LONDON – Celebrated designer Paul Smith took London Fashion Week on a side trip to Africa Monday night with a startling show inspired by styles worn by young men in the Congo.
Smith, who made his name in colourful menswear, adapted the way musicians in the Bacongo region wear brightly coloured suits with beautiful accessories and turned it into an unusual women’s wear collection.
The first model set the scene, looking androgynous in a bright pink suit with red lining and a red bowler hat. Others followed in bright colours, with pink a dominant theme for the first part of the show, which was met with thunderous applause in the ballroom of the elegant Claridge’s hotel.
After the show, Smith – beaming with pleasure – said he got the ideas from “The Gentlemen of Bacongo,” a book of photos depicting the dress of the dandies there.
“When you look at these guys, they are just magical,” he said, “The pocket handkerchiefs, the ties, the cufflinks, the watches, everything. They dress in an amazing, amazing smart way, and their attention to detail is fantastic. They are so passionate about dressing beautifully.”
He said the show reflected his desire to mesh various traditions from different parts of the world.
“We used lots of prints, very optimistic colours, African prints. I love mixing all the fashions together,” he said.
The women’s suits were cut with very narrow shoulders and a long, slim style. Colours were uniformly bright. Many of the dresses mixed several patterns together, and hems were often asymmetrical.
Smith also used hot pants to set off many outfits.
The designer’s bold use of colour extended to the models’ lipstick – many wore a blue-green shade that stood out sharply against their pale makeup. Others wore bright red. Smith, one of Britain’s most prominent designers, said he was pleased that London Fashion Week is celebrating its 25th anniversary with the return of some other well-known talents who have not shown in London in recent years.
“It’s great that we’ve reached that milestone and it’s lovely that a lot of the big talent has come back,” he said. “It’s been good fun. We’ve a gold mine of talent here in England.”
Other designers took different paths, with shoulder pads – and big ones at that – again making their presence felt on the runway. Strong shoulders and sharply cut suits have been popular this season, and both were picked up on by Canadian designer Todd Lynn in his catwalk show earlier Monday.
Two suits featured metallic pieces of black armour so pointy they looked like a pair of horns growing out of the models’ backs. His serious power suits echoed the more glamorous pieces introduced by fellow designer Julien MacDonald on Sunday.
British heritage brand Jaeger also took the power suit route, storming the runway with oversized boyfriend blazers complemented by short shorts rolled up at the hems.
Otherwise the venerable fashion house kept things big and fluid, with high-waisted harem-style trousers, breezy blouses and chunky knits worn over striped swimsuits.
Young Scottish star Christopher Kane went for a softer, almost innocuous, look in his spring/summer collection, trotting out bright 1950s housewife-style dresses enlivened by a pair of slits running up each leg.
Models in layers of gauzy pastel-coloured fabric covered in white flower-like designs trooped down the catwalk as frequent collaborator Donatella Versace and U.S. Vogue editor Anna Wintour watched.
The evening was rounded out by Sienna Miller’s Twenty8Twelve show featuring highly wearable denims, swimsuits, linens and silks. Miller and her sister Savannah were joined by presenter Alexa Chung and Geldof sisters Peaches and Pixie.
London’s fashion Week ends Wednesday.
Associated Press Writers Eleanor Stephens and Raphael G. Satter contributed to this report.