Monday, 21 September 2009

LFW Sunday

There's always at least one totally manic day in a fashion week – and yesterday was it, with a packed schedule and a lot of criss-crossing the centre of town to various venues in addition to the beautifully calm and smoothly operating HQ at Somerset House. Add the fact that many roads were closed for a London family cycling day, plus the fact that parking is free in the centre of town on Sunday and that it was a perfect autumn day - and you can guess the pace of travel from one show to another.

A lot of the designers who have been instrumental in keeping London going as a fashion centre were on show, including Betty Jackson, Jasper Conran, Nicole Farhi and Vivienne Westwood… a roll of honour as far as British fashion history is concerned. What do they all have in  common? With the exception of Vivienne, they have never once felt it is the role of a fashion designer to do anything other than create clothes which women want to, and can, wear without feeling or looking silly. I have criticised some of them in the past for being pedestrian and avoiding the runway excitements that the press and the show audiences so love. But how right they have been for their businesses and their followers.

The Hair and the Hare: Nicole Farhi and husband David Hare. © Alan Davidson 

Trouble is, it's not enough for a fashion capital. As New York's example shows, wearable clothes are not the dynamite that keeps a capital at the top. For the real explosion that ignites a thousand smaller creative fires, fashion needs the revolutionaries, the assassins and the destroyers who move everything forward. All great change in the arts (let's pretend that fashion is an art) begins with three things: dissatisfaction, belief and trust. Dissatisfaction with what is currently accepted as the desirable norm, belief in the fact that the world will understand the new when it appears, and trust in oneself as the person who can provide it.

That is what London as a fashion capital has lost as a result of its high-streetisation over the last few years. So, instead of the new McQueen, Galliano or Chalayan, we have young designers hailed because the clothes on their runways look exactly right for the shops in Oxford Street. That is why I so loved the presentation by Antoni & Alison, true originals who have never been tempted to turn away from their unique vision for something as transitory as the approval of the mass-market. They gave us a great little film today as their tribute, through clothes, to the great Hollywood heroines in their greatest films. it was exactly what London fashion should be and currently is not: intelligent, wittty, unexpected and totally original.

It made me ask myself, how did we allow London designers to become so suburban instead of subversive?

Jasper Conran and Mary Quant, stalwarts of British fashion. © Alan Davidson