Would you rather look on-trend, or would you rather look like Kate Moss? Rhetorical question, obviously. Mossy is the unrivalled British style icon of the past two decades. Her position at the top of every best-dressed poll is unshakeable, despite – indeed, come to think of it, partly because of – the fact that she more often wears old favourites than straight-off-the-catwalk trophy fashion, and is more likely to be snapped in yesterday’s blow-dry, fag in hand, head thrown back in laughter, than in polished-to-perfection celebrity-doll mode.
Seven years after the first Kate Moss for Topshop collection, and three years after the collaboration was put on ice, Moss for Topshop is back. Except this time it is different. Where the early collections were a Moss-influenced take on that season’s trends, the new range is Kate on Kate: a wardrobe autobiography, in fringed leather and sequinned stars. Seasonal trends are mostly ignored and, instead, the references are to Moss’s own wardrobe and personal style heroines. The silver-fringed jacket that she wears on the cover of the latest issue of Vogue is a recreation of a near-identical piece that she loved and lost. A white Aztec-embroidered linen kaftan is a reproduction of a vintage version that Moss still wears every summer.
Katy England, her longstanding collaborator, has worked with Moss and a four-strong Topshop team to help turn vintage pieces, magazine tear sheets and sketched ideas into a collection. More than a stylist, England is fashion’s go-to ghostwriter, with a talent for ordering and untangling a designer’s messy creative vision into a coherent collection. She is the Andrew O’Hagan to Kate Moss’s Julian Assange, if you like, although with a happier outcome.
Moodboards created by Moss and England for the studio are dominated by photos of the model off-duty: Kate entering Claridge’s for her “Beautiful and Damned”-themed 30th birthday party, Kate in hotpants, Kate dressed for a date with Johnny Depp. Strikingly, there are very few photos of Kate’s modelling photos on the boards. This collection is all about Kate as Kate. It’s a reflection of how Moss’s sense of her value as a fashion brand outside her work as a model has grown. On the moodboards, images of her are interspersed with a 30s Garbo in satin and fur, a late-60s Marianne Faithfull, full-fringed and smiling in the sunshine; a 70s holiday snap of Jane Birkin and her daughter; and Michelle Pfeiffer as the ice-queen gangster moll Elvira Hancock in 1983’s Scarface. All compelling beauties who chose not to conform to conventional, domesticated female norms, women with dangerous tastes in lovers and expensive tastes in clothes.
Which part of this collection appeals to you will depend on which Kate Moss era you find most compelling. My favourite piece is a black cocktail dress in raw Indian silk dupion with a textured, Shantung-silk effect and a feathered neckline that exposes the shoulders. In an email explaining the collection, Moss says it is “based on a vintage dress of mine that has incredible seaming that makes you look so sexy. This is definitely a date-night dress with a high-strappy shoe. Perfect for drinks in Le Fumoir bar at Claridge’s.” And that, of course, is the Moss magic right there: not just the dress itself (although the construction is impressive, with a full lining and a bottom-flattering inverted back pleat) but the night out that it promises. Not surprisingly for one of the great hellraisers of her generation, Moss has nailed the party-dress element of this range. A black maxi dress is sliced into ribbons from hip level down to the hem, so that the shimmer lining of the satin-backed crepe catches the light as you move. And at 40, Moss sees the appeal of a non teeny-tiny cocktail option: a silk evening pyjama set, with a cropped button-through top and a high-waisted, wide-legged trouser, has both glamour and an appealing loucheness. (“I’ll be wearing this with a high shoe for evening, and then at the weekend in the country at home for lounging around,” says Moss.)
The Kate Moss look does not come cheap, however, even at Topshop. The range has been, in retail speak, “up-specced” since the previous collections. Moss wanted to “make sure every piece is really special” and the basics, such as cotton vests, which were part of the initial offering, have been jettisoned, and fabrics have been upgraded across the board. Embellished fabrics are two-a-penny on the high street these days, but for the most part, they look it. Here, the embellishment is densely clustered for a richness that gives a very different feel from the sparse, night-market look of the cheap stuff. The “Aztec” kaftan sells for £75, which is a good price for hand-embroidery on heavy Indian linen, but still a lot for the average Topshop customer to spend on a beach throw-on. An asymmetric yellow silk cocktail dress that Moss famously wore to a New York fashion week dinner in 2003, that was “homaged” in the 2007 Topshop range in a cheap cotton version, is here given a lavish reissue – this time using five metres of chiffon for each dress, with an ensuing price tag of £85. (Topshop is making the dress mostly in lemon yellow, with just a few in emerald and black. Only Moss can make yellow the new black.) While most pieces are being made in runs of many thousands and will be available in 38 countries – the £50 studded denim hotpants and £65 paisley sundress, for example – some are much more exclusive. An Elvira Hancock-esque scalloped blue satin maxi, for example, of which only 20 are being made, will sell for £295. The most expensive dress in the collection will be exclusive on Net-A-Porter for £600, with 50 available.
Is there such a thing, in fashion, as too much Moss? Possibly. Uncle Phil has perhaps overindulged Moss’s weakness for 70s bohemia, a look that is charming in small doses but which, when overdone, can get a bit witchy. Sheer blouses with chiffon sleeves have a Rumours-era-Stevie-Nicks vibe which looks stupid at the bus stop. Too many handkerchief hems, too many magician’s-assistant star motifs, and too much fringing for my taste. A navy leather jacket has beautifully moulded narrow shoulders but is then shredded from the ribs to hips – a faithful reproduction of what Moss calls her “gig jacket”. But the key test of a celebrity-designed fashion collection is whether it feels like the handwriting is genuine, whether the designs capture the essence of the name they sell. And on that, this collection passes with flying colours.
• Kate Moss’s new Topshop collection is released on 30 April