On the Front Lines

London Fashion Week and New York Fashion Week 2012: Ralph Lauren, Burberry & More (PHOTOS)

Isabel Wilkinson documents on Instagram the elegant dresses and star-studded front rows at London and New York fashion weeks.

I didn’t always have the best seat in the house—far from it. But over the course of New York and London fashion weeks, running from Feb. 8 to 21, I searched for beauty in the front row, on the runways, and backstage. And it wasn’t hard to find. I saw a dress bigger than a car at Marchesa, met Bill Cunningham at Prabal Gurung, got a full dose of studs (and dogs!) at the Burberry show in London’s Hyde Park, and an eyeful of leg at Altuzarra. Here’s my view of the runway—sometimes from the nosebleed section—during the Fall/Winter 2012 collections.

Studs at Burberry

This is my view of the Burberry runway from the gap between Vogue’s Hamish Bowles and Mark Holgate. But the real studs were those that came down the runway. Bags, gloves, and umbrella handles were covered in grommets. The collection fused the old and the new—combining features such as old walking sticks with umbrellas covered with cool, biker embellishments. Burberry’s creative director, Christopher Bailey, explained to me that his inspiration for this season was “the digital and physical worlds coming together.”

Doggie Style

I was delighted to find this terrier on an Oxford shirt backstage after the Burberry show.

Calm After the Storm

It’s funny to think that just 45 minutes before I took this photo, this pavilion in the center of Hyde Park was overflowing with people. Anna Wintour was seated in the front row there on the right, Kate Bosworth on the left, and the world was tuned in via Burberry’s livestream. But after the last model walked and the crowds trickled out, there were a few discarded show notes on the floor.

Mary Kantrantzou Turns Up the Volume

I was Mary Kan’t-Get-Out-Of Bed before this 9 a.m. show on the south side of London. But we beat the traffic and got there in time—and were rewarded with an incredible spectacle. Kantrantzou has been hailed as one of the most promising young designers in London (releasing a capsule collection for Top Shop last week), and she didn’t disappoint, with a collection bursting with color, intricate prints, and voluminous shapes.

On Fire!

This billowing dress came down the runway at the end of Matthew Williamson’s show at London’s Royal Opera House on Sunday night. There were long dresses in spades—all in bold colors and intricate prints. Can you believe this was a fall collection?

Full Bloom

Peter Pilotto’s collection felt like a digital garden. Designers Peter Pilotto and Christopher De Vos were inspired by a recent trip to Asia, and filled their collection with exotic flowers in bold colors—such as these bloomers, at left.

Evening Fare

For evening, the Pilotto team stuck with florals, but dressed things up a bit. Several looks, such as this one, reminded me of something Rooney Mara would wear—dark but still feminine.

Keeping Warm at Pringle

Freezing guests swept off the streets and bathed in the warm light of paper globes at the Pringle of Scotland show, which was held at the Phillips de Pury auction house. And, naturally, the collection was warm, too—overflowing with knitwear, camel coats, jacquards, and twinsets. But I loved the models’ dip-dyed hair, which came in shades of pink and blue and green, and lent the collection an irreverent edge.

Front Row at Ralph Lauren

These days, dressing for fashion shows is all about peacocking. Showgoers will wear the most impossibly high heels, the most illogically paired ensembles, or the most attention-grabbing prints or hats. And largely, they succeed at getting attention. Outside every show, there are hordes of street-style photographers who descend on anyone who catches their eye. That’s why this woman, seated in the front row at Ralph Lauren, was such a breath of fresh air in a black-and-white houndstooth suit.

Shades of Gray

Vera Wang themed her fall show around gray. There were nude wool parkas, sleeveless sheaths, transparent dresses, and a few pops of orange color. Though best-actress nominee Viola Davis was the most notable name in the front row, in this picture of the finale, you can make out Frederick Fekkai’s profile on the bottom right.

Marchesa’s Crown Jewel

For the last two seasons, Kevin Tachman and I have gone backstage at the Marchesa show. Held in the gilded halls of the Plaza Hotel, this show feels like it is a world away from the wear and tear of the tents. This season, the collection was inspired by Bouguereau’s 1878 painting A Soul Brought to Heaven. “We were looking at jeweled skeletons from the Catholic churches of Germany and Switzerland in the 15th century,” designer Keren Craig told The Daily Beast. I spotted this (enormously heavy-looking) dress waiting to be taken down the runway.

Blue Period

Many of the dresses at Marchesa came in shades of gold and nude, but this embroidered turquoise dress brought a jolt of color to the collection.

All in a Row

Here are the models at Marchesa lining up for their run-through of the show before the house filled up. It’s a time for them to practice walking in their mile-high shoes!

Raining Gold

This is a close-up of one of Marchesa’s dresses hanging on the rack. When I asked Georgina Chapman (the line’s other designer) who she’d like to wear her dresses on the Academy Awards red carpet, she deflected it diplomatically. “We always have hopes,” she said, laughing. “You really never know. There are so many people, there’s such a fantastic list. Anyone!”

Marchesa’s Angels

Backstage at Marchesa, models were made up to look like angels. The lead makeup artist told me she wanted their skin to look like alabaster or marble.

A Quiet Moment at Rodarte

The Courtin-Clarins sisters are that band of European socialite-sisters (and heirs of Clarins) who were all over New York Fashion Week. They were papped ceaselessly in the front rows, but here at the Rodarte show, I caught two of them—Jenna and Prisca—sharing a quiet moment away from the cameras.

Dark Nights at Wang

Alexander Wang’s show was dark. The clothes were dark, the mood was dark—even the room was dark. The industrial setting lent a cold and unsettling mood to the show, but it was Cathy Horyn who put it best: “The lighting was so dim that once the models left the area in front of the photographers, the details of their outfits were lost. Mr. Wang may have been trying to suggest a sense of things being covered up, judging from his hard-edge shapes. But it doesn’t matter. There are only two acceptable explanations for showing your clothes in the dark: either your generator failed or you’re out of your mind.”

Lots of Leg

Altuzarra’s fall collection was inspired by Corto Maltese, a French comic strip in the 1960s that followed the adventures of a sailor with a gypsy mother and a Venetian father. That meant shearling toggle coats, dresses covered with medallions, and very high slits.

Backstage at Jason Wu

Back in New York, Jason Wu’s runway was inspired by the Chinese military. There were Mao jackets, black silk embroidery with flowers, military-green wool caps, velvet gowns, and gold brocades. Models’ hair was mounted high on their heads and fastened with sturdy strips of latex that looked like masking tape. “She is very strong, and she’s ready to fight,” Odile Gilbert, hairstylist of the show, told me backstage.

Sitting Behind Bill

The Prabal Gurung show was held in the lobby of the IAC building—the company that co-owns Newsweek & The Daily Beast—so my commute was easy. I sat in the second row, behind legendary New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham, who darted around before the show, snapping pictures with a huge smile on his face. When he settled into the seat in front of me, he asked to take a look at the show notes, which were open on my lap. “Thank you, child,” he said, patting my knee. As each look came down the runway, you could see his enthusiasm as he readied his camera. Snap, snap, snap! It was Bill Cunningham at his finest.

Golden Girls

Gurung’s collection, which was said to be inspired by the journey between hell and heaven, started out with several navy and black looks topped with Philip Treacy hats. But it was quickly transformed into great flourishes of white and gold. There were ruffles, feathers, and jewels embellishments. But the critics didn’t love it, and many compared the collection to the work of Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy.

White Nights

Some silhouettes in Gurung’s collection were simpler—such as this white dress that glided down the runway.