Richard Nicoll's Autumn/Winter 2012 show was crowded, chaotic and rambling. It lasted five hours, models endlessly lapping a narrow catwalk as his audience bustled and jostled to view the clothes, desperately trying to make sense of it all. Why? Because Nicoll titled his collection 'Modern Times' - and used his presentation to make a poignant and pertinent statement about the state of fashion today.
The clothes, of course, were a vital part. Nicoll looked to work wear, industrial uniforms and Constructivism. Their edict that a garments structural seams should be the only ornament evidently stuck in Nicoll's gullet: pleats were the only touch of superfluous fabric in a collection otherwise dedicated to austerity, in odd, utilitarian-meets-institutional shades of grey, NHS blue and flares of synthetic orange and yellow. The presentation splayed out the 'backstage' to front-of-house, allowing the audience to manhandle Nicoll's garments before the models took turns in them on the catwalk, appreciating the softness of cashmere and mohair knits and velvety wool herringbone working woman suiting. There was even a handbag that could charge a mobile telephone, courtesy of his partnership with Vodafone. Perfect for any City Girl on the go.
That was the nice bit - the rest of the presentation was subtly engineered to make the audience feel ill-at-ease. A bad thing? Not at all, and Nicoll decided to use this break from the catwalk to question the system. This was fashion that made you think. Example: everyone fights to get backstage. But what if the backstage was all there was? And indeed, what if the fashion weeks carry on expanding, cramming more and more shows into an already packed schedule, never mind the proliferation of precollections that push designers' creative ingenuity to the very limits. Nicoll's models circled in an eternal parade that, eventually, became more conveyor belt than catwalk. There was something reminiscent of Sartre's 'Huis Clos' about that proposal. Nicoll couched his clothes in the aesthetic vocabulary of our work-obsessed society as a whole, but if ever there was a pointed comment on the state of fashion today, this was it. A brave, bold and heartfelt statement from one of London's style leaders.