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London Fashion Week: luxe extravagance and the labels we loved

Sandra Halliday
22 September 2020

Well there’s a surprise. While New York designers acknowledged the changed world we live in, many labels showing during London Fashion Week did the exact opposite. LFW was largely a celebration of the exquisite and the often impractical, the colourful, and the quirky.

These were clothes for another era, but maybe for this one too. They summed up the belief that even with fashion’s current self-flagellation and soul searching, if we want to get back to an economy that supports a thriving, prosperous fashion sector that provides jobs, the clothes nobody really needs but enough people will love are essential (non-essential essentials, if you see what I mean).

It wasn’t the case for every label, of course. And there was plenty on show that could carry women through a normal day rather than a day that requires, say, an empire line party dress trimmed with frills. But the latter seemed to dominate, especially among London’s bigger names.

Holding shot: Christopher Kane, Erdem, Emilia Wickstead, Erdem, Preen by Thornton Bregazzi, Molly Goddard, Simone Rocha, Victoria Beckham, Simone Rocha

So, what are the trends?

  • Controlled volume is key, often combined with raised waistlines and full sleeves.
  • Many evening looks are waistline-free zones with trapeze shapes and Empire lines. The look is a cue for a babydoll dress comeback for those who like their skirts short.
  • Also for evening, the humble shirt+elevated skirt combo is a popular choice, also highlighting the importance of the white shirt as a wider tops story and in longer lines as a shirtdress.
  • Shirt/evening skirt mixes also underline a hi-lo trend in which luxe pieces are combined with more relaxed items like jeans or a cardie.
  • Also on show, plenty of draping and shirring, often controlled by drawstrings or trimmed with ribbon.
  • Tiers are everywhere on skirts, dresses and tops and the season is a frill fest too.
  • Material mixes see luxe fabrics matched with more humble materials as damasks jostle with cottons, embroidered tulle with heavy canvas. Patchwork mashes different materials together too.
  • Flashing the flesh is also on the agenda with bare midriffs, cutouts and keyholes.
  • Must-have: Team it all with the chunkiest of platforms shoes, slides or boots.

Labels to love

These are the labels we think really had something to say with messages that came across loud and clear.

Christopher Kane’s message: The transformational power of print

Christopher Kane

Whether seen on unforgiving slim-cut formal dresses, wide summer coats, shirtdresses or tunic tops, it’s the print that counts rather than the silhouette. A welcome relief from the endless stream of florals seen in New York, Kane’s prints look, at first glance, like a crazy action painting. But on closer inspection, the prints are precise and highly technical. The overall look is paint drips topped with lines or daubs of glitter on grounds that graduate from orange to pale green, pink or black and white. At their simplest, the prints come as arty watercolour stripes. Expect this to influence the high street.

Erdem’s message: You can always find an excuse to dress up


SS21 may not offer quite as many opportunities to wear a gala gown as usual (after all, we still don’t know whether weddings, red carpets and the like will be happening next year). But an Empire line evening maxi or midi, a slim cut after-six pantsuit dotted with tiny florals, or a ‘country girl’ gown in satin-stripe sheers with oversized puff sleeves should be an acceptable alternative in a more dressed-down world. Erdem doesn’t really do casual, but casualwear details such as drawstring waists (pulled in by giant ribbons rather than humble cords, of course) emphasise that SS21 isn’t a normal season for the label. But while a khaki coat looks almost like a parka from a distance, getting up close shows that Erdem never strays far from his comfort zone as this particular coat may be khaki but comes in damask with giant retro puffed sleeves and a pink bow trim.

Victoria Beckham’s message: The world’s changed, I’m changing too

Victoria Beckham

Maybe it’s all those years she spent showing in New York but of all London designers, Beckham is the one embracing the ‘new reality’ look (as many NYFW labels had done) the most. The collection features fewer looks than usual and largely leaves behind the boardroom-wear that Beckham frequently sends out. This is softer, even when tailoring is on the menu. The new approach is most noticeable in the dresses with simplicity, fluidity, softness and low-key detailing like lace inserts, keyholes and drawstrings to the fore. Elsewhere, the feel is even more casual with pieced jeans channelling the season’s patchwork theme, and dressed-down top/trouser co-ord combos being more about WFH careerwear than clothes for the office.

Simone Rocha’s message: There’s a place for luxe, even in a crisis

Simone Rocha

Rocha doesn’t really do casual so loungewear and athleisure trends are never going o find a place on her virtual runway. Instead she takes a silhouette that features plenty of controlled volume with an almost 17th century feel (we’re told Nell Gwynn was an influence) and turns it into a celebration of escapist luxury. These are clothes for women who like their fashion a little challenging as they’re not the easiest shapes. But the beauty is undeniable and her choice of tulles, crisp cottons, broderie, elevated canvas and more all point to a 2021 season when maybe women will want to indulge themselves after so practical dressing in 2020. She also gives a thumbs-up to embellishment with pearls the big story here.

Emilia Wickstead’s message: Smart needn’t mean strict

Emilia Wickstead

Wickstead is known for her love of all-things-feminine and a fondness for 1950s silhouettes and that’s clear in her SS21 collection. But there’s also a powerful simplicity, summed up neatly in her strapless evening dress that’s a simple trapeze shape. If you want to mix formality with simplicity, that’s the way to do it. But her love of the defined waistline also means a selection of covetable 50s-influence dresses from knee- to floor-length, with her shirtdresses some of the best (and dressiest) examples of the season’s shirtdress obsession. Wickstead has also picked up on another key season theme — bare flesh. She’s taken what could have been daytime styles and turned them on their head for evening with cape-style crop tops teams with flaring co-ord skirts.

Molly Goddard’s message: Track pants? Not me. Tone it down with a cardie instead


Molly Goddard

Molly Goddard does frills. Molly Goddard does volume. Molly Goddard does tulle. Molly Goddard does vibrant, joyous colour. We know all that. But Molly Goddard does casual? Not really. What she has done for SS21, however, is take her signature wear-if-you-dare looks and made them work for everyday living. A frou-frou frilled skirt is so much more practical when teamed with a cardigan or soft sweater. A babydoll dress makes more sense when worn over pants. A big-on-volume dress is so much less OTT when it’s style like an oversized parka (atop an obligatory frilled skirt, of course). But let’s not get too carried away with the everyday. This collection doesn’t stray too far from the Goddard playbook even if it does feel more wearable than usual. And the designer is clearly aware that in this changed world, making money will be harder than ever so she’s making sure that anyone with a special occasion will find something in her showroom. A statement Goddard dress slimmed down and worked in white looks custom-made for a modern socially distanced wedding, for instance.

The Preen message: Fun with scraps and frills

Preen by Thornton Bregazzi

Many of the collections put together for SS21 were created during an unprecedented period of lockdown and that’s bound to have influenced designers. It certainly had an impact on Thea Bregazzi and Justin Thornton as their kids’ time spent at home involved fun with patchwork patterns and fantasy clothes made by draping fabric on a mannequin. The end result is a collection that features a very modern kind of patchwork and also one that mixes its on-trend frills with some asymmetric and off-centre cuts. The overall feel is indulgent and extravagant, even if the materials are often humble (cottons, for instance) and the silhouettes quite simple (think a slip dress transformed by patchworking).

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