I’m writing this having just watched the Burberry spring/summer 2021 digital show which was streamed on Twitch (me neither) as the big opener for London Fashion Week.
You have to feel for designers right now. Fashion month is meant to be payback time for all the hard work angsting in a studio trying to conjure up new ideas – often out of nothing.
It’s when those etiolated sketches (or 3D Cad drawings) and complicated pattern pieces come together on a catwalk on flesh and blood models (not always much flesh admittedly), and the combined creative of make-up hair, music, set builders, show producers etc, etc, alchemise into a brief evanescent magic.
The pea coat, £79, Marks & Spencer
Nine times out of 10, a pre-recorded film on a laptop, particularly one where the robotic models don’t blink and seem to be wearing a combination of high vis overalls, strait jackets and suits and ties straight out of The Bodyguard, doesn’t deliver the same frisson. But at least Burberry did something bold. They also allowed their 42,000 plus viewers to post unfiltered comments (welcome to my world, Burberry). Some were in Mandarin – which is encouraging for Burberry given that China is one of their biggest markets. It also suggests that people were engaging. Less thrilling to Burberry was the tone. Suffice to say they made the barbed stings of newspaper reviews seem honeyed. I wonder whether other fashion labels will be as brave in inviting the public to turn critic.
It might have been better if Burberry had stuck to what it – and so many other British brands – do best: beautiful trenches, pleated wrap skirts (aka kilts) and fabulous knits. If there are any tangible lessons from the past five months, it’s that people love classics in turbulent times. Without the distractions of having to buy for a last minute party or shelling out for a wedding guest number, and unencumbered by endless headlines about the latest trends, we’ve all been able to focus on the kind of clothes we most enjoy wearing and understand, maybe better than before, those which provide us with a sensory and psychological boost. I’m talking about boyfriend cardigans, slouchy, well-cut trousers, jackets, good blouses, loafers and a versatile shirt dress.
The bag, £340, DeMellier
Many have been given a post-lockdown update. The trousers might come with a drawstring waist for instance, for that smart-relaxed vibe. The Essentiel Antwerp pair here is one of their most popular styles ever, with customers returning for different fabrications every season – and yes they look fine from the rear view too.
Loafers have acquired go-taller, chunky soles (all the better for walking in). The Fold’s knitted indoor-outdoor coatigan has an extra top cape-effect layer which looks ultra flattering when it’s belted, but also works when it’s worn open. The shirt dress could well have gained a ruffled hem (less corporate, more tractor-sole boot friendly and gratifyingly easy to finesse into an evening look).
Others, like M&S’s gilt buttoned peacoat, might be straight down the line classics, and that’s fine too, because when something’s well cut in a good fabric, it doesn’t require anything extra. One of the joys of buying clothes you know suit you is that you can focus on the nitty gritty – such as the way they’re made. Kind cashmere? The White Company has just launched a collection made in compliance with the Good Cashmere Standard which monitors livestock-keeping practices to ensure they’re sustainable and humane (mass cashmere harvesting generally treats goats brutally). Slower production lines? Massimo Dutti’s gorgeous grey-blue belted wool coat is handcrafted.
They’re not super cheap (decently made clothes aren’t) but they are widely available. And that tells you something. For now, and perhaps the foreseeable, fashion is thinking long term.
Lisa Armstrong's column appears each Saturday in The Saturday Telegraph and is published online every Saturday at 7am on Telegraph Fashion.