Somerset house or the London Fashion Parade

Mary katrantzou AW 2011 LFW

by Alexandra Orloff columnist for LuxuryFacts –

After New York Fashion Week, from 18 to 23rd February came the turn of London.  For six intensive days and nights, London was the lights of creativity, design, colours, and imagination; showcasing the next autumn/winter 2011 collections. There were 65 catwalk shows, 45 salons and presentations, with the ‘must-have’ invitations being Giles, Christopher Kane and Burberry.

The play is set in the grandiose decor of Somerset House; the headquarters of the British Fashion Council. More than 5000 visitors come through the doors to this invitation-only tradeshow for the fashion industry.  Running from the Royal Courts of Justice to see Vivienne Westwood, to Old Billingsgate Market as the new abode to Topshop NEWGEN, and Hyde Park a magnificent spot for Burberry, without forgetting the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden for Nicole Farhi and Vauxhall for the off/on collections.

This fashion season embraced technology, bringing the catwalk to life for those outside the industry; more known as the ‘final clients’. There were daily video highlights on screens, via twitter feeds, outdoor LED screen on the main Catwalk Show in the courtyard at Somerset House, where you could see the highlights for the persona non-grata, who braved the weather to be pictured in any sort of daily magazines for the sake of being a star for a second.

It took months of preparation, research, and expertise to present next season’s collections. It becomes pertinent when one realises that, behind the glitter lies a powerful business industry, employing more than a million people from design to manufacturing; retail to public relations; and journalists to shop assistants. It is said that the British capital harbours the most ingenious fashion talents and worldwide ambassadors from the press were at the rendez-vous,  Anna Wintour, Suzie Menkes, Hilary Alexander and the who’s is who of fashion gathered in London.

The start of LFW was launched by the Prime Minister’s wife Samantha Cameron. Was it a sign of re-comfort for the austerity policies her husband is applying to British economy? Or a sign of good will, knowing that the fashion Industry is worth GBP 20.9 billion to the UK’s economy. After sever cuts last winter, the British Fashion Council and London Fashion Week received funding from the government regardless of public cuts on spending.

Like Michele Obama, Samantha Cameron wants to boost the UK GDP with UK designers; she didn’t hesitate to mention that it was not all about fashion, but what fashion can do for the country.  Crowned the new Ambassador for London Fashion Week it is a very wise move as not only is she  young,  she has to learnt how to coordinate the brands she is wearing. This however did not stop a press windfall of criticisms regarding her fashion choices and style- a proof that the press can only be happy or satisfied when criticism can be voiced.  

The sad reality for some brands is that for the lucky few who will be brought to attention by the fashion press, a large number of others will struggle to survive and manage to stay alive. It should not be forgotten that the major role of any fashion week, is to introduce collections to buyers, with the hope to fill in their boutiques.

After many editions of London Fashion Week, most of the designers become friends, and you are looking forward to seeing their new collections, chatting with them just before the catwalk, enjoying their success backstage, congratulating them for their performance and choices. Another reality is the sheer number of catwalks who are scheduled. As recent technological developments have not yet applied to human cloning, the only other option in a gaggle of excitable interns to attend the shows which are not as ‘high’ on your list. The difficult part of course, remains choosing.  

So what is new for Autumn Winter 2011? This edition had a distinct feel of the sixties – with a few exceptions to the rule. Brands such as Daks, Nicole Farhi, Jeager of London, Pringle of Scotland , Dunhill, and Burberry not only embodied sixties reminiscence in their shapes and cuts, but played it to the music; with a song of nostalgia, and Twiggy-like musings of another era gone by. Paul Smith was very boyish; an androgynous, ‘just left the playground’ look, whilst Vivienne Westwood stayed true to herself. This means that you either adopt the ‘crazy’ or intelligently decide that this look will only befit the likes of Pixie Geldof or Jade Jagger.  Temperley celebrated its 10th year anniversary; rather than celebrating the turn of a decade, the runway resembled last season Givenchy Haute Couture; a sort of ready-to-wear copy-catwalk and possible reaction to birthday-blues.

Paul Costello opened the week with a 60’s theme, followed by Maria Grachvogel showing womanly shapes, from beige, orange to black (let me clarify the clothes were womanly, not the models- the ironing board body shape is still very much in). Emilio de la Morena re-organised his collection with stricter and refined shapes, whilst Sass & Bide had a strong summery feel to a winter collection. Kinder Aggugini, showed perfection of lines, in the mind set of Chanel and Hermes. Charles Anastase presented pure lines and ample shapes on skyscraper heals, and  Amanda Wakeley played with great sharp looks for the professional woman. At Erdem, tweeds ruled and Roksanda Ilincic presented still more sleek luxury. Holly Fulton was a powerhouse of sexy prints and long dresses.

Emilio de la Morena AW11 LFW

The so much anticipated Burberry catwalk was staged in Kensington Gardens, with its A-list of celebrities and a parterre of Paparazzi, yet I have to admit the show was as good from the outside as from the inside. The event in itself was so dazzling that it may have taken center-stage over the catwalk itself. But who really cared, knowing that you could relive it over and over again on video, from their signature trenches to the grand finale of plastic cape and snow. A moment of magic.

It all began under the dark tent with the sound of blizzard and snow blowing in the wind; a strange reminder of the undesired fashion accessory for the UK retailers this winter as the same snow was blamed for wiping out tens of millions of pounds of sales across the retail industry. Christopher Bailey organized a spectacular dream featuring a parade of outerwear, raglan-sleeved boxy coats in an army of colours, fur military shapes and a multitude of new silhouettes.  The snowflakes covering the catwalk were breathtaking.  Yet, I am not in-line with the famous Herald Tribune or Draper’s magazine that described the collection as a ‘hit and miss’.  I presume if Mr. Bailey, creative director of Burberry plays so well with his forward thinking on the internet, jealousy of other media will always be in the eye of the Tiger.

Don’t forget that after all the press, the videos, the facebook pages, and the blogs, the tweets, the actual clothes will be in store only next September, and it already seems to be so last year.

The end of London Fashion Week always comes with a pinch of regret, and a certain anticipation to see the catwalk become a reality. It is a guessing game to see which trends will catch, and which will end up in the ‘sales’ basket at the end of next season. One thing is certain, London has managed to catch up, and even over-exceed its continental and state-side competitors. Edgy, inquisitive, surprising and always at the forefront of innovation, it is the one to watch.

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