A twenty-kilo gown that whirled together metal and Swarvoski blooms was the show-stopping exception to the wearable rule.
Luxury goods have invalidated the notion of make do and mend. These days, the fashionable consumer is rarely content to make do with less than perfection. They're equally loathe to mend anything: indeed, our consumption of novelty inevitably overruns the physical consumption of garments. Basic Marxist commodity fetishism: you're not buying because you need to, but because you have to.
At least, that's the idea, the spawn of a European fashion culture built on the ever-moving hemlines of haute couture and an American design tradition of live fast, die young. Great Britain has always been different. While the French cockadoodled that Dior had saved France and the Americans fell into new New Look yardage with gay abandon, Britain was existing on tinned beans and abiding by Chancellor of the Exchequer Sir Stafford Cripps' pronunciations that the more fabric in a skirt, the fewer skirts there would be. We're practical, us Brits. And we never forget our past.
Hence, the austerity measures sweeping world economies don't seem so much a dampener as a challenge to London fashion. While French couture houses plunder their archives and tremble in their Massaro boots, and Milan monoliths pull rank to assert their waning dominance, London designers got on with the job, banking on their talent for innovation. For Spring/Summer 2012 they threw out enough ideas to keep the rest of the fashion world turning for seasons to come - some good, a few bad, but almost all original and fresh. And, ironically, that's the real tradition of London fashion.
'It's important to appeal to that customer that liked it the season before, but it's also important to give her something new to find. And to challenge myself as well.' So said Mary Katrantzou - a veritable mantra for New London, of which she is a leading proponent. The challenge for Katrantzou and her woman this season was whirling herself out of her comfort zone of plushly-embellished interiors and into the big bad world. Katrantzou's world was flower-strewn, metallic hued and more than a little insane. It was also easily broken down into separates, knitwear and sleek trouser-suits that collided flower power with power dressing. A twenty-kilo gown that whirled together metal and Swarvoski blooms was the show-stopping exception to the wearable rule.
Wearability is an odd thing to talk about in fashion - after all, isn't that the point of crafting clothes, however expensive or outre they may end up? At the same time, it's something that's often been disregarded in London, where the really interesting designers were more often interested in packing jackets with flies and doing clever things with tapeworms than knocking up a neat pencil-skirt. London's new generation don't see 'commercial' as a pejorative adjective.
Richard Nicoll may have spun out a sweet sixties tale of Rosemary's Baby nightdresses and georgette pyjamas, but there wasn't anything you couldn't imagine a woman wearing - even the Judy Jetson space-age hoops had a bizarre believability to them. New blood Michael Van Der Ham continued with his collage-ery, but gave it an added polish. 'I really wanted to design my own hybrid-fabrics as it were,' Van Der Ham said. ' I sourced various vintage prints and placed them within each other... I worked on a whole range and then mixed them all together, collage within collage.' Despite the clashing fabrics and artsy-fartsy Dada references, there was nothing make-do or cobbled-together about this. Likewise Christopher Kane, all aerodynamically engineered brocades and crusted embroidery, JW Anderson's pithy 'Craft Meets Machine' summary of texture, colour and print mixes on a sleek modern silhouette, and Christopher Bailey of Burberry Prorsum injecting some heart back into the big boy of British heritage branding.
In London, however, it isn't enough just to create beautiful clothes - fashion has got to have something to say. It's not the tub-thumping didactics of Vivienne Westwood or elegiac narratives of John Galliano necessarily, but it's about there being something beyond mere surface. That's another British tradition - think Hogarth and William Blake, decorative arts imbued with a story or a purpose. Edward Meadham and Benjamin Kirchhoff's collection wasn't so much about the clothing they showed but how they showed it, with a pre-teen corps de ballet pirouetting and Courtney Love lookalikes vamping in pastel satin. They were the ringside entertainment to a collection of bedjackets, ruffled tutus, couture-quality bullion-embroidered satin jackets and cashmere sweaters embellished with kawaii smiley-face clouds and cutesy-poo bears. It was a sick-sweet saccharine overload inspired, Meadham and Kirchhoff said, by the idea of 'the girl on top of the cake' and set to chafe against the restrictions of traditional femininity.
That was their story, anyhow. My issue was that, as opposed to offering an antidote to the idea of sugar-coated femininity, Meadham Kirchhoff merely presented us with an aggressively exaggerated version. It may be too much of a suspension of disbelief to see angst expressed through mille-feuille layers of eau-de-nil lace and powder-puff marabou skirts. Any little girl would love them - but what was the take-away for the older generation, the ones sat front row and expected to stump up for these garments? Well, it was a show that made you think. And in an increasingly retail-lead landscape, that felt like something new and exciting enough to excuse the excess.