzarra in the New York, have proven themselves as creatives with a dual talent for business: not just artists, but artists who sell.