These are hard times for established fashion houses, let alone fledgling names fresh from fashion college, but the presence of Daphne Guinness in the front row - along with a veritable life-raft of fashion cognoscenti- is good indication that last night's Central Saint Martins B.A. show defies both convention and adversity. Having sneakily previewed the B.A. Womenswear graduates, and given my opinions on those whose wares would best suit a showing on a wider stage, I was interested to see who had made the final cut.
In the midst of economic crises, by and large this year's graduates seemed to rise to the challenge of the Saint Martins reputation. While there was, admittedly, much we could have done without, many collections shone - not least the menswear (from both that pathway, and Print and Knit), amongst which there was seldom a weak piece, let alone collection. My favourite was undoubtedly Levi Palmer's Antonio Lopez-alike Gaucho collection, presented in a sophisticated pastel palette of sand, taupe, lingonberry and lotsa beige in buttery suede and leather - admittedly it owed a decided debt to both Claude Montana and Antony Price in those heady Durannie days, but it was done with verve and panache that put it on a level with the very best of London. Elsewhere, my severely restricted pick of just a handful of the stellar men's offerings were Matthew Grant's taupe-toned American Gigolo suiting, Caroline Jarvis' Tyrolean knits adorned with genuinely amusing wooden birdhouse accessories, and Holly Fox-Lee's hyper-inflated volumes - a canny economic pun, perhaps? Indeed, volume was a general trend, with bold and hefty shoulders, crotches dropping to bulk-up the hips of trousers and many a pumped-up feather-stuffed puffa.
It is interesting that in these leaner-than-lean times graduates should choose to move away from a slim line into the bulk of expansive (and expensive) metres of painstakingly wrought fabric, whether outsize proportions, billowing trains or vast crinolined skirts of New Look proportions. Dior's aforementioned masterstroke was itself a paradoxical reaction to austerity - but one to which, we may do well remember, women reacted violently. In 1947, the American Little Below The Knee Club declared 'Monsieur Dior, we abhor dresses to the floor': I must confess I felt very much the same about Wes Gordon's twelve-foot trains, Ryan Strong's billowing kaftans and Philip Preiswerk's overblown, overgrown crinolines, whose painfully slow and unsteady progression was as uncomfortable to watch as it was to wear.
My favourite from the internal show was undoubtedly Dean Quinn, and even on second viewing his monochrome collection again made me (and a number of others) sit up and take note. Quinn sliced his tailoring with a savage bent, restricting his palette to black and white and his decoration to glass bugle beads, thickly crusted across his tight trousers and brief skirts. With so many designers trying to pack a million ideas into these six-piece presentations, Quinn's focus served him well. As a statement of intent, this collection was spot on - and rightfully scooped one of the evening's coveted L'Oréal Professionnel awards.