LONDON — Jake Bugg’s sad songs filled a white tent erected in Hyde Park for the Fall/Winter 2016 Burberry ready-to-wear show, where women walked in oversized coats, that riffed on the military, and elaborate feminine dresses, and male models strutted between them.
The veteran British house—one of a half-dozen old-school names that show at London Fashion Week, including the likes of Paul Smith and Mulberry—and the brightest names in British fashion (from Alexander McQueen to Christopher Kane and JW Anderson) created a collection that was both rebellious and young, but still rooted in the house’s demure past.
Elsewhere, Britain’s non-conformist nature shone through in the shows that took their inspiration from multiple decades and themes.
At Christopher Kane, models walked with plastic bags wrapped like scarves around their heads. These were designed by milliner Stephen Jones.
Gareth Pugh sent out sirens from yesteryear, with cinched waists, coiffed hair, shades, and, in a nod to his stint showing at New York Fashion Week, elegant period suits given some American wow factor: white stars on a blue material that looked like a walking American flag.
Ashish Gupta played on the black queens of disco, creating giant hairpieces resembling outlandish Afro hairdos, but presented in every color of the rainbow to match his shiny boiler suits and disco queen mini dresses that looked like nightwear.
Overall, LFW was a little muted by Britain’s crazy standards. There were no wild Pugh moments and even McQueen created something sexy, dark, rich and sensual but not in your face. Vivienne Westwood presented off-kilter suits in mix-and-match materials and prints, and some fabulous plays on sportswear.
The more outlandish designs this year came from overseas, and could be found in the off-catwalk showrooms and exhibitions, presented with little fanfare.
Inside a repurposed car park in seedy Soho, where designers show their collections to buyers at the main LFW showrooms, there were seemingly more Chinese designers than British.
These new kids on the block seemed to have a thing for the over-sized and the theatrical, coats that look like a giant emperor’s mantle, bold colors, and strange shapes.
Take the Central St Martin’s graduate Angel Chen, who has a thing for bright colors, cartoon characters, and loud design, or any number of contemporaries from Ryan Lo to Xiao Li, who closed LFW.
Yet more crazy invention could be found at the British Fashion Council’s ‘Fashion Utopias’ showcase of designers’ work from a dozen countries.
The award for “most outlandish” should probably go to Korean designer Hahn Kim for his elaborate design of a coat that extended to become a sort of colorful circle of material that framed the body.
Filipino designer Jared Servano made a walking rose dress that looked like it was made of dried buds, but was in fact made from banana hemp. The Austrian designers Flora Miranda created a turquoise slashed leather garment that looked like it was destined—posthumously—for David Bowie’s wardrobe, while Dimitrije Gojkovic made platform shoes with pencils used for the soles.
Odette Steele, a London College of Fashion graduate, whose colorful designs redesigning the hijab adorned the Utopia showcase magazine, said, “I just want to make it so everyone thinks it’s cool to wear one and there is no distinction.”
The Czech Republic emerged the Showcase victors for stunning pieces that looked like walking Kandinsky canvases.
If they had a moment before hopping on flights to Milan for the next Fashion Week, the fashion pack dived into London’s National Portrait Gallery, which is housing Vogue 100: A Century of Style, an exhibition (through May 22) illustrating the evolving breadth of British Vogue’s fashion and style coverage.
All that you could note about the exhibition—celebrity, eccentricity, originality, and artistic distinction—you could say about LFW, and British fashion, at its best.