LONDON — British Fashion Week (actually a long weekend with 37 shows in the Duke of York Barracks, and 300 fashion firms showing in the Olympia trade center booths) is still a sort of "them against us" proposition.
"Them" is the Establishment, the old-line names like Norman Hartnell, Zandra Rhodes, Jean Muir, Burberry, Aquascutum and the like. "Us" is the young and funky, the rebels who don't like rules and who put British fashion back on the map just a few years ago.
But nothing is all black and white (except some of the British collections), and a certain homogenization has taken place. Rebel types are turning into Establishment types all over the place, with very little of the reverse in view. For fall, the Establishment is clearly winning out.
Designers who haven't grown up and joined the fashion mainstream were largely ignored this week by buyers who know that even English street fashion, these days, has taken a turn toward convention.
John Galliano, a young man whose vanilla-colored fall collection is undoubtedly eccentric, was a loser in this round of shows. His models had long, pre-Raphaelite hair, which trickled over the shoulders of long, tight styles with draping to create pouchy, pocket-like protuberances that looked like bustles when at the back of skirts, like baby-carriers when at the front of blouses.
Katharine Hamnett, on the other hand, has cleaned up her act. The woman once best known for "protest" T-shirts has produced a young and literally zippy collection that owes more to the fitness craze than to funk. Her multi-zippered body suits and sweat-suit type styles looked
Zingiest Show of the Week
The zingiest show of the week was by Joseph Tricot, the 20-year old knitwear firm that is zooming into the '80s. Tricot owner-designer Joseph Ettedgui shamelessly spoofed Mademoiselle Chanel in knit renditions of chunky but slim cardigan jacket suits that had chains hung in oddball places (across the back, around the armholes) and also offered other semi-authentic touches such as contrasting-color edging. Another hit look was the oversized, bulky, cowl-neck sweater shown with a glitter-specked, pouffy, ankle-length, tulle skirt and flat-heel shoes.
London's young establishment-oriented designers--such as Jasper Conran, Alistair Blair, Bruce Oldfield--form a distinct group who cater to the moneyed, young English upper crust with designs that are sassy but acceptable in royal circles to which most of their customers either aspire or belong.
Conran did mostly black and white, in shapely slim suits and tailored jackets over long, pleated skirts. His evening wear was almost all black, in everything from short velvet sheaths to long, full, lace skirts shown with jackets.
Blair's coats and suits were in the classic, British tradition, with top drawer tailoring and curvy fit. Oldfield, whose clothes are sometimes worn by Princess Diana, didn't make any major statement. His side-draped, knee-length jersey dresses are perfect for teatime, his evening wear features trimmed dresses, gold lame skirts and lace pouffed with petticoats.
Rifat Ozbek, a 34-year-old Turkish-born designer now in London, is inspired by The Dance. His black, stretch bodysuit is topped by a short, white, jacket that ends high on the chest revealing every curve of the woman who wears it. His dancer's dress is a stark, black wool, fitted through the bodice and swirling into an ankle-length, bias-flare skirt. His only other accessory was bright red, wide fur cuffs that could be slipped on and off the wrists of the black dress or black jackets and coats.
At the most Establishment end of the spectrum, pink-haired designer Zandra Rhodes continued to do her exquisite chiffons, this time with beading, hand painting and embroidery inspired by The Great Barrier Reef.
Jean Muir had an excellent show, with flaring peplums on leather jackets, and updated legging looks among many styles, which indicate she is growing younger and more contemporary as the years progress.
Back to Life
The design house of the late Sir Norman Hartnell has been brought back to life, seven years after his death. Three designers (Victor Edelstein, Allahn McRae and Sheridan Barnett) now provide day wear, cocktail dresses and grand evening wear. This evening wear collection was leaden, the cocktail dresses acceptable and the day wear beautifully executed in subtle, slim, tweeds, corduroys and velvets.
If the English collections have done nothing much else, they have provided buyers with a solid confirmation of certain style trends that first emerged in Milan. The flat shoe, for example, has changed the proportion of clothes, giving even the most trite styles something of a new look. The shoe, usually a high-vamped slipper style, is shown even with elaborate lame or beaded, full or narrow, evening wear and with daytime clothes as well.
The soft, pleated skirt, worn just above the ankles, is shown here in day and evening fabrics, always with a tailored jacket in bulkier fabric than the skirt. And always with flat heel shoes. Mixing these conventional pieces in unconventional ways is, so far, what fall fashion is all about.