Fashion for the real world

After a weekend of searing sunshine, Monday morning saw London return to business as usual; grey skies, sullen rain, and trains crowded with commuters in various combinations of what currently passes as the city’s 21st century working wardrobe; crisp blazers or fitted biker jackets, shirts or slouchy tees, pleated skirts or slim trousers. The morning newspapers were splashed with images from the weekend’s shows; blasts of faraway fantasy and opulence, melting away as the rain splashed onto newsprint.
 
But fashion doesn’t exist in a bubble. And as scheduling would have it, the pavement outside the BFC’s venue on the Strand was crowded with those same commuters – just as, inside the showspace, a young designer was thinking about that same wardrobe’s future.
 
Supriya Lele’s collection focused, the show notes acknowledged, on the designer herself – rethinking both items from her past (from saris to indie leather jackets), and her present-day status as the leader of her own business. The result was a tightly-edited, 18-look offering, which blended sleek rubber trenchcoats with low-slung pencil skirts, and chopped-up madras cottons with layers of technical nylon in teal, saffron, and emerald green. And Lele managed to deliver an aesthetic that was both sharp and intensely sensual – and felt refreshingly grounded in the real.
 
Workwear’s never really been top of the agenda on London’s runways, for some reason. The city’s headline designers have, for the most part, tended to gravitate to extremes – wild fantasy, cutting-edge provocation, culture-clashing streetwear. But over the decades, there have been some notable exceptions to that rule, from Mary Quant to Jean Muir to Betty Jackson (and, more recently, Rejina Pyo and Eudon Choi). And this season, Lele’s show was one amongst several that focused on what real women, in the real world, might want. It’s a significant business to be in; Donna Karan’s seven-piece capsule wardrobe, launched in the mid-Eighties, laid the foundation for one of fashion’s most successful empires.
 
You could see hints of Karan’s interplay between tailored authority and clinging, body-conscious softness in Lele’s work. And it was echoed again and again; in the lean modernist lines of Natalia Alaverdian’s A.W.A.K.E. Mode, where tailored monochrome suiting came boldly deconstructed, and layered with sleek tank tops, warped shirting, and flourishes of vivid colour; at Jamie Wei Huang, where wide-legged denim clashed with folded rib-knit bandeau tops and clinging slip dresses; and at Marta Jakubowski, where the show’s presiding muse, Marlene Dietrich, inspired an intertwining language of glamorous strength and playful sensuality – played out in the way bolts of draped fabric sliced through elegant blazers, or the way exaggerated-shouldered biker jackets soared above fluid trousers.
 
It wasn’t just about new voices, of course; across the weekend, some of London’s more established labels offered up their own interpretations of what a ‘real’ woman’s wardrobe could mean. Showing in the tree-shaded garden of the Royal Academy, Roland Mouret sent out an array of sinuous separates, blending rippled silks and twills with flashes of sequin in a cocktail of violets, cobalts, blush pinks, and nudes – all delivered with an easy, practised expertise, reminding us that Mouret was injecting sophisticated French sensuality into contemporary fashion whilst Simon Porte Jacquemus was still at the école élémentaire). At the Serpentine Gallery, Roksanda Ilinčić’s take on modern dressing came though her customary art-world filter, with statuesque, high-volume shapes executed in vivid tones, layered prints, and crushed metallic weaves. But at its core, Ilinčić’s understanding of the way bodies move and react to the clothes they wear shone through, with splice-backed trenchcoats and parkas, soft tailoring in menswear-gauge cloths, and column dresses in draped, flowing jersey.
 
Back at the BFC, Edeline Lee collaborated with comedian Sharon Horgan on a presentation that placed her cleverly-cut, vividly colourful dresses in a series of real-life tableaux. And across town at Tate Modern, stylist Karl Templer took the reins at Ports 1961, taking familiar wardrobe staples (overcoats, jumpsuits, and maxidresses) and giving them a boldly inventive shakeup. Exuberant print-clashes, hectic jewel colours, and witty layers gave the pieces a new verve – but still anchored with a sense of purpose. And that purposefulness was, perhaps, the common denominator behind all these collections; the desire to make clothes that make life easier, and freer, and more pleasurable. After all, it’s not an easy world out there.

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