London Fashion Week's capital ideas
Brexit means Brexit, but the show goes on – the UK's best had industry insiders on the edge of their front-row seats
After the New York shows made headlines for their brusque business-first retail concepts, allowing fashion-conscious consumers to snap up pieces straight from the catwalks, the world's style press, bloggers and photographers were ushered across the Atlantic and on to the next stop in the show schedule: London.
Some commentators were dubious whether, despite all its subversive, rebellious, resourceful energy, the capital could still deliver carefree creativity in a post-Brexit economy. Prime Minister Theresa May hosted a reception at Downing Street to celebrate the start of London Fashion Week and despite the usual attention paid to her penchant for leopard-print shoes, it was her clothes that made the headlines. The Guardian reported she "looked more fashion-forward than her cocktail-dress-clad fashion-industry guests", wearing a shirt designed by utilitarian-cool British design duo Palmer Harding from a sought-after collaboration with high-street stalwart John Lewis.
Given the choice, the UK's designers – described by Vogue as "some of the most ardent anti-Brexit voters" – may well have elected to remain in Europe, but they were keen to use the recent political furore to their advantage. Ashish Gupta delivered his usual glitter-tastic spectacle while drawing on his own Indian heritage, sending Bollywood-vivid designs down the catwalk before taking his bow wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with the word "immigrant". Mary Katrantzou, similarly, proudly displayed her Greek roots, designing a collection that celebrated Grecian classical art and that was souped up by her signature psychedelic prints.
Plenty of shows celebrated London's homegrown heritage, however. Mulberry proffered the second line by its new creative director Johnny Coca, gaining the approval of Vogue, who declared he did "much, much better this season". Coca was inspired by everything from public-school scarves to 1940s land girls, via Scotland's kilts, paisley robes and Oxbridge stripes. Burberry's collection was similarly patriotic, inspired by Orlando, the gender-fluid character in quintessentially English author Virginia Woolf's novel of the same name. Lisa Armstrong, the fashion director of the Daily Telegraph, dubbed the clothes "some of the most romantic and detailed in the company's history".
The Financial Times reported that Kate Phelan had also been "looking at the origins of British style" with her London flea-market-inspired collection for Topshop Unique. Traditional tea dresses – seen on the runways of Simone Rocha, Erdem and Emilia Wickstead – seem to be back on the menu for spring, too, with the Daily Mirror picking up on what is one of the more wearable trends. English-meadow flowers were strewn across the catwalk at the Preen show and also adorned the models' faces, with artfully applied pansies – somewhat optimistically hailed as "the next big beauty trend" by Metro – decorating their decolletage and cheekbones.
Such effervescence aside, however, here were hints that Britain's creative spirit is being bitten around the edges by budget cuts, with the Wall Street Journal commenting on the increase in the number of designers choosing to host intimate presentations rather than the extortionate extravaganzas of yesteryear. But if there's one thing native creatives relish, it's producing beautiful, imaginative, joyful things from bits and bobs, simple scraps and savvy scavenging. Christopher Kane drummed this message home with his Make Do and Mend collection, telling the Financial Times he considers himself an alchemist. "I always like to try to change things into gold," he said.
This could explain why the Scottish designer had the nerve to send his models striding down thecatwalk wearing Crocs – those sturdy rubber shoes usually reserved for middle-aged gardeners, A&E staff and toddlers. These were no ordinary Crocs, though, and came in marbled shades of rose gold, slate blue and copper, all adorned with natural gemstones. Opinions were fiercely divided and Twitter went into meltdown. Could Kane's Crocs be the fashion industry's Brexit? As Refinery29 says , Crocs have finally "arrived" and it's time to vote: "Are you in or out?"
Charlie Boyd is the executive fashion and jewellery editor for Harper's Bazaar UK and Town & Country