The really satisfying thing about these collections were that they felt as if designers were staying inimitably true to their own vision, whilst kicking their work up a notch.
After attending the fourth show of the day held in a dank basement, or flicking through another rail of shonky samples proffered by a half-starved artist-type in a garret straight out of a Dickens novel (minus the romance), the dilemma of London fashion is made clear. Namely, where does one draw a line under creativity and demand that commerce take over? Despite arguments to the contrary, fashion isn't art. Fashion is a business - and the best designers find a way to reconcile their creative urge with the need to sell. Ironically, the best can make a fine art of it. After all, is fashion really alive unless it's on a woman's back?
There are notable exceptions - both Gareth Pugh and Alexander McQueen created collections that were designed to showcase their talents as provocateurs rather than the pragmatism of cutting a little black dress. Times however have changed - when was the last time you saw a show dedicated to excessive indulgence and fly-by-the-seat-of-your pants fantasy with zero commercial acumen?
On the flip-side, maybe it's just the consumers that have changed. Perhaps what we would once have called fantasy has now become reality. Case in point: Mary Katrantzou's latest Autumn/Winter offering, possibly the strongest show in London and certainly the strongest of her career so far. Could you imagine any woman donning Katrantzou's crystal-crusted re-imaginings of Faberge eggs, rendered as pump-hipped velvet-flecked cocktail dresses above enamelled heels? Yes, absolutely. That was the power and the glory behind this provocative fashion statement - woman as objet d'art, but never object.
How could you reconcile Katrantzou's opulence with the strict lines of Giles Deacon's Autumn/Winter offering - 'Austere, not austerity' he said, but the clothes themselves were something far far away from either label. Rich silk, embroidery, frothing goat-fur and the sort of trussed-up kidskin that would thrill Allen Jones. There was a rigour to the shapes, perhaps even an austerity (despite protestations), but you never felt anything was lacking. The same was true of Jonathan Saunders' showing, strictly to the knee, pin-neat almost to the point of prissiness, but with a sharpness that cut through any frou-frou. In basic terms, there were plenty of pencil-skirts, neat blouses and chiffon evening dresses that women will want to wear, with signature prints morphing through William Morris wallpaper to tropical jungle-scapes, the latter giving the lush colours that marked this collection out.
The really satisfying thing about these collections were that they felt as if designers were staying inimitably true to their own vision, whilst kicking their work up a notch. The week's best shows all shared that same sense. It was about the thrill of the new, but the knack of eschewing novelty in favour of a consistent refining of vision. Marios Schwab's topographical exploration of the body through craft, and Erdem's darker, sexier take on his trademark kalaidoscope-through-a-cataract muffled prints were just two examples of established talents bumping up their game. Richard Nicoll continued to refine the exquisite colour palette he's been developing for three seasons: we may well have a new Armani on our hands (Giorg went through the Cerruti mill too before going it alone). Mark Fast did some coats, and they were good. Even fashion's favourite joker Henry Holland grew up: his House of Holland collection was fit for any fashion-conscious OAP (visible petticoat-hem optional).
Edward Meadham and Benjamin Kirchhoff, however, were another kettle of fish entirely. There was nothing safe, settling or indeed slow about their Meadham Kirchhoff offering, a whipcrack of a fashion show whirled out at breakneck, record-breaking speed. As for the clothes? It was hard to tell - halfway between Chanel and Children of the Corn, it seemed, topped with pointed witchy-poo hats and tailed with slack knee-high socks, kitten heels and a few gangly teenage boys in re-appropriated girly knits. Add a few Wicker Man corn dolly totems and that was about all we saw, folks.
For showing off their enviable, embroidered and handiwork wares the Meadham Kirchhoff boys got the dunce cap for this show: the shell-shocked audience could barely digest the gist, let alone unravel the details, before their dervish gaggle of schoolgirls and boys galavanted off to the score of Psycho. As a cunning catwalk stunt, theatrical statement and definitive aesthetic stamp? They passed with flying colours - displaying the kind of authority we seldom associate with London fashion, but which is increasingly and excitingly becoming its new leitmotif. This season, Meadham Kirchhoff were just the final hurrah.