Burberry's mix of tradition and innovation gives London Fashion Week a lift
If London is still predominantly famous for its fledgling names, the exception that proves the rule is Burberry, a globally recognised international brand with the money and power behind it to match.
Burberry Prorsum has been showcased in the British capital since 2009 (prior to that the show was in Milan alongside that city's big guns) and it gives London Fashion Week an ultra-glossy and unusually corporate international lift.
Still, the label is quintessentially British at heart as could be seen in yesterday's glamorous procession of outerwear all of which appeared, as if by magic, beneath a shower of (man-made) rain. Blanket coats, bombers, waxed jackets and of course the label's famous trench coat, which was this time cut in a gabardine and tweed mix, remain the core of its business to this day.
Christopher Bailey, Burberry's chief creative officer, understands this sensibility well. More typically English references came in the form of flared riding skirts, overblown dress shirts borrowed from men, animal print T-shirts, and for the country-house soiree, fringed dresses and quilted velvet in the colour of the forthcoming autumn season: ox-blood.
As well as respecting Burberry's British heritage, which remains the principal source of inspiration for the Prorsum collection and the brand as a whole, the powers that be at the label consistently have an eye on the future where digital innovation is concerned. The show was live-streamed on its website and looks can be ordered online for seven days meaning any customers may find themselves in possession of their autumn 2012 wardrobe and, of course, accessories finished with shiny brass duck and fox heads to go with it, almost half a year before they reach the store.
Christopher Kane is among London's most feted designers and a man who is known for taking the potentially stuffy cliches of the bourgeois wardrobe and twisting them slightly - or indeed quite a lot. His collection, shown earlier in the day, was inspired, he said, by art photographer Joseph Szabo's portraits of American teenagers and the ambivalence of adolescence. With that in mind, here was a woman - or in fact a girl - who strode down the runway in leather and pinstripe, velvet and moire, all in hard as nails colours - royal blue, true red, purple and predominantly black - and emphatically heavy square-toed ankle boots and Mary-Jane shoes.
If last season Kane invested the ubiquitous reference to mid-Twentieth haute couture that continues to sweep the ready-to-wear circuit with a homespun feel, this time he darkened it to the point where it was almost gothic, and certainly mournful, in flavour. Black roses appeared on narrow knee-length dresses that were more nasty than nice; the ribbons threaded through neck- and waist-lines, similarly, came not in fluttering silks but padded black leather tied into stiff bows.
The over-riding toughness in mood belied the fine quality of workmanship and loving attention to detail throughout. Fabric treatments and embellishment were both extraordinary in their complexity and innovative. This could be seen in floral jewel-encrusted embroideries and garments covered entirely in what looked like pulled threads.
Chunky knit jumpers, cigarette pants and skinny leather coats only added to the impression of ferocity mor than overt femininity in the stereotypical sense of the word. It was all the more refreshing for that.
The day kicked off with a confident showing courtesy of the designer pairing, Peter Pilotto and Christopher de Vos. Famed for their prints, the principal reference on this occasion was Japanese 'light trucks' - literally, according to the show notes, cars covered in thousands of lights - Chinese mask make-up and overblown garden flowers - specifically lilac, carnation and iris.
This came stamped or embroidered onto everything from jeans and Puffa jackets with exaggerated collars to signature, body-conscious jersey dresses that kicked at the hem. While the hyper-technical quality of the whole might not be to everyone's taste, there was no disputing the talent on display here.