Michael Van Der Ham's signature is well established - chopped-up patchwork artsy-'n'-craftsy frocks jigsawed together from half-a-dozen different fabrics. There's even an intellectual thought-process (Andy Warhol's fashion experimentations at the Met, no less) to beef up the idea for the fash intelligentsia. What's more, it's bankable: it netted him an exclusive with Liberty last season, who helped bankroll the collection, and he's already graduated to showing in the glossy Topshop New Gen space.
So far, so good for Mr Van Der Ham. So, what did he show this season? Perhaps this breakneck success made him glance back at what he had already done and retrench a bit. S/S 2011 felt as if Van Der Ham was restating that patchwork look he's making his own - maybe for the wider audience of industry luminaries sat in his front row. This time around, his slant was Surrealism, the thirties and Adrian, MGM costume designer and couturier to Hollywood's leading ladies. But this wasn't a retro-fest: Van Der Ham absorbed those influences, chewed them up and spat them out as well-digested fabric collages, melding together scraps of lurex knit, devoré leopard and silky silk chiffon. Sometimes, the scraps looked like fragments of a well-shattered garment - an intricately draped segment of bodice recalled a Madame Grès goddess gown, the front flange of a hefty tweed blazer was applied to a skirt, applied as seemingly random elements but with a Surreal logic all their own.
So much for the old - what felt like the new? First of all, the refinement - this wasn't just a rehash of his past two seasons. The shapes felt sharper, the cuts stronger. He also widened his wardrobe from those chopped-up frocks, creating subtly asymmetric blouses that made a focus of neat contrast fabric tricks. A few pairs of wide-legged trousers were plain and simple, fit for Dietrich or Hepburn as is, while his crystal embroideries looked glamorous and precious, not least on a canny and commercial pair of clutches and bangles. When it comes to a young label like Van Der Ham's, that's what it takes to survive on a jammed London Fashion Week schedule.