For many designers, this season has been, to a degree, about retrenchment, about defining, refining and reiterating exactly what their label is all about. Stella McCartney took stock and looked way back to her Central Saint Martins graduation show and clutch of independent collections before she was first plucked to inherit the Chloe mantle in 1997. Those collections, like this one, were built on a contrasty combo of boardroom and boudoir, exemplified in a juxtaposition of flirty, frilly French lace and sturdy, resolutely British tailoring.
These days McCartney's widened her load to include the likes of the print silk t-shirt dress with which she opened her show, body-hugging houndstooth-knits in eye popping black and violet and chunky, shaggy tufted cardigans as thick as fur. Her day very much focused on oversized mannish tailoring: slouchy suit jackets in firm wool were worn as short dresses and knee-length chunky grey or red herringbone cashmere coats were cut wide from the body and cinched at the waist with narrow leatherette belts. These were some of McCartney's best pieces, not just in this collection, but ever - subtly seamed and darted, they caught next season's mood for understated daytime-dressing where God really is in low-key details such as softly rounded shoulders and elongated lapels dropping to the hem. Kinky touches of the bedroom began to emerge: girls appeared naked under those heavy coats bar thigh-high stocking-boots on wobbly needle-heels, or flirty edges of lace peeking out from hem or lapel. These precursed her evening looks, where McCartney went full out into frothy, dissipated slip dressing: lace was everywhere, from perforated doily details on boots and gloves to overlays on jade green babydolls and leg-o-mutton organza blouses, to peek-a-boo inserts in taut trousers, high-waisted skirts and long evening dresses. Sometimes this worked, notably in blouses and skirts, which despite their strong sleeve and firm hip-hugging shape respectively, seemed a softer proposal in a season swimming in a veritable crocodile's pit of razor-edged Glamazons. The standout was a long, slightly ballooning evening dress contrasting stripes of satin and Chantilly, and a short flirty frock banding net-backed Valencienne, black velvet and anthracite grey crepe, with lacy appliqués decorating a flesh chiffon top.
About halfway through this dentelle deluge though, you couldn't help but feel simultaneously overwhelmed and underwhelmed: how many ways can you really try to work underwear as outerwear? Apparently, too many. While the daywear, if not entirely original, at least felt desirable and consummately done, the eveningwear felt more than a little dated, with some of these frocks so inconsequential that you genuinely wondered if really the model had remembered the slip but forgotten the dress. The trouble with McCartney looking back to her graduation collection is the simple (and seemingly obvious) fact that fashion has most definitely moved on from that flippy, frippy nightie-to-night-out nineties look. The cold chill of Autumn/Winter 2009 - both in terms of finance and climate - is definitely not the time to revisit it.