If you want London fashion week in a nutshell, it’s this: autumn is all about This is England ’90 on a Sunday night, not Downton Abbey. It is not long since the catwalks were in thrall to Downton – in 2011, we were awash with velvet and pearls and sparkly hair jewellery – but now, fashion has dropped the posh accent and fallen back in love with the real and the lo-fi.
What this means for what you will wear next spring starts with more black than we’ve seen for a while. Also acid brights, charity-shop leopard and shocks of yellow. Spaghetti straps, and therefore (for bra reasons), yes to nipples but no to cleavage. Tea dresses, but as worn by Courtney Love, not by Lady Edith. Long dresses with flat shoes, as at Burberry, or anoraks over short skirts, as at Hunter Original.
There was music of a certain vintage – Primal Scream’s Loaded for the Topshop Unique finale, Portishead’s It Could Be Sweet at Eudon Choi – but this was neither a 90s rave revival nor a reworking of grunge. Instead, what it has in common with This is England is that sense of how powerfully subversive nostalgia can be when it is about aspects of British life that aren’t costume-drama pretty.
I am a big believer in the meaning of canapes, and cite the snacks at Donatella Versace’s Versus party on Saturday night as proof of the centre of gravity moving towards anti-glamour. They were miniature burgers, piled on trays wrapped in (Versace-branded) greaseproof paper. And, as Monday morning dawned with news suggesting that upper-class parties were perhaps not always affairs of exquisite taste and refinement after all, it was hard not to feel that fashion was on the right track.
Designers each had their own reasons for the mood. At Christopher Kane, the mood of distress and jagged edges was distinctly personal, a vivid clothes-poem about damage and repair made in the aftermath of his mother’s death. His muse – an outsider, he said, someone cool but unsophisticated – was an expression of his own feelings of alienation. By contrast, Burberry arrived at slouchy slip dresses, hoodies and rucksacks from a completely different starting point. In the season that it collaborated with Snapchat and Apple Music, Burberry wanted its catwalk collection to have a more youthful, direct connection with the audience – a step-change from the cerebral Bloomsbury mood of recent collections.
Fashion week’s move from Somerset House to Soho inspired Gareth Pugh, whose show notes recalled “arriving here for the first time, coming down to study at Saint Martins – it was like falling down the rabbit hole. There were such feelings of euphoria, of danger and possibility.” Pugh’s collection was hyper-glamorous, but in an alternative, drag-queen kind of way. Meanwhile, Versace moved her Versus show from New York to London because she felt the city’s edgier, dirty-glamour vibe was right for the diffusion line. The dresses were punky, Versace’s safety-pin-and-slashes side rather than the chiffon-and-corsets one; and then there were those burgers, served with margaritas. At Antonio Berardi, where the mood was “distressed elegance”, there were black cobwebby knits among the bedazzling gowns.
I am not even convinced that Topshop Unique, where the posh party-girl look reigned in polka-dot silk, is as diametrically opposed to all this as it might appear. For a long time, the 1980s references on the catwalk were either about street style or power dressing – as if we believed that the elite spent that whole decade having board meetings. These days, the 1980s references are about posh-but-trashy parties, peopled by girls in satin party frocks. This seems to me a far less reverential take on the self-styled masters of the universe. Fashion is in no mood to doff any caps.
Three London fashion week moments
1. The JW Anderson soundtrack
We like JW Anderson for the clothes and also for how clever the show makes us feel. This season’s “odyssey oscillating between intergalactic Olympics and empowered femininity” featured Public Speaking – Martin Scorsese’s documentary about Fran Lebowitz – on the soundtrack, with the author saying such things as: “Andy Warhol made fame more famous.” Deep.
2. The long split skirt
Hemlines are long next season, but you’ll still be showing some leg. Jonathan Saunders had the best take on a style that is everywhere – the long-but-split skirt. Go silky and colourful, and stride out for maximum leg-flashing.
3 ‘Volume Lite’
The buzz phrase for next season. It means airy volume, not the stiffened peplum kind. Roksanda Ilincic took her inspiration from ballet, aiming to capture “the mix of emotion and physical strength of a woman dancing.” Go for interesting sleeves or a tiered dress. See also: Erdem’s melancholic Prairie Madness collection.