As #LFW Wraps, Are We High on Fashion or Cough Syrup?

Eric Wilson is InStyle's fashion news director. For more real-time insights during Fashion Month, follow him on Twitter and Instagram. 

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  • I am sorry, dear readers, to report from London Fashion Week that a nasty virus has been going around the front rows. Editors here are falling like flies, coughing into their programs, their eyes glazed over with congestion. Or that might just be the stupor of having seen so many clothes festooned with decorative embroideries, metallic doo-dads, and even streamers, but really, I think I might be getting sick.
  • No, I’m definitely sick.

What is it about fashion shows that makes people suffer such intense FOMO that they will pry themselves onto tiny benches situated in spaces that are either overheated or freezing, with hundreds of other people who are probably already infected, or if not, will be by the end of a 15-minute show? I must say, I would have been disappointed to have missed Mary Katrantzou’s color and pattern-saturated collection here on Sunday afternoon, but I’m not entirely sure if those psychedelic patterns of blue flames licking a tartan coat, or butterfly intarsia fur shrugs, or dresses and coats that combined leopard spots with herringbone with little glittering gold hearts, were in fact real, or rather, a pleasant side effect of having swigged a bottle of Benylin Chesty Coughs syrup on the long ride over. (In fact, the glittering was real, and courtesy of Swarovski.)

Regardless, Katrantzou’s show, on a foil runway with silver balloons à la Warhol’s Factory, was another winner, with patterns as complex as stained glass though with a much lighter touch (below). Rendered in stars, butterflies, possibly unicorns and trolls, too, they seemed more reflective of a love-struck adolescent’s drawings in her diary, and in fact, there was something in Katrantzou’s notes about Romeo and Juliet and “love’s young dream.”

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There is a surprising solidarity among British designers when it comes to decoration. It was the more, the merrier, at least, in Sarah Burton’s homecoming show for Alexander McQueen, having brought the collection from Paris to London this season. Burton’s show was unexpectedly playful, with black lingerie, motorcycle jackets, coats, and dresses that were bedazzled with lips, lipsticks, butterflies (a recurring theme), and eventually much more. A series of evening dresses and capes were rendered in near nakedness, save for the strategic placement of a menagerie of critters embroidered almost onto the body, boldly bare looks that called to mind what Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian, and Jennifer Lopez like to wear when arriving at the Met Gala (below, left). There were also, paradoxically, a few beautiful puffer jackets shown as evening cover-ups, presumably for those who are in the market for something more substantial to wear in the fall (below, right).

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Much of London’s emerging class of hot labels, like Erdem, Christopher Kane, Katrantzou, and Peter Pilotto, have made visual maximalism their calling cards, and their fall collections left no lace nor pattern upon the cutting room floor. Kane’s collection had feathered fringes and crocheted flowers affixed to black wraps and cocktail dresses of black stripes that extended into streamers that fluttered around the legs (below, left). Even his shoes were accented with quills. Peter Pilotto was a study in collages (middle). And Erdem’s show was the highlight among the group, though coming from a darker place. Black and gray laces intersected with men’s wear checks on suits and full dresses that telegraphed a vintage film quality, heightened by the voice of Bette Davis from All About Eve purring on the soundtrack (right).

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All of this adds up to a lot of noise, which is understandable since many of the designers of these young labels have to shout to get attention. It’s not going to get any easier in the coming year, as bigger fish shift their attentions to consumer-driven shows, led by Burberry, which will make the shift in September to showing clothes only once they are available in stores.

For now, Christopher Bailey, chief creative and chief executive officer of Burberry, is still showing his fall collection, which was so good, in fact, that it made you want to buy some of the clothes now. Bailey is among the first designers to commit to changing the cycle of when clothes are shown and sold, and this shift seems to have invigorated his work, with dazzling dresses that featured inverted pleats and insets of contrasting patterns, terrific British military coats (in fact, terrific coats all around), and minidresses in mod graphics (pictured, top). The big hit of the show was a new Patchwork bag, a small billfold style made of mixed media (I saw snakeskin, leather, and the traditional Burberry check all in one version) attached to a super-thick strap that probably outweighed the bag itself. Several of these items can already be ordered on, but won’t be delivered for a few months at least.

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Come September, even that delay will be a thing of the past, at least in the case of Burberry. But one question remains for now: Will it be exactly the same show? I need to know, because I have my eye on those sequined track pants, Christopher, and that's not just the cough syrup talking.

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