The build-up to London Fashion Week has been somewhat awkward given the current economic downturn. Should we be celebrating haute couture and lavish presentations of designer clothes when the country is trillions of pounds in debt and people face losing their homes?
The leaflet that accompanied Caroline Charles’ catwalk show yesterday certainly betrayed the conscious desire to not appear too outré in the face of financial collapse. Along with the details about the collection on display, phrases about frugality were abound. The mood of the collection was described as ‘one of restrained luxury’ and was offered as an excellent way for ‘dressing up in sober times’.
When hard times hit, people often look back to the past for some guarantee of security and protection and Charles is no different. Taking her cue from 1940s/1950s sophistication, the collection was a mixture of country wear and clothes for working women. Even the soundtrack for the show was made up of upbeat post-war classics. While people took to their seats, Ella Fitzgerald sang about being down by the river, painting a picture of lazy days in the garden, trading cigarette playing cards whilst Mum poured her eighth Cosmopolitan and Pop wondered where it all went wrong. There was a gaggle of children at the back of the BFC tent, either having the hippest half-term of their lives or having just sneaked in from the neighbouring Natural History Museum.
The show started with the Harvest Festival/Landgirls section of the collection. The clothes were a curious mixture of browns, greys, dark reds and greens together with animal print. The addition of a basket full of wheat seemed a little anachronistic given that it was exchanged between models with expertly coiffured hair and Elizabeth Arden make-up. But then again, they probably do things differently in the country these days. There was also some interesting gypsy influence, but overall it seemed a little too much like National Trust chic.
Inspiration for the Urban Cool section seemed to date back well before the Second World War. The wool jackets along with wide-leg flannel trousers had a Marlene Dietrich feel to them. Some of the pencil skirts which had accompanying black jackets with elasticised belts were fetching but it was hard to imagine a working woman turning up to work in such attire. Unless Weimar Wednesdays are to replace Dress Down Fridays in the workplace.
All in all, the collection seemed to reflect the mood of the time: sombre, risk-averse and nostalgic for some bygone era. That said, I did spot one attendee in the front row who seemed to be making a stand against the austere atmosphere. The woman in question had a hat on that could only be described as an unwound Slinky fixed onto a luminous pink central spot. This was coordinated with a black jacket with furry yellow cuffs. With most other people in dull greens, blues and greys, she certainly stood out, and suggested that there might be ostentation to be found at London Fashion Week after all.