Wednesday, December 22, 2010

London Fashion Week: The 'F' Factor

I wouldn't go so far as to call it a feminist movement, but London Fashion Week has certainly seen the birth of a new breed - let's call her the "Feminista". She's female, has her own label, and an instinctive grip on what suits her and her customers.

The reality of women fashion designers becoming a modern force not just to be reckoned with, but one which is now shaping the look of 21st-century dressing, took hold at the last round of designer catwalk shows in March, in Paris, when Stella McCartney, Phoebe Philo at Céline and Hannah MacGibbon at Chloé, formed a troika which delivered a grown-up, rather than girlie, wardrobe for this autumn/winter. So it was classic; so what? The reason it worked so well was because two of them (McCartney and Philo) are married and mothers, and all three wore their own designs, giving them hands-on experience of what works. They are the ideal role models for generations of women torn between trends.

The concept has caused something of a mini-revolution at London Fashion Week. More than half of the designers who are showing their spring/summer 2011 collections are women. That statistic is hardly earth-shattering, except that it is in a city where the future of style was once predicated on the sexual legacy of legions of male designers, not least John Galliano, the late Alexander McQueen and Hussein Chalayan. "Who will be the next Galliano or McQueen?", used to be the cry, not "Who could be the new Vivienne Westwood?"

No fashion critic would dream of discounting the impact of directional designers such as Christopher Kane, Erdem, Jonathan Saunders, Richard Nicoll and Burberry's Christopher Bailey. Then there is Giles Deacon, whose return-to-London show on Monday, after two seasons in Paris, starred the 71-year-old supermodel, Veruschka, and the "aristo" model, Stella Tennant, now 40 and a mother of four.

But it's the "Here come the girls (and women)" contingent who are indulging in romantic inspirations that, at times, beggar belief, yet never stray into the realm of costume.

Take Mary Katrantzou, 27, and Holly Fulton, 32, the print wizards who lend their graphic insight and surreal vision to clothes that are sculptural and shapely. See Louise Amstrup, too, whose designs were inspired by an exotic desert mood. Although Louise Gray's pieces may not always be wearable, her catchy recycling and sense of colour is inspiring, as is the tonal vibrancy of pieces by the Felder Felder twins, Annette and Daniela. Meanwhile, Roksanda Ilincic moved on from quirky draping to a kaftan/djellaba-inspired volume.

It was not just the edgier, younger designers who were breaking the mould, either. Betty Jackson took flight with a feathered fantasy, which included the most delectable pair of black, ostrich-feather trousers I have seen. Nicole Farhi stunned followers with a foray into the fetish world, using Latex for bustiers, pencil skirts and kimono-sleeve dresses because "it's clean, shiny, modern and sexy." Maria Grachvogel focused on dramatic lightning prints in liquid silhouettes, and Vivienne Westwood, forever young-at-heart, strode the catwalk, singing to Elvis's cover version of You'll Never Walk Alone, after showing some of the most wearable dresses and trouser suits of the season, even if the "waistbands" were lowered to crotch-level to show off boy-like boxers in floral prints. Anything the boys can do…


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