At the Chloe show, the crisp little white shirts worn by les cravates rouges - the suspiciously-handsome cadre of young men employed to usher guests, peer at invites, strip the plastic off the catwalk and generally fluster about - sported a quiet 'C' embroidered on the chest. They were a neat metaphor for what we see on Hannah MacGibbon's catwalk season after season - where, with a twist of branding and a tug at our nostalgic heartstrings, a few simple (dare we say simplistic) pieces of clothing are just-about rejigged for our viewing pleasure. It's always a little bit seventies - the girls' hair styled flyaway like a Charlie advert, a few dodgy ponchos, nice big bags to roll in the bucks. That's the fashion system: not just here, but on maybe a dozen catwalks across the world. In short, we don't really expect the earth to move at a Chloe show.
The Autumn/Winter 2011 collection offered few surprises. MacGibbon once again stomped out into the seventies, namely seventies craft, eschewing last season's filmy minimalism for something altogether more decorative and handiworked. Patchwork was a key motif - the opening blouse had panels of brocade set into the front, and subsequent outfits juxtaposed colours and textures. A bit clunky in a giant, primary-coloured cape that resembled a picnic blanket. Far sleeker in panel-fronted slouchy trousers and neat skirts. The big story was patchworks of python, both the very real, and the fake. By fake, I'm not talking tacky pleather, but snakeskin prints on silk-satin and silk chiffon, sometimes recoloured in the toxic, saturated hues of an Andy Warhol portrait. It looked clever as a jacquard knit, a bit dated dated as a fluttery mid-calf dress, stand-out albeit hellishly expensive in a cocooning trench.
That shape was reflected again in the half-dozen monochrome outfits that closed the show, a retail-safe finale to a show that was good, but not great. It seems that's always the way you feel about Chloe - there are always a few great pieces that stand out, maybe different pieces for each viewer. One will adore the precision and cleanliness of those black looks, the slightly fetish feel to the way a pair of leather dungarees frotted against the model's pubis, whereas others will love the clunky, wonky homemaker appeal of the flood-length denim bell-bottoms, pipe-cleaner sleeved knits and all that patchworkery. I'm sure there's even a taker for those blasted ponchos MacGibbon is obsessed with.
The big question, however, is what does it add up to at Chloe? What's the image of this house? And why, after leaving a Chloe show, does one inevitably feel an overwhelming sense of deja vu? Because, more often than not, the show has been a parade of ideas dredged-up from collections from both the near and distant past. Remember that python at Prada? Remember that patchwork at Celine? Maybe it's coincidence, but more often than not, it feels the result of a sly sideways glance and lack of new ideas. That fundamental laziness of design is the real issue here. What looked original today? The way the models held their bags on the shoulder, maybe. Not the bags themselves, I mean, just the pose. That does not a collection make.