A few years back, the National Portrait Gallery ran an exhibition on the legendary fashion photographer Norman Parkinson. The subtitle, "A Very British Glamour," was both apt and apologetic; Parkinson had built his career, spanning from the Twenties through to the late Eighties, on his ability to make the best of British fashion's decidedly unglamorous range. Real glamour, where it existed, came from Paris. And with a few exceptions (Norman Hartnell, Ossie Clark, Antony Price, Bruce Oldfield), London supplied the sensible stuff – well-cut tailoring and country suits, tweeds and tartans and twin-set knits.
Julien Macdonald Women Fashion Show Ready to Wear Collection Spring Summer 2017 in London
It's a hang-up that lingers in the background of the British fashion scene, even today. Milan – at least until recently – provided the world with va-va-voom sex appeal, and Paris offered glamour in the form of romantic melodrama. But London, by and large, still trades on androgyny, heritage, and raw edge.
There are no such hang-ups in Julien Macdonald's world, though. Ever since he first exploded onto the runways in the Nineties, his no-holds-barred approach (tight, slit, peacock-bright, sparkling) has kept him in the spotlight, even as other designers of the era have faded from view. Nearing his 20th anniversary at LFW, he remains a recession-proof red carpet king, and one with an increasing international profile. This time out, his focus was on glamour as epitomised by what he called the "modern starlet" – and there were no shortage of front-row examples from which to choose, from pop singers to social media darlings to Olympic heroes. They lapped up Macdonald's shimmering, barely-there gowns, bristling with ombré beadwork in pale silvers and golds, and the slickly cut, power-shouldered tailoring that went with them. And the collection's menswear went for its own kind of glamour – from bottle-green snakeskin tees to side-slashed vests and bead-encrusted cropped jackets – which, as Macdonald acknowledged, were unapologetically for a customer who wants to celebrate their body. But beyond the dazzle, there was plenty to admire in the designer's craft, whether in the intricate embroideries that crept across his second-skin sheaths, or in the light-as-air cobweb knits with which he first made his name.
At the other end of the spectrum, in almost every way, design duo Fyodor Golan offered another perspective. They probably wouldn't have described their ruffled dresses and proportion-clashed denim separates as glamorous at all – except that the iridescent sci-fi surfaces, the vibrantly synthetic colours, and graphic embellishment statements gave their forward-looking pieces a thoroughly 21st century dynamic.
Ashish Women Fashion Show Ready to Wear Collection Spring Summer 2017 in London
And in yet another galaxy – so far away, but still so close – designer Ashish Gupta offered yet another take on glamour, one steeped in modern Hindu culture, clashing traditional Indian clothing with British youth culture to (literally) dazzling effect. Under a curtain of twinkling lights, models swept down the runway – some reverentially, some casually, some disdainful and defiant – in sheer skirts and sequinned t-shirts, emblazoned with slogans and teamed up with goddess veils and elaborate jewels. The makeup, by Isamaya Ffrench, was an equally startling fusion dubbed "Bollywood Bloodbath," which mixed ceremonial iconography with club-kid smears of saturated primary colour. It brought to life a side of London that's often invisible on the runways; side-by-side with the spectacular East End venues which housed many of this week's shows, there are streets where shops sell abayas rather than crop tops, and where Bengali streetnames are signposted alongside English ones. It felt like a rare moment of real fusion in a city which talks of little else. And it showed a very different incarnation of British glamour; one that Parkinson could have photographed in all its singing, conflicted glory. And for sheer spectacle this week, it's hard to know what could top the show's finale, as the models paraded out into the floodlights once more – and sequins fell from their garments to the floor like rain.