Retro in check at 1960s-tinged London Fashion Week



Day two of London Fashion Week featured a smattering of the old and the new guard. Well-known names like Jasper Conran and Daks featured on the schedule, alongside must-see shows so popular they had to have two sittings, such as JW Anderson and Craig Lawrence, which attracted American, Australian and Russian Vogues.

Daks is a Japanese-owned, British heritage brand, beloved of Europeans and the Asian market, who are fond of house checks and classic, summer resort pieces. For spring/summer 2012, the head of womenswear, Sheila McCain Waid, took inspiration from the English seaside circa 1960 but used contemporary fabrics to keep it from falling into retro territory.

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"The Daks check is iconic so while you don't want to change it entirely, it's important to inject it with a sense of freshness," said McCain Waid, who is based in the UK.

Checks, big and small, were reworked into fine knits and a pattern featuring sailing knots on mid-length, button-through dirndl skirts. These were left open to reveal Bermuda shorts teamed with shirts that tied at the waist. Jackets resembling beach towels were reworked into hoodie jackets.

Another popular British export is House of Holland, a young London brand going places and now in its 10th season. The designer Henry Holland, 27, has built up a strong identity based on the aesthetic of the cool London girl. His newest collection, entitled Pastel Punk, drew inspiration from the punks and skinheads who forged their own uniforms in the late 1970s.

This season, he made his youth-centric label grow up a little, adding luxury fabrics, such as hand-painted python trims, on collars and belts and laser-cut leather. The skinheads' favourite string vest was given a makeover in soft metallic Lurex. House tartan was reworked in hues of mint and lilac for mini kilts worn over trousers (with python braces). Meanwhile, a stretchy tube section of linen jersey maxis could be described - as they might say in London - as "posh".

The former Chanel knitwear designer, Julien Macdonald, referred to one major trend emerging in London as "a colour tease". Against a backdrop of flat neutral greys, Parma violets, palest blues, creams and beiges, you suddenly saw a bolt of fluorescent pink, orange or citrus green. A flicker and then it was gone. Shows including Daks, Clements Ribeiro and Jasper Conran have all used a palette that lulls you into a sense of security then blasts you away with a bolt of lime or tangerine.

Spring/summer 2012 is not going to be about strong colour and yet, there's certainly colour there. The husband and wife team at Clements Ribeiro used a backdrop of chalky grey glue to offset paisley and other pretty Indian-themed prints as subtle as this current print season is full on. That London Fashion Week veteran, Jasper Conran, had another colour tease trick up his sleeve. On a background of sheer flesh-coloured net, he used panels of fiery orange that jigsawed together to create dresses and tops that appeared almost three-dimensional. The designer, who is also a popular choice for smart day occasionwear and particularly popular for horseracing guests, also offered a new trouser shape with sides slit at the thigh like a flower petal, to reveal an occasional flash of leg.

It's the same with sportswear. What at first appeared to be designers feeling intrepid about embracing the obvious (2012 being Olympic year in London), now appears to be a trend in itself. JW Anderson's cotton shirting featured the white stitching you normally find on baseballs. "It's more about a support system of fabrics than sportswear per se," he explained after the show while blowing out candles on a cake (it was his 27th birthday). "There's a bit of Airtex fabric here, Swarovski panels suspended on the body there. It's about a look evolving with different fabrics being Lego'd together."

Beyoncé Knowles's baby bump showed slightly under the black sequinned tuxedo she wore, with matching rock-chick trousers, as she took a bow on the catwalk following her House of Dereon show, staged in the Selfridges department store car park, which had been tarted up for the night in swathes of black silk.

To a soundtrack of Beyoncé mixes, models dressed in wearable club-like gear such as stretchy cotton Lycra tribal print leggings teamed with ruched tops, backless strappy maxis and some great "power jackets" stalked down the runway on gigantic platform wedges.

Here were pretty much timeless clothes, perfect for the global traveller who never quite knows where her private jet may land next. The mostly black or animal print palette is glamorous but looks best when blessed with the curvy body of a megastar like Knowles.

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A Cat, A Man, and Two Women
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Translated by Paul McCarthy
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