W2. It’s not a postcode that comes up much on London Fashion Week. Schedules are filled with W1′s (gilded ballrooms and intimate salons), WC2′s (serene Regency architecture and river light), and a healthy blend of fin-de-siecle darkness and modern grime, courtesy of the East End’s E1 and E2. But W2, with its’ backwater terraces and shambling shopping streets, might as well be another country. And that little section recently rebranded as Paddington Basin, a doll’s house-sized Canary Wharf surrounded by a whirlwind of motorways and canals, another planet.
But an empty commercial block in this shiny new world was where Jonathan Saunders chose to stage his show (for the second season in a row). And so this deserted-at-the-weekends enclave was over-run, with a seemingly endless plume of town cars snaking their way across the city in the evening rain, from Vivienne Westwood’s earlier Smithfield show. From Victorian meat-market to twenty-first century tower: the contrast couldn’t have been any greater. So the heavy-hitters of the fashion world – from local legends Hilary Alexander, Roland Mouret and Lulu Kennedy, to a sizeable translatlantic contingent led by Kate Lanphear and Derek Blasberg, looked understandably disoriented as they were discharged into a sudden world of rippling glass, endless geometries and wan fluorescent light.
The disorientation continued upstairs, with the vast open-plan space – lit by the fading western sky, and the glare of neon-strip panels in magenta and icy white – studded with angled benches set at random angles. The show notes (unlike the intimate, expansive essays we’ve come to expect from designers) were sparing and factual. And from the first sorbet blasts of colour – psychedelic tropical blends of mint green, aquamarine, coral, watermelon and lemon – Saunders struck the perfect note of pure, idealised summer.
But with every piece of exquisitely futuristic colour came an afterglow of something softer, and more evocatively familiar. Intricate, finely pleated patterns rippled across wide-skirted dresses and close-fitting sweaters, with a spiderweb delicacy which was echoed in sheer column gowns dappled with interlocking Rococo swirls. And despite the cool Modernist rigour which suffused the collection’s pared-back detailing and smooth silhouettes, there was a gentleness (most evident in the softly retro long-line cardigans, wistfully gathered muslin layers, slim librarian crew-necks and loose swing coats) which bore unmistakable echoes of past memories, diffused into the present.
It made for a complicated mixture of ideas – an almost formally demure notion of Fifties femininity, a shimmering whirlpool of bird-of-paradise colour blends, a kaleidoscope of stylized pattern and a coolly austere futurism – but the ideas melded together seamlessly, overlapping and meshing as smoothly as the caress of a fine-knit printed sweater gliding over a metallic satin skirt.
Photography by Slobodan Radusavljevic
Posted by: John-Michael O'Sullivan