There are some collections that so perfectly encapsulate a time and place in the annals of fashion that it is difficult to imagine them anywhere else. Would Dior's New Look have had so great an impact two years earlier? Would Lacroix's debut have been such a sensation two seasons later? On the other hand, there are some collections that seem so quintessentially, timelessly elegant that its easy to imagine them garnering plaudits at any time.
That's a pretty sweeping statement to make, but Jonathan Saunders' latest for A/W 2011 was so adroit, so polished, so effortlessly, undeniably elegant, it only feels right to state it. It's difficult to pinpoint exactly what was so right about this show: it felt as if every element conspired to underscore Saunders' clean and concise message, one of those rare occasions of everything from casting, to venue, to soundtrack working in complete harmony. As far as the clothes, his line was pure and unadorned, skirts hoverring about the knee, usually slim, sometimes with a touch of movement in chiffon flounces. His trademark print was of course in evidence, tropical foliage abstracted into swirling meanders reminiscent of William Morris wallpaper or Liberty textiles, coloured in hot contrasts of scarlet, teal and chrysophrase. Sometimes those contrasts were just tone-on-tone: a silk blouse in emerald turned to reveal a carnation-pink flank, in itself contrasted with a navy skirt and scarlet velvet belt. That should have overwhelmed, but somehow it just looked glorious.
Those assured games with print and colour-blocking are Saunders staples, but this collection was by no means old news. His opening of strict suiting felt new, relying on subtle tonal contrasts for its impact. A foray into menswear - printed cardigans, a few suits, slender trousers in yet more brilliant hues - was well-judged and pin-neat. Saunders also journeyed into slightly dodgier territory, splashing those flashy rainforest prints across silk chiffon frocks frilled like seventies nightgowns, one even pussy-bowed at the neck in fetching hues of tan and baby-blue. It's the one outfit that shouldn't have worked, but everyone was talking about it as they left. It's always a mark of self-deprecating British respect, it seems, for press to comment how a designer's best collections mark their readiness to fly the London coop to another fashion capital. Saunders flew, and returned. Judging by this offering, we should be very grateful indeed.