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Too Fat For Fashion: Hot Off the Press From London Fashion Week
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Monday, February 12, 2007

Hot Off the Press From London Fashion Week

Direct from the BFC Tent
By Olivia

Two days in, and a week that started as a slightly safe, if chic, trip down memory lane with Paul Costelloe and Caroline Charles revisiting the ladylike portions of the 1960s (think Jackie O, false eyelashes and swinging coats rather than, well, swinging) has taken a turn for the bizarre (as London always does) with Manish Arora's tour de force of a show, which finished barely an hour ago. (When I say hot off the press, I mean HOT -- I have dashed from the catwalk to my keyboard to file this story.)

Paul Costelloe's show yesterday was, as stated, safe and chic, but still divinely wearable. The clothes may have been sent down the catwalk layered over gold spangled long-sleeved bodystockings, but it doesn't take much imagination - or sense - to remove the gold bodystocking portion of the look and stick to the classic silhouettes and fabrics he showed. Hemlines had dropped to the knee in this collection, and shapes played it safe with classic A-line shifts being the order of the day rather than the "sack dress" styles we have seen elsewhere.

Babydolls at Paul Costelloe.

A 1960s retrospective in jewel tones at Caroline Charles.

It was a fairly colour-free collection - the occasional tomato red or hot pink trench seemed oddly out of place amongst the muted browns and golds - but the soft colours matched the classic designs perfectly.

Caroline Charles' show opened similarly with swingy coats and a Jackie O retrospective feel (even the soundtracks to the two shows could have been the same), which is to be expected from a designer who first came to prominence in that decade, but somewhere along the catwalk we went from oversized A-line satin dresses in jewel tones, accessorised with PVC headbands anbold, round earrings; to looks that can only be described as "Russian funereal chic". Nothing ground-breaking, daring or fashion-forward, but plenty of classic pieces for those who love an easily wearable capsule wardrobe. I particularly enjoyed the opening series of babydoll dresses, and later, the richly coloured satin shirts styled with loose velvet trousers.

Ben de Lisi followed, and I refuse to comment on it because I don't believe anyone wants to wear a 1980s prom nightmare cocktail dress in velvet and taffeta, unless I'm judging fashion's pulse entirely incorrectly... (Although there was one look, the floor-length blich pink tulle-and-chiffon evening dress, that was just perfect, if safe. When it's right it's right, and when it's wrong, well when it's wrong it's a velvet, lace and taffeta shiny leopard print combo that no-one should have to see or wear.)

After such inaspicious beginnings, I was concerned London was starting to play it safe. Would Gareth Pugh renounce his previous collections and show us a series of tame cocktail dresses? Was Giles Deacon going to send chic, simple gowns down the catwalk? Was Christopher Kane's bubble finally going to burst, a year after graduation? Thank goodness then, for Manish Arora. Where Sunday had run a bare 15 minutes behind schedule - yawn - this show started an hour late: the first signal that the week had found its feet. The tent pulsated with excitement - it was the first time the tent had been truly packed, and the first time any designer had made use of the mirrorball...

The mirrorball span...the lights went down...the music (pumping house, hardcore nu rave, banging beats) kicked in...and the models stepped out.

Imagine, if you will, dropping acid and watching Pucci on crack, and you're somewhere in the vicinity of the riotous colour and panache of Manish Arora. Models sported straight-fringe bobbed wigs in tomato red and lime green...except those in glittered skullcaps with bejewelled foreheads. Bat-wing satin blouses in gold-and-black zebra prints were worn over leather or PVC leggings; whilst the ubiquitous 1960s A-line tunic dresses took a turn for the psychadelic with lime-and-black prints, multi-coloured metallic designs, or appliqued metallic shapes.

All of these looks were, strange as it seems, utterly wearable. (Okay, perhaps the lime green puffed Bacofoil coat with hood would seem out of place at the supermarket, as might the fitted futuristic leather-and-mesh fighting shirt.) Nothing was skintight except leather and PVC leggings, but these were designed to be worn under flattering tunic dresses and not on their own. Dresses were neither skintight nor baggy - nothing is less flattering to the plus-sized woman than the "cover it all with an oversize kaftan and hope for the best" look. It makes all of us look like sofas, sofas under dust covers at that. These dresses were loose to be sure, but they had a shape to them.

Even the leather trousers - an item one usually associates with skintight, when one isn't busy associating them with ageing hipsters and rocker dads who should really know better - were styled loose and pleated, draped and folded to flatter the curve of the leg, and let the skin breathe. Madames Gres and Vionett would have been proud. 1960s babydoll dresses proved to be a running theme, but here they were so much more exciting. Where Costelloe and Charles played the retro theme safe with classic colours and retro accessories, Arora opted for modern fabrics and near-garish prints, taking the babydoll into the 21st century and beyond.


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