Our fashion landscape seems to have shifted these past few seasons. Whereas women once bought the clothes they wanted when they wanted, it now feels they buy what they need and only if - rather than when - they need them. What both fashion and its consumers need are new ideas. Hence London is in a far more powerful position than you may think, and for Autumn/Winter 2010 it certainly showed.
In contrast to the homogeny and monotony of many New York shows, London offered a season of strikingly individual outlooks - from fetishistic pastoralism to clean-cut conservatism, from new minimalism, to neo-maximalism, to that tired, trite militarism that we've seen far too much of. Well, in fact, that was one of London's strengths: taking something we've seen a million times before and making it look mesmerisingly new. Tagging onto that militia theme and pushing it to an almost illogical zenith, Louise Goldin dressed women as machines of mass-destruction. Detonate the catwalk bomb and there were wearable fragments to her explosive creativity: simple sweaters with cargo-pockets and bullet-belt details, knit flak jackets and slender leggings layered under and over sensational armourial abstractions. If you wanted to twist the idea back into the wholly palatable, Burberry Prorsum's take on army chic was a gift to warmongers everywhere. All cavalry twill and brass buttons, sheepskin thickening out the layers as lining or frothing across the flanks, the whole shebang chez Christopher Bailey did more for the war effort than any number of public information announcements. There were outfits underneath the cavalcade of coating, of course - I glimpsed some kind of lacy skirt, a hint of ruching and a daub of maroon and cyan amongst the khaki. Inconsequential little nothings, granted, but no matter: all eyes were on the outer layer, a handy metaphor for fashion itself.
Eons away in mood, but with a similarly gung-ho, take-no-prisoners confidence, Richard Nicoll dressed his women not for war, but for the office. Or even The Office, as his Fade to Grey (or black, rust or a dull-as-dishwater petrol navy) take on working woman attire seemed a spoof on early nineties office drudge dressing. There was, however, nothing boring about it, Nicoll reconfiguring tailoring into sleek, chic separates with the faintest hint of punk in fluttering ribbon bondage, spliced-out shapes and another graphic collaboration with Linder Sterling. Throw in some bin-liners, an airline blanket or two and some bulldog clips as jewellery. Nothing should have worked. Everything did. A sensible skirt-suit never looked so edgy, nor quite so great.
Mary Katrantzou upped her ante this season, in the first full-fledged riposte to the mood of minimalism inspired by Phoebe Philo's debut at Celine. Katrantzou's contrast? Pile it on! Her collection sparkled with vivid colour, displaced placement prints and adventurous shape - a first. There were airs of early-nineties Gianni Versace in her baroque offerings, a whiff of late-eighties Lacroix in her devil-may-care combinations of texture, swirled with rococo ormolu and inspired by eighteenth-century society portraiture. Despite these antecedents, the revitalising element in her offering was Katrantzou pushing her own game forwards, satisfying some of the niggling doubts that hung over her first few outings when we (quite rightly) questioned if she could push her look beyond charming prints into the realm of fashion. This silenced any naysayers.
Individual outlooks are one thing, but can it be mere coincidence that two of London's strongest talents, Christopher Kane and Marios Schwab, both alighted on imagery that collided pastoral innocence with sadomasochistic sexual indulgence? Kane festooned garments with foliate embroidery that conjured imagery of Slavic peasants, but the clothes themselves were harshly-silhouetted dresses and jackets in black lace and slick leather. Schwab crafted frocks for twenty-first century Von Trapps, bosom-framing dirndl dresses in heavy loden sliced off at the thigh and embellished with glistening hardware. What was the meaning behind this? Instilling a feel of handicraft and a sense of the human into oft-aseptic minimalism - both these boys cut a sharp jib, but rather than take the easy way out they chose to embellish, to inject some soul. With designers slaving away in garrets and back-street sleep-in studios for nothing more rewarding than the love of their craft (it may be cliché, but it's a true cliché), maybe that's what London stands for in world fashion: soul. It certainly marks these designers out.