A few snapshots from this London fashion week. Christopher Kane backstage after his show talking about the smell of bleach in his house that accompanies having a new French bulldog puppy, and the frills of the Royal Doulton figurines that his mum used to polish obsessively when he was growing up in Glasgow. Cindy Crawford’s model children, Kaia and Presley Gerber, catwalking at Burberry in check caps past a photography exhibit that included Martin Parr’s 1981 shot of Dubliners hunched under flimsy umbrellas as they battle rush-hour rain. (As an image of fashion in the rain, that shot is about as far from the romantic iconography of the raindrop-dappled, collar-popped Burberry trench as it is possible to imagine.) Plasticky bucket hats at Donatella Versace’s Versus show. The deadpan tones of Neil Tennant singing Pet Shop Boys’ West End Girls, a song that emerged as the unexpected theme tune for the season when it opened both the Burberry and Topshop shows. A skirt and a top made from rough linen tea towels at JW Anderson, frilly cushion-handbags at Mother of Pearl, a silver clutch bag moulded from the shape of a polystyrene kebab box at Anya Hindmarch. Designer Richard Malone cheerfully naming the bright colour palette of his dresses as a homage to supermarket carrier bags: Tesco blue, Co-op turquoise.
This is street style, but not as fashion usually knows it. This is not the peacocking Insta-bait that has become the default uniform of London fashion week, all thousand-pound tracksuits and limited-edition bumbags. This is street as in ground-level, not street in the sense of being the coolest kids on the block. Actual real life, not a performative version of it. And this is different. Because from its beginnings as a breath-of-fresh-air backlash against the stuffiness of the catwalk, the street-style arm of fashion has over the past few years calcified into a bloodless beauty contest driven by cold, hard cash. One survey released on the eve of fashion week estimated that micro-influencers – those with about 10,000 social media followers – can command a fee of £3,000 a post, with many of these posts clustered around the venues and hashtags of fashion week.
Fashion is bored with the pretentious modern incarnation of street style. But there is no appetite for a return to the snotty, unreconstructed public face of fashion that went before – identikit front-rowers inscrutable behind sunglasses. Instead, this fashion week reached for something less polished, and more human. Both Christopher Bailey and Donatella Versace, two of the grandest designers on the London schedule this week, talked about having models try on the collection at fittings and being interested in their views on how to put the pieces together. At Topshop, the inspirations were the gritty, radiators-and-all aesthetic of Corinne Day and “the days before Instagram; the fun behind closed doors and neon lights”. Anya Hindmarch built a 3D model of a house for models in housecoats and fluffy slippers – also seen in Muppet brights at Hannah Weiland’s Shrimps – to parade proudly around. After the show, she talked about “the joy in the repetitive beauty of suburbia, the idea that inside these cookie-cutter houses are the most beautiful individual dreams.”
Christopher Kane called his muse for the season “a new kind of domestic goddess”. Kane has always loved the kitsch kick of the banal – lace dresses mimicked piped royal icing, this time around – but also celebrates, in every collection, romance and sex appeal as part of real-life experience rather than as fairytale. Pheromones pack just as much punch in the kebab shop and the minicab office as they do in any VIP room. Everyone knows that; this season, fashion is just telling it like it is. Even the icons of this season are faces recognisable from the TV in your aunt’s house, rather than in-the-know obscure references you have to posily pretend to be obsessed with. Princess Diana is still major (see Ryan Lo’s pussy-bow blouses), as is the Queen – the young version, as played by Claire Foy in The Crown season one – who was a muse to an Erdem show that got everyone even more excited about his forthcoming H&M collaboration. At Christopher Kane, the Queen’s long gloves came in slick patent: half Her Majesty, half Marigold.
The question now is what this real-talk means for our real-life wardrobes. Most hearteningly, it heralds a return to practicality. I can’t remember a fashion week when so many outfits – even party dresses – were styled for the catwalk with a sensible waterproof top layer. Transparent raincoats and practical outerwear, including baseball caps and bucket hats, were on almost every catwalk from Topshop and Burberry to Mary Katrantzou and Emporio Armani. Cardigans – totem of the popping-to-the-shops iconography of British dress – will continue to be a fashion statement next season. (At Erdem, they were worn looped around the shoulders in the manner of a silk scarf.) Molly Goddard, who said her muse for the season was off “to an art gallery, and then for a steak”, put Wellington-flat boots with her party dresses.
Pastels are on the way back. There are two very different eras in play, but both come in mint and lemon and pink. There is a 1950s feather-duster femininity with a nod to the young Queen; but there is also a new soft spot for the unsophisticated late-1990s, early-2000s (Liam Gallagher in a Burberry check shirt, Paris Hilton in glittery mules). The former is likely to be big on the more grownup high street, the second will have the cult following. Both eras are big on pastels. After the urbane, self-conscious chic of top-to-toe greige, these have a cheery kind of charm.
In fashion, however, being down-to-earth only stretches so far. The new suburban street style is sexier than fashion has been for several seasons, and bra tops are absolutely everywhere for next season. In other words, the vibe is real-life but with Hadid-level abs. The new skirt suit – a skirt with a matching bra top – came in rustic linen with a matching midi skirt at JW Anderson, or perky and miniskirted at Topshop. Slightly easier to wear is the leotard-tight top tucked into a long pencil skirt. Lingerie-influences – lace-edged camisoles and nightie-flimsy cocktail dresses – were everywhere, but best at Preen, where they came in chic chalky and creamy versions of this season’s pastels. I’m saving for one of those, already. And one of the fluid, easy dresses in coral or fuschia smocked silk at Roksanda – if I can afford it.
“I feel like we live in a time overexposed to imagery of perfection,” designer Roksanda Ilincic said after the show. “I wanted to come back to real life, to clothes that look a little handmade, to a woman dressing to please herself. So I tried to navigate towards something more basic – but to make it beautiful, of course, so with incredible fabrics. So unfortunately, it’s not going to be cheap.” That’s fashion for you: still a fantasy, even when it gets real.
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