I’ve spent much of the last week in my seasonal Blue Peter project. It starts with (almost) total immersion in Chris Moore’s picture library of the shows on catwalking.com, downloading images to illustrate my fashion show notes; followed by a marathon of printing, cutting, editing and sticky taping.
The result is a wad of A3 sized collages which illustrate the story ideas that will form the skeleton of our Autumn Winter fashion coverage. In the process, half formed ideas get fleshed out and some that were overlooked become unavoidably obvious. For example, with my nose stuck in Twitter, the amount of mustard yellow on the runways completely passed me by (actually, on second thoughts, that’s not an oversight, that’s a small mercy).
This paperwork is first used for our big trends meeting (this week), and then as a reference for the rest of the season. I love it. I could do this for hours and probably would if I didn’t have a day job. Because apart from the objective act of marshalling the seasonal trends and stories, I also can’t help but make my own personal shopping list.
Throughout the pages there is a highlighted trail of my own ‘must haves’. And what I want is simple: Phoebe Philo’s hip covering pea coat and ankle cropped trousers from Celine; a kilt skirt by Clare Waight Keller from Pringle; Stella McCartney’s parka and a camel shift dress from Hannah McGibbon’s Chloe.
Do you see the pattern emerging here? It seems to me, that these four British women designers have completely defined a 21st century wardrobe that is woman friendly, relevant to our lifestyles and doesn’t require advanced styling skills to get dressed in the morning.
Unfortunately none of it is going to be easy on the purse because this minimalist luxury is all about quality of fabric and finish. The high street suppliers are already scratching their heads wondering how on earth they can pull off an approximation of this new understatement without recourse to double faced cashmere.
And the problem posed to editors, is that while these clothes are so simple you could get dressed in the dark and still look chic, it’s tough to deliver 25 weeks of page turning fashion images with a nice navy coat and cropped trousers.
I had another kind of first hand experience of this when I was invited to contribute to Theory’s current Fashion Insiders installation in their shop on Marylebone High St and in Selfridges. 12 fashion editors and stylists were asked to style mannequins as they liked to dress themselves.
Now, Theory is a brand that has always made a virtue of the ‘less is more’ approach to designing clothes, and they manage to do in that narrowest of operating margins where the best quality and price intersect. And I like to think that on a living person, you could easily have appreciated the ease of a luxurious cream chunky rib tunic sweater over the slim black stretch pants that I couldn’t say no to. Unfortunately, I am convinced that elegant minimalism works best with a living, breathing person inside to give it life. Compared to the other fully styled up looks, I think mine did Theory a disservice. (They’ll probably never ask me back!)
But frankly, I am so pleased that the day of the over priced stage clothes that only look good on the body of a teenager and shoes that require a head for heights are on their way out. We (retailers, editors, stylists) may all have to work doubly hard this winter so you can dress easy. But it’s so worth it.
PS: I spent Wednesday night watching a student fashion show at the Lycee Francais Charles De Gaulle in London where my daughter, Chloe is at school studying for her AS Levels. She was part of a group that did one of twenty mini collections, all competing for an internship at Valentino. (Only at a French school!) The standard was amazing, given that these students have no training, no technical back up and have all just emerged from the fog of AS mocks and had to make everything by hand in their own time.
I have to admit, I was completely useless, being away covering the collections for most of her preparation. But our dining table has been covered in papier mache corsets for weeks! The eminent judge was none other than Lucinda Chambers, fashion director of Vogue.
And guess what…..she won!!! I am so proud. And thrilled to absolute bits that she did it under her own steam (her surname is different from mine, so there were no fashion insider shenanigans) and without any helicopter mothering.
Judging by this show at least, the next generation seem to have no truck with minimalism. Baroque recycling was a dominant theme. With any luck, by the time they emerge from full time education, the economy will be back on track and, with fashion palettes cleansed, we’ll be in the mood for some more fantasy dressing up again.
- Paula Reed