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London in a new wrapper

While other young British designers look back to the '80s, Giles Deacon bounds ahead to a world all his own.

February 17, 2007|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

London — A new Brit pack has emerged here in fashion's creative hub, once again putting the London shows in the international spotlight. Like Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney before them, many in this new generation of designers were schooled at Central Saint Martins and graduated to the London runways as their training ground. If they continue along this charmed path, they'll soon show somewhere else, and become household names.

After several successful seasons on his own, and experience at Bottega Veneta before that, Giles Deacon seems closest to breaking out. Like Marc Jacobs, Miuccia Prada and other directional designers, Deacon knows that when fashion zigs you have to zag. So amid all the 1980s revivalism here (Alaia! Versace! Montana?) he showed us something we hadn't seen, skimming the surface of the Earth for inspiration like a low-flying glider.

His naturalistic collection was rich with couture-like details -- complicated pleating, pattern cutting and draping -- of sheepskin no less. The first model came out swathed in the stuff, the next in a buttery leather sheath dotted with grommets. Knit shrugs and scarves were woven as thick as cocoons. An incredibly intricate patchwork dress brought to mind a jagged rock formation, and could it have been Deacon was really making a dress after a barrel cactus? It certainly looked like it with that green cocktail frock with a rounded skirt and neat rows of jutting crystals.

His mad vision continued on a ball gown in a tribal art print, and another sprouting tail feathers. Other dresses came in photo prints, an aerial view of raw soil gathered at the hip. And the biggest showpiece, an amoeba-like sculpture of fan pleats, came out like a creature from the deep.

Sure it was over-the-top, but it was the kind of image-making collection that brands -- and their contingent accessory and fragrance licenses -- are built on. The only shame was having to see it in such a small space, an East End art gallery, which gave the models mere inches to turn around in their protruding porcupine quill headpieces without poking someone's eye out. It seems both literally and figuratively Deacon may be outgrowing London.

The other name on everyone's lips here is Christopher Kane. The 24-year-old Scot made quite an impression with his debut last season of body-conscious, neon-bright mini-dresses, embellished with zippers, rings, bits of lace and beads. Now those dresses are in the windows of the influential Browns boutique here. And Kane is a consultant for Donatella Versace (and is obviously influenced by her late brother's work).

For his second collection, he spun a medieval fantasy in a modern, sexy way, giving flippy, thigh-high skirts the warrior touch with cartridge pleats, chunky metal rings and gobstopper-sized crystals. If the silhouette wasn't new, the execution certainly was, with dark and lovely combinations of colors (oxblood, forest green, Prussian blue and rust) and materials (sumptuous velvets, soft leathers and crystal mesh, draped into red-carpet-worthy dresses).

As much as there was to excite the fashion press, and fashion-forward starlets, there were plenty of pieces that could fit seamlessly into any wardrobe, such as a boyfriend cardigan with overgrown crystal buttons and a boxy leather jacket with cartridge pleats at the collar and cuffs. It was a mature effort for someone so young, from concept to execution, and commercial to boot.

Marios Schwab must have had warrior women in mind too when he designed Alaia-esque bustier dresses embellished with metal plates. Things got more interesting when he picked up on last season's sporty trend, using down quilting to sculpt the side-swept hem on a jacket worn atop a skinny mini. He even managed to mold a hexagonal puffer pattern into a curve-hugging dress. But it was difficult to see how all the disparate parts of the collection related.

Reducing his signature kaleidoscopic prints to marbleized panels mixed with graphic blocks of color, Jonathan Saunders brought an athleticism to his collection too. But showing the slim-line coats and gowns at an art gallery only made them look all the more inaccessible.

Gareth Pugh, a hero on the club scene, is the enfant terrible of the pack, thanks to his proclivity for John Galliano-like performances. This season he reined things in, if you can say that about a show featuring white face paint, two-toned hair and see-through plastic prison stripes.

His beloved linebacker proportion took a backseat save for a coat with rows of horsehair and Herman Munster sized shoulders. Instead, he focused on pieces that might actually be salable, such as a belted coat with a quilted patent leather panel, and another cinched at the waist and intricately constructed from patent leather strips. Still, with just 15 looks, you left wanting more.

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