The New Romantics - Love Letters from London
When you think of the things that define British style, your mind defaults to words like eccentric, punk, eclectic, anarchic and witty. But when you think about the designers who define London's fashion week right now, the keywords would probably be quite different. The generation of names who sprung up in the Noughties - Kane, Katrantzou, Saunders, Deacon, Williamson, Ilincic - have evolved (whether by coincidence, or osmosis, or intent) a language based around reinterpreting old-school womanliness. Or, to put it more concisely, they make very pretty dresses.
Erdem Ready To Wear Fall Winter 2017 London Fashion Fashion Show NOWFASHION (by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION)
Roksanda Ilincic opened her show with an extremely pretty dress - a softly sculpted column carved from folds of powdery blue fabric. Accompanied by a live soundtrack performed by Michael Nyman, it acted as a poignant moment of tribute to the late Richard Nicoll. But the collection that followed offered something far more full-blooded; sweeping, dynamic shapes in wool, velvet and silk, drenched in Rothko-blocked yellows and reds. There were moments of more masculine rigour throughout, from light, loosely-structured blazers (slashed at the back for ease of movement) to stack-heeled boots and military overcoats - but balanced with enough wrap dresses, jumpsuits and fluid, gathered trousers to ensure Ilincic's audience were swept away.
There was romance of a different kind on show at Erdem Moralioglu's show, staged in a warren of salons built in the carcass of Selfridges' derelict hotel building. Inspired by the designer's two grandmothers (one Edwardian British, one Turkish), the collection was an evocative collision of discipline and gentle decadence - from plush, carpet-patterned devore velvets and patchwork prints to crisp sailor-white separates and richly embroidered riding coats. It made for a striking twist on the designer's familiar ethereal aesthetic, underscored by bold peacock colours and flourishes of shimmering beadwork.
In fact, romanticism became the day's most striking common denominator, from heavy hitters like Ilincic and Moralioglu through to newer arrivals Sharon Wauchob and Huishan Zhang. Wauchob showed in the same spectacular church setting as last season, and continued to explore her distinctive brand of sensual, sophisticatedly bohemian dressing - from coats in rich shearling and nude leathers through to delicate nightgowns and glistening metallic separates. And Zhang, showing under the vast rotunda of Westminster Abbey's Church House, played with the classic codes of dressed-up femininity - tulle, translucency, lace, seed pearls, and flourishes of red. If there was any possible doubt about his mood, the rippling theme from this year's all conquering Hollywood love story, La La Land, removed it.
Another classic piece of cinema music, Judy Garland's Somewhere Over The Rainbow, hung over Ashish Gupta's show like a shimmering dream. The set - a long, glitter-crusted Yellow Brick Road - came festooned with poppies and anchored by a giant broken heart. But there was optimism and defiance in every stitch of the collection's garments, from rainbow-striped column gowns to sequin-soaked baseball jackets. That mood was echoed in slogans like 'More Glitter, Less Twitter', 'Why Be Blue When You Can Be Gay', and 'Love Sees No Colour'. It made for a joyous, characteristically uplifting moment for the designer, and gave the second-last day of shows the happy ending it didn't even know it needed. Most of the day's shows had been love letters of a smaller kind - to family members, to lost loves, to romantic lifestyles and dress codes. But Ashish's was a love-letter (and a welcome reminder) to the power of fashion itself.