It was only a matter of time until Richard Nicoll's design instincts - a fuss-free feeling of clean Modernism, decidedly young and pepped with pop colour - lead him to the sixties. In fact, for spring it lead him quite specifically to 1966, and Henri-Georges Clouzot's hallucinogenic, unfinished masterpiece L'Enfer. That may sound like a heavyweight art-house basis for a fashion show, but Nicoll's collection was a neat distillation of the film's overriding visuals - Romy Schneider bathed in multicoloured, flickering light, wrapped in transparent plastic or flouncing around in pastel-popped pyjamas and nightgowns. Richard Nicoll doesn't do intellectual subtext. For him, it's all about the clothes.
And rightly so too, because real clothes for real women what Nicoll does so very, very well. This season, that general mood of the sixties was evoked in the silhouettes - sleek, lean and unpretentious summarised in the super-short opening looks, tailored tight in neoprene with aerodynamic raised darts. Some of the space-race rubbed off on the shiny PVC surfaces, metallic finishes of lurex and lame and lunar palette of powdery blue, grey and palest mauve. Somewhere, Nicoll got the notion of Saturn-ringed hems stiffened and wired to stand away from the body. Perhaps they popped into his mind from The Jetsons, or some of Cardin's more outre experiments in hyper-haute couture. Today, they were decidedly hit and miss - the former when pepping strict lingerie-look corset dresses or A-line skirts with a touch of volume at the thigh-high hem, the latter when wobbling around the ankles of sheer maxi-dresses. It's seldom Nicoll creates a garment you can't imagine a woman wanting to wear, but these came across as fussy and half thought-out.
But more about those maxi-frocks: they were the collection's key look, mainly because they represented something new in the Nicoll wardrobe. He's nailed daywear season after season - now came the time to get a bit of ravishing ruffled evening-wear under his belt. Once they ditched the dodgy whalebones hems (thankfully sooner rather than later) Nicoll's gowns hit every mark. They were based on Schneider's filmy nightgowns and bed-jackets - part of his press handout was a Simplicity pattern envelope circa 1960, with bouffant-haired Dollybirds sporting a selection of pastel sleepwear that could have been the building-blocks for these looks. But 'Simplicity' is misleading - something that looks this great takes tonnes of effort. Billowing seductively around the legs in barely-there shades of lavender, dove-grey and palest blue, they were stunningly seductive. Sometimes they came as gossamer skirts teamed with lurex twinsets, a sophisticated re-interpretation of bedtime dressing that begged not to be restricted to the boudoir. Even a couple of floral-strewn georgette pyjama-suits came off as less sleep-walker than red-carpet walker. That's felt like something fresh not only for the Richard Nicoll girl, but for fashion as a whole.