The Americans came dressed like Americans. Or at least, like American fashion editors at LFW do a dressed-up idea of London-Town-dressed-down, in a carefully-considered blend of transatlantic tones. For some reason, their arrival always seems to trigger two very opposing responses from the home side, with show attendees either dress wildly up, or defiantly down. (‘It’s the WEEKEND, for goodness sake!’ someone sighed this morning, sinking deep into her chunky grey sweater and sliding her scuffed Stan Smiths behind her bag.)
This season, the first time the two tribes came face-off was at the RIBA Gallery, where another visitor — Bulgarian-born, Vienna-based Petar Petrov — was making his London debut. The last time I saw a Petrov show was ten years ago, at Paris menswear, where his fresh palette and slim silhouettes were electrified with jolts of slick leather and intense colour. Over the past decade, his focus has shifted to womenswear, but that same sense of disciplined sensuality was still very much to the fore. Sparely-detailed tailoring in soothing whites and sleek black anchored the collection’s restrained, elegant aesthetic, allowing the audience to focus on Petrov’s accent statements — jackets knotted at the front to create a draped neckline, trousers cut loose and floor-skimming, topcoats anchored with the slimmest of contrast belts. There were flourishes of texture and tone, too (sometimes both at the same time, like the high-necked column gown in fluid, grape-coloured jersey, or plush shearling outerwear in caramel, custard or teal.) But what stood out were the middle notes — like the oversized leather tunics and gaberdine anoraks that gave each silhouette a fluid afterglow, or the drape-necked dresses whose extended, open sleeves flew behind the models like capes. And somewhere in that blend of protective coats and fragile separates, Petrov found a balance that evoked a distinctly British approach to dressing, executed so confidently that the collection’s international appeal was definite — something that, as the applause demonstrated, united the entire audience.
Across town in Spitalfields, Toga designer Yasuko Furuta’s collection couldn’t have been more superficially different — and yet shared some of that same fascination with Anglo-Saxon attitudes. Furuta’s been a fixture on London’s schedule for six years now, and across that time her distinct, hybrid-heavy approach to fashion has increasingly come to focus on ideas of shelter and exposure. As winter rain started to sweep across the city, she sent her models out in slouchy business suits, shirts and ties — which she then proceeded to undercut, inflate, wrap and puncture with a host of textures and techniques. Trenchcoats were flayed apart and sliced into scalpel-fine layers of plastic, shearling and wool, while wet-look padded nylons blossomed into languid outerwear shapes, pooling around the ankle as billowing boots. And while the show was packed with incidents (like the supersized bags studded with parasitic micro-bags, or the floral dresses punctured with cut-outs) its most straightforward statement — a twisted white t-shirt dress, anchored with a vast, graffiti-splashed padded-coat— that provided its most effective summary.
Vulnerability was also on Dilara Findikoglu’s mind — although you’d have had to look past the collection’s furiously colourful palette and gleefully performative aesthetic to see it. The show was inspired by a pantheon of troubled female artists, from Virginia Woolf (who wrestled, often unsuccessfully, with fashion throughout her life) to Sylvia Plath (another shiny-haired, fashion-loving American, who in the space of 10 years went from a glamorous Manhattan summer as an editor at Mademoiselle to misery (and post-death immortality) in a North London flat. Staged in the National Liberal Club’s Gladstone Library, Findikoglu’s show was presented more like a masque than a conventional runway experience, with the audience, sat clustered round tables while powder-faced models prowled through space. Aesthetically, the sumptuously embellished pieces ran the full gamut of British style history — sweeping Jacobean gowns, medieval stomachers, Mod miniskirts, glam rock tailoring — and skewed them off-kilter with sheer overlays and flashes of skin. Clothes for the real world? Perhaps not — and yet the garments had a continuous, visceral quality that’s often been lacking fin recent London seasons.
Meanwhile — across the river, deep in a railway tunnel — Korean designer Rejina Pyo capped things off with an almost stubbornly realistic view of modern dressing. Since graduating from Central Saint Martins, she’s regularly been touted as a Phoebe Philo-in-waiting, consistently delivering clothes that are believable as well as desirable. This time out, Pyo’s collection stretched to include menswear for the first time. It was a small start - just four looks, out of 35 — but the retro flavour the designer applied to her mens pieces seemed to loosen things up elsewhere. There was more tactile texture, more vivid colour, and more confident juggling of layering and pattern
Four designers, from four very different parts of the world, each with a very different relationship to the city hosting their work this week. And yet there was something shared at their core — ideas of strength and softness, discipline and subversion, irony and romance — that felt powerfully resonant. And in a week still waiting for a homegrown breakout moment (and a time when small-island mentality can feel ever closer to the surface), it may well prove to be that these invaders provide the most compelling proof of London fashion’s rude good health.