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At Burberry's Spring 2016 Show, Music Takes Center Stage, Literally

Erdem, Peter Pilotto, Roksanda and Giles rounded out Monday's top shows.
A look from Burberry's spring 2016 collection. Photo: Imaxtree

A look from Burberry's spring 2016 collection. Photo: Imaxtree

I have never seen Burberry's internal branding documents, but I imagine British heritage, trench coats, craftsmanship, digital innovation and music top its list of brand pillars.

It's the last of these that has come into focus at Burberry in the past couple of years especially. The brand usually invites up-and-coming British singers to perform at its shows; it has also thrown several private concerts and has a dedicated Acoustic section on its website, featuring original videos from a selection of artists. Just last week, Burberry became the first fashion brand to launch an Apple Music channel, allowing subscribers of Apple's $9.99/month streaming music service to access playlists and music videos created by the company. And so it was symbolic Monday when Burberry re-engineered its runway venue in Hyde Park so that Alison Moyet and a 32-piece orchestra were positioned at a circular pit in its center, the runway winding around each side. Moyet's deep voice and romantic lyrics added an emotional vibrancy to the looks that showed during her four-song set.

Live music is just one way Burberry casts a spell at its shows — there's also the greenhouse-like Hyde Park venue, with its view of the gilded Albert Memorial; the uber-polite publicists; and, of course, the front row, which this season featured Cara Delevingne and an exquisitely pale Annie Clark (St. Vincent) side by side, as well as fellow Burberry faces Kate Moss, Jourdan Dunn and Suki Waterhouse; and Sienna Miller, Benedict and Sophie Cumberbatch. The Australian director Baz Luhrmann, who hopped over from Ireland to join his pal Anna Wintour at a number of shows on Monday, sat alongside the Vogue editor.

Burberry tends to show predominantly outerwear on the runway — it remains the company's big moneymaker — and the elaborately quilted, embroidered and appliquéd coats of seasons past were replaced by coats that mixed urban and military influences: black nylon trenches with gold buttons and topstitching; wool coats and capes with gold cording and crested buttons; and leather jackets with metallic zippers and piping. They were more casual than Burberry's usual runway fare and, as such, it was the dresses and separates that took center stage, and the offering there was quite eclectic: lingerie dresses and separates in black lace; white and pastel broderie anglaise dresses — some with long satin skirts — that ran the gamut from sweet to evening elegant. Streetwear was thrown into the mix in the form of silky, wide-legged pants, a double-layered navy sweatshirt and criss-cross fussbett sandals adorned with heavy gold chains that matched the hardware on several handbags.

Burberry models carried monogrammed backpacks at Monday's show, which were available for pre-order immediately after the live-stream ended. Photo: Imaxtree

Burberry models carried monogrammed backpacks at Monday's show, which were available for pre-order immediately after the live-stream ended. Photo: Imaxtree

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Burberry also introduced what it's hoping will be the sequel to its enormously popular personalized ponchos: waterproof nylon backpacks monogrammed with gold initials, which appeared with most of the looks. These weren't as attractive as the ponchos by a long shot, but that will hardly matter: Burberry will get them on all the right models (and thus, into street style shots) during Paris Fashion Week. The leather jackets have that potential too — and they look really good. Both items are available for pre-order on Burberry's website for $1,295 and $4,295, respectively.

It wouldn't be a Burberry show without a digital trick of some sort, and this season Burberry previewed the collection on Snapchat ahead of the actual show — similar to what it did with Twitter in 2011 — except this time it took place in a studio, and Wintour made an appearance. Between that and its best-in-class livestream, the show became a global trending topic on Twitter — something no other show in London is bound to achieve. Angela Ahrendts may no longer be at the helm, but the brand hasn't lost anyone's attention.

Burberry, of course, wasn't the only show of note on Monday. We started our day at Roksanda, a label that's by no means new to the London Fashion Week calendar — designer Roksanda Illincic has been showing there for precisely a decade — but which aesthetically and commercially has grown by leaps and bounds over the past couple of years, her feminine, colorful clothes taking on an architectural dimension that have appealed to red carpet stars and luxury shoppers alike. Monday's show had plenty of options for both. Roksanda likes a dress with a fitted bodice and a full skirt, and this time she layered them up and then cut away, with the precision of a modeler's knife, to reveal a shock of yellow silk beneath the arc of a stiff black skirt, or carving out an unusual geometric neckline. The results were visually dynamic and totally wearable. 

I have only been going to Erdem's shows for four seasons, and — not to sound too effusive here — each one has been nothing short of magical (particularly last season's). The show began in darkness at King's Cross Theatre on Monday, the runway wrapped in a layer of gauze, the sounds of stormy waves crashing playing on the sound system. An object like a floating ship, carrying women in long dresses, passed by, almost silently. (The object was in fact part of the set for "The Railway Children," currently playing at the Theatre, which features a moving train.) When they passed, the gauze was removed, the lights went on and the models took to the runway, appearing in a series of dresses that were Victorian in feel, replete with embroidery, lace, ruffles, pie-crimped collars and tiny floral prints. For shipwrecked women, their delicate clothes were remarkably well intact, though one dress had an indigo-dipped hem that, romantically, looked as if it had been stained by the sea.

Peter Pilotto's designs feature so much texture these days, it's hard to remember that Pilotto and his partner Christopher De Vos got their start with digitally printed dresses eight years ago. The duo hung their showspace at Brewer Street Car Park with triangular nets in primary colors, and it was no surprise to see models walking out in colorful clothes embroidered with squares, circles and triangles. But what the designers appeared most interested in was line, using it to create the illusion of layering on a white dress with an asymmetric skirt, breaking it up to add visual interest to a skirt or smocking it into wave patterns. All that smocking added a lot of texture, too. It was hard to pick a standout piece, but perhaps it was the second to last skirt, in layers of broderie anglaise, cut away on the diagonal to reveal a field of sea-like colors (see below).

Strong as many of Monday's collections were, if only one could be given a gold medal, it would be Giles. Designer Giles Deacon showed his spring 2016 at the Banqueting House of Whitehall — the only remaining part of the Palace of Whitehall, where Henry VIII once held court. It was an illustrious setting (my seat was positioned just four feet in front of a throne chair, Rubens murals decorated the ceilings) and Deacon did not disappoint, sending out a collection that paid full homage to English costume history, particularly (and fittingly) that worn by Queen Elizabeth I. And he had a lineup of all-star models — Georgia May Jagger, Bella Hadid, Suki Waterhouse, Dree Hemingway, Langley Fox, Andreja Pejic, Poppy Delevingne, Edie Campbell, Binx Walton, Molly Bair, Lily Donaldson and Karen Elson among them — to show it. By the time Elson stepped out in the final look — a micro-pleated, laser-cut gown that immediately called to mind both Elizabeth I and Ursula of "The Little Mermaid" — the audience was already clapping; one editor wiped away tears. It was a show to remember.