T

hough this is the first time London Fashion Week has combined menswear with womenswear, it’s safe to say that the latter is almost always more innovative. And Monday’s shows were the perfect illustration of that, with the key designers of the day centering their collections around the celebration of women. 

Proceedings began at Erdem, who is renowned for dressing some of the UK’s most famous women, from the Duchess of Sussex to Carey Mulligan. The Canadian designer usually chooses one muse to inspire his collections. Last season, it was revolutionary Italian photographer Tina Modotti. This time, it’s Lady Emma Hamilton, British model, actress and lover of Lord Nelson, who features in Susan Sontag’s book, The Volcano Lover.

Then it was onto Christopher Kane, whose “Home Alone” collection was created in honour of a the women close to Kane, including his nieces, sisters and friends who work in fashion, a group he affectionaley refers to as “The Brats”. The result is a small, but explosive, collection of prints, paintings and portraits honouring the vim and spirit of these so-called “brats”.

Meanwhile, Victoria Beckham’s collection revolved around ease and liberation. Hemlines are longer – perhaps a reflection of the inclement economic climate, as the popular hemline theory would suggest – and fits are looser, all providing women with ample room to breathe and crucially, feel they can be themselves.

Here are our highlights from day five of London Fashion Week.

Erdem

There seems to be a trend this season among designers creating collections based on books that they read during lockdown – see Halpern, whose spring/summer 2021 collection was partly inspired by a book on Victorian women, and Emilia Wickstead, whose vision was informed by a travel book she spotted in her daughter’s room. For Erdem Moralioglu, the book that spawned a fashion collection was The Volcano Lover by Susan Sontag, which the designer was gifted by a close friend.

The historical novel is set in the royal court of 18th-century Naples and is a fictionalised account of the love triangle between Lady Hamilton, her husband Sir William Hamilton, and Lord Nelson, with whom she was having an affair. It is characterised by lust and uncertainty, given that the characters are living in fear of Mount Vesuvius, which famously buried the city of Pompeii when it erupted in AD79. It’s an anxiety within which Moraliogu finds parallels to our current climate.

All this has manifested in a collection packed with volcanic-inspired botanical prints, aristocratic tailoring, and Erdem’s signature brocades. The gowns come with high necklines, nipped-in waists, and flowing hemlines. Sleeves are puffed-up and trouser suits are styled with white neckerchiefs, some with black bows.

Don’t let the clothes steer you away from admiring the shoes, though. All of the models wore flatform python print shoes, which they apparently found quite challenging to walk in while filming Erdem’s digital runway show in Epping Forest.

Standout looks from the collection include a Pepto-Bismol-pink gown covered in black roses and a lightweight sheer white floral frock that grazes the ground as you walk – we can picture the Duchess of Cambridge in this one.

Christopher Kane

(Christopher Kane)

Another designer inspired by one of their lockdown activities this season was Christopher Kane, though his activity of choice was not reading, but painting. The Scottish designer passed the time experimenting with brush strokes and colours in his garden. “It was liberating and fun,” he said of the giant glitter-covered portraits he produced.

As for his inspiration, Kane looked to the women in his life. His nieces, sisters and fashion friends from “The Brats” and the basis of his spring/summer 2021 collection, which is much smaller than any other one he’s done, with a 50-50 split between paintings and garments. “Lockdown has changed the way I want to work,” said Kane. “For SS21 I had zero desire to create a large collection, I want to simplify and reduce output.”

So instead of the usual Kane compilation of sexed-up lace, statement dresses and T-shirts emblazoned with his signature “More Joy” slogan, the designer has opted for a small exhibition at his Mayfair shop (it opens to the public on Tuesday 22 September) that combines clothing and paintings, all of which Kane says offer a glimpse of his own mental state in lockdown – the frustration, joy, fear, love, boredom, exhilaration, and chaos.

The collection is colourful and disorderly, with dresses, jackets and skirts are splattered with fluorescent hues and geometric shapes that match the paintings displayed alongside them.

There is the odd pared-down garment, like a sleeveless striped blue and black dress and a glittery striped long-sleeved top, but the majority are art works that are meant to be enjoyed purely for their aesthetic artistic value, rather than worn. This collection is primarily about self-expression, but even in the absence of many wearable garments, it’s just as joyful as any Kane fan could hope.

Victoria Beckham

(Victoria Beckham)

“This collection is about freedom,” read the show notes for Victoria Beckham’s spring/summer 2021 collection. Indeed, it is the most liberated and expressive collection the former Spice Girl has done yet. Her trademark tailoring is there, only this time it’s been spruced up with neon green shades and oversized gold jewellery. Meanwhile, the designer’s classically fitted dresses have become noticeably looser, and come with circular cutouts that expose one’s midriff and airy open backs. The vintage-wash jeans are also flared as opposed to skinny and straight, and have been styled with oversized white collared shirts, resulting in a 1970s aesthetic.

Floor-skimming trousers create a flowing silhouette and call for a high heel, marking a return to Beckham’s preferred shoe after a brief foray into flats.

Standout looks come in the form of a leopard print dress with a black lace midriff jacket and a yellow checked co-ord that looks like something Mick Jagger could wear with ease.

There’s a sense of androgyny to the collection, too, with mannish blazers styled over polo tops and matching trousers. “There’s always a strong menswear influence, it’s a signature for me,” Beckham told British Vogue. “We’ve got these great slits at the back of the trousers which are super, super long. I think they lend the collection an ease. There’s a nonchalance to the length which I really like.”

Like Kane, Beckham has also produced a much smaller collection than normal this season, with just 20 looks when there would normally be at least twice that. But as we can see, wonderful things can come in small packages.

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