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Gingham checks and romantic echoes in London


LONDON — Next spring, when we're all wearing gingham checks, it will be thanks to designer Christopher Kane, who affirmed his role as leader of the new Brit pack with a spring collection that was directional enough to start trends that will trickle all the way down to Target.

There was something both sultry and sinister about Kane's juxtaposition of mismatched tablecloth checks, sheer lingerie-like panels and corset boning on dresses in baby pink, lemon yellow and cappuccino brown gingham check, with pleated skirts or thigh-high slits. Sweaters sliced open in back also offered a flirty, peekaboo effect.

Kane's romantic mood was echoed elsewhere during the strong spring runway shows here last week, in the powdery hues, floral prints, gentle draping and sheer layers, as well as in the earlier New York shows at Marc Jacobs, Vera Wang and Donna Karan.

At Burberry Prorsum, the week's most star-studded front row -- Victoria Beckham, Freida Pinto, Agyness Deyn, Emma Watson and Gwyneth Paltrow -- gathered to see Christopher Bailey's sugary sweet collection. Trench coats, thigh-high dresses and skirts in saltwater taffy shades of gauzy organza, silk and satin were twisted, knotted, looped and ruched to within an inch of their lives. The technique, which made for a more conceptual collection than anything Bailey has previously done for Burberry, occasionally gave even the most lithe models unwanted lumps and bumps. But all was forgiven during the finale, when silver confetti rained down on the runway.

Marios Schwab worked in a similar palette of pales, using old-fashioned flip books as inspiration for playing with the idea of proportion. Long organza skirts, draped in front or bustled at the hips, worn with pleated tunics and delicate, cropped chain mail jackets, made for an interesting take on spring's sheer layers, even if the look would be a bit tricky to pull off in real life.

Richard Nicoll used 19th century photos of Polynesian women as a starting point for a tropical-themed collection that never veered into kitsch. Skirts and shift dresses in gray, rose and periwinkle colored silk were tied and knotted like sarongs, and occasionally embellished with a foiled hibiscus bloom. It was refreshing to see so many separates and strong daywear options, including featherweight silk boyfriend jackets, wrap-front trousers and fringed, block-print scarves. Perfectly imagined, perfectly executed.

Peter Pilotto is a label to watch for the seamless marriage of draping, cutting and prints. Dappled landscape prints of sunlight or fireworks on water resembled Impressionist canvases, masterfully draped and folded into dresses and skirts with subtle, architectural volumes created using hidden pleats. It was a stunning combination of color and form, with some pieces seemingly illuminated from within.

Another one of London's reigning princes of prints, Erdem Moralioglu showed a solid collection of satin dresses and pleated skirts with all-over blurred garden prints or floral borders, some appliqued with still more flowers and crystals. Rounding out the highly ornamental collection (some editors are likening him to Christian Lacroix) were a white lace trench coat and a fluid silk playsuit.

Another rising talent, Mary Katrantzou, studied the work of glassblower Peter Layton for her collection of asymmetrically folded and draped dresses in free-form, psychedelic swirls. (She burst onto the scene last season with her trompe l'oeil perfume-bottle-print dresses.)

When it comes to knitwear, the return of Pringle of Scotland to London Fashion Week was a smart move. Clare Waight Keller's feminine collection took on a new air of cool when shown at the Saatchi Gallery, where one could imagine bright young things wearing her short, flippy, layered knit dresses and metallic open-weave sweaters to art-show openings.

Mark Fast's cobwebby knit dresses were also a highlight, especially because he cast several more shapely, size 12 models on his runway to fill out his knotted, macrame creations. (Apparently, the bold move was enough to send his stylist packing.)

In the streetwear category, Sienna Miller's line Twenty8Twelve and Topshop's Unique collection made a case for the return of light blue, stonewashed denim. Unique's patched varsity jacket, oversized boyfriend jackets with zipper trims, and Body Glove-type neoprene swimwear -- evoking Valley Girls and Sarah Jessica Parker in "L.A. Story" -- made L.A. seem closer to London than ever.


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