"This is the season of oy."
So said one well-known buyer exiting a show on day two of London Fashion Week, verbalizing a sentiment festering among the crowd. After a lackluster week in New York, where the collections generally lacked both new trends and color, London opened with a series of shows that, but for one or two exceptions, were falling flat.
And then J.W. Anderson showed his spring 2016 collection on Saturday afternoon, and the mood changed. Though Anderson, 31, is now the creative director of two fashion houses — both his eponymous label, based in London, and the LVMH-owned Loewe, based in Madrid — he continues to bring new ideas to the table while excelling commercially with his knitwear, making him a favorite with both critics and buyers. Saturday's show brought out a mishmash of bra tops, harem pants, big shoulders, ruffles and bold, arty prints that, crinkled and ruched, gave a steel blue bustier dress edge a contemporary zing, while sheer overlays added a gauzy softness to a pair of matching sweater and trouser combos. Interspersed were pieces that will likely be popular with buyers and shoppers: sweaters with ruffled collars and bell sleeves, crisp track jackets with ribbed-knit panels and square-toed boots. While the garment shapes were by no means new, Anderson's treatments of them were — and yet it all stayed true to his label's aesthetic.
Other designers were in a similar state of mind. Mary Katrantzou, who looked to the ultimate of frontiers — the cosmos — for inspiration this season, produced a collection of dresses patterned in a maze-work of lace, embroidery, metallic pipings, chrome pearls and jewel-like prints that rivaled the majesty of a starry night sky. Floral prints and loose sleeves called to mind Romanian dress; but no period in Romania ever produced clothes that looked like these. Roksanda Illincic offered a collection of dresses and feminine separates whose necklines and layered skirts were precision-cut into new, geometric shapes; while Christopher Kane, who continued to reference his past collections, used cutouts in new ways, evoking not sexiness but, in keeping with his theme of "crash and repair," damage. Clear plasticky skirts edged in pastels looked modern, too. While Burberry's spring 2016 collection rehashed past favorites, like broderie anglaise dresses and military-style coats, it avoided specific decade references. And Peter Pilotto produced a collection that, like Roksanda and Anya Hindmarch, combined the feminine with a focus on geometry to produce clothes with strong commercial appeal. Fresh ideas were also to be had among young designers like LVMH Prize winner Thomas Tait, Marques'Almeida and Alexander Lewis.
But not every designer in London had his or her eye fixed on the future. Emilia Wickstead, Simone Rocha, Erdem's Erdem Moralıoğlu, Giles's Giles Deacon and Mother of Pearl's Amy Powney plunged deep into the annals of English costume history — some successfully, others not. Simone Rocha's full skirts, puffy sleeves and ruffles were nicely juxtaposed against roped bodices and bandoliers that had a rubbery, 3D-printed feel, as were the pie-crimped collars and tiny pink florals of Mother of Pearl's Victorian-inspired dresses with sporty details like ribbed cuffs. Erdem also went Victorian this season, baring shoulders and midriffs and interposing trendier jacket shapes to keep things contemporary. Meanwhile, red carpet darling Emilia Wickstead, who pushed herself to explore new silhouettes this season, ended up with a collection of heavy dresses that were more "period costume" than fashion. Giles, who showed beneath the Rubens-painted ceilings of the Banqueting House of Whitehall, embraced this theme full-on, producing a collection that was magnificently Tudor, and interspersed with clothes (loose floral dresses, embroidered peplum blouses, printed leggings and silk skirts) that could easily make their way to a shop floor. It was the only show I attended where the clapping began before the finale, when the red-haired Karen Elson stepped out in a micro-pleated, laser-cut gown worthy of a gothic Queen Elizabeth I.
So, it was a good season in London, and it was inspiring to see designers endeavor to bring fresh ideas to the table — to create original, modern or at least thoughtful clothes, rather than rehash the trends of the '60s, '70s and '90s, as so many designers have been doing for the past few seasons. Let's hope designers in Milan and Paris are feeling similarly ambitious.