LONDON, United Kingdom — My most durable memory from the London Fashion Week which just ended is the endless hours — yes, hours — spent stuck in traffic en route from one show to the next. This, coupled with a week of often forgettable fashion, was more than enough to make you question the purpose of the event. But of course, today’s fashion weeks are more about staging consumer-facing media spectacles than taking in the actual clothes, even though the traditional show format is increasingly at odds with hyper-accelerated speed contemporary consumption.
The real problem, however, is the sense of stasis plaguing fashion. There are too few fresh ideas at the moment, made even more palpable by the endless sampling of recent and not-so-recent fashion history. It is entirely understandable that jumping on the bandwagon du jour is a natural way to catch — and cash in on — the zeitgeist. In-your-face appropriation, however, even in our times of appropriation as an art form, is another thing. What can one say of the heavily Vetements-derived rawness of Mulberry, for instance? It was so apparent, it almost looked like punk provocation.
Meanwhile, at Burberry, the goings were openly Guccified, from the lavishly carpeted, romantic softness of the setting to the newly-found stress on crafty decoration (a smart move that took Burberry out of the cold cul-de-sac where the brand has recently been stuck towards a hazy gender fluidity, where the inspiration of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando was put to good use). But although Alessandro Michele and Christopher Bailey might share a point of view or two at the moment, with its whiffs of overtly decadent historicism, the Burberry collection honestly looked a bit passé. The fact that this was also Burberry's first "see now, buy now" show made it actually feel even more passé, like a winter collection shown too late, months after the others. This might actually be a big problem intrinsic to the immediacy push that's taking place. What makes shows exciting is the fact that you actually see the future on the catwalk, and that’s part of why you might be rabid to have it right away, while at the moment showing a winter collection in season seems just like you are seeing last season. A seasonless approach might actually work better, and be more exciting
In general, London left me craving something original. Bad, even, but original. Alas, this was not the season, which lacked the jolt of fearless excitement for which editors and buyers come to town. From Erdem to Gareth Pugh, Roksanda to Peter Pilotto, many designers simply stuck to their guns. Even the work of arch-provocateur Jonathan Anderson looked calmer than usual: more sensual and real as opposed to the off-putting, conceptual braininess of the past.
Simone Rocha delivered an enchanting, poignant collection of bubbly forms and touchy-feely textures, however. Think Jane Austen in conversation with Rei Kawakubo. It felt mature and serene, and made her one of the strongest assets of London Fashion Week. Even Louise Trotter at Joseph is proving a force to be reckoned with. Her work is visually intense and profoundly human, even though it makes you wonder what, after all the gutsy and poetic catwalk experimentalism, will finally end in the shop for clients to actually wear.
For being a designer so strongly focused on fine-tuning his own voice, Christopher Kane, on the other hand, further delved into the territory owned by Miuccia Prada's Miu Miu. Working around a “make, do, mend” theme, and celebrating his tenth anniversary, Kane seemed to fall into the trap of quirky imagemaking — bejeweled Crocs, anyone? — and somehow lacked the energy and spontaneity that once made him so exciting. Mary Katranzou, too, was in a self-referential mode, producing a homage to her own Greek roots in a kitschy galore of ancient motifs turned into Pop and Sixties Op-Art with more than a passing nod to Gianni Versace. Speaking of which, the return to London of the Versace Versus show felt like yet another iteration of the Versace code: sharp, gritty and energetic, but ultimately business as usual.
This fact is, fashion shows are a formula that might need a little shaking up. Going bananas as Charlotte Olympia did so charmingly may have been a little too camp, but at least it was a nice way to ignite the emotions of the audience at the end of a long day of shows.
All in all, what was lacking in London — which is also what is lacking in fashion in general right now — was a political dimension. I am not thinking of slogans or declarations, but the ability to cater the needs of individuals in the wider space of society and to address new ways of being that are truly forward-thinking with regards to age, gender, race, whatever. Though it supplies aesthetic answers, fashion poses deeply political questions about the way human beings relate. Just think of how Miuccia Prada empowered women by telling them to dress for themselves and not to please men. Just think of how Helmut Lang made urban pragmatism an ontological way of thinking. There's very little of this in fashion at the moment. Today, it's collage, surface decoration and styling that abound.