Autumn/Winter 2015-16 MaxMara

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IT was a romantic walk along the beach that MaxMara had in store for us this morning. A film backdrop of waves washing in gently to shore recreated the photos taken by George Barris in 1962 of Marilyn in more or less the same situation. And so the season’s scene was set: sensual and emotive, cosy and comforting, outerwear of course being the star of the show (MaxMara is a brand all about the outerwear), but this time in bundled, swaddled and swathed fashion.

So watery winter pastels incarnated fluffy mohair coat-and-cardigan hybrids to wrap these Marilyns up all warm – literal references to those photos where the star herself takes a seaside wander, pulling her coat just so. In fact, this became quite the lesson in how to wear one’s coat seductively when winter bites. Of course, splashing waves in the background was always going to help.

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Classic camel tones, sand, mint, powder pink and chilly blue; fleecy tweeds, cashmere knits, quilting – everything was soft and romantic. Even the silhouettes that were a more obvious ode to Monroe’s sassy figure (nipped-in-at-the-waist dresses, pencil skirts and bustiers) came with a softness, a layer of light teasing texture to make them less obviously austere.

Here, hoods were to hide in, sleeves were to snuggle in: it was about protective dressing, be that practically or emotionally.

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Autumn/Winter 2015-16 Celine

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CALL us impatient, but show goers often like to preempt what might come down a runway before they see it. In recent seasons from Celine, we’ve had fuzzy invitations, chipboard runways, and colour block seating. Today, it was plain white invitations and a catwalk made up of untreated porous terracotta tiles, and the seating? Glazed ceramic stools. As Anna Dello Russo pointed it, it looked like the sort of thing she might come across at her home in Puglia, southern Italy.

Aside from the sensational coats, there were flickers of summer here in Phoebe Philo’s autumn collection. There was something about the artisan crochet embroideries on the opening look and the humongous shopper bags that looked just the ticket for a day at the beach – or for that matter, on safari, if Philo’s zebra print has anything to do with it (seasons have long become blurred at the international collections, since these clothes are landing in July, and anyway, it’s always summer somewhere in the world).

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Often in her repertoire, Philo explored ideas on deconstruction, coming undone; the way a tri-coloured triangle-bra silk slip dress was provocatively split in several places, streams of strapping and ties were left to fly, and sleeves peeled away at the shoulder. She continued many other signatures here, too; such as contrast overstitching, those slinky ribbed knits, which this time had built-in conical bras or cut out backs and huge belled cuffs. She even hit repeat on skate sneakers and that elasticated block-heeled sock-shoe spotted on many of the front row feet this morning.

Loosening up has been in progress at Celine for a few seasons now – being less edited, more open, softer – and although some of those impressive coats with gargantuan fur trims where pulled in tightly at the waist, there was a new freedom to Philo’s woman, and with that came expressions of individuality. The fact that some girls wore heavy daubs of painterly make up and others wore none at all; that some had their hair down, and the rest, tied back into a neat ponytail – didn’t go unnoticed. It brought authenticity and believability to the clothes. Away from the catwalk you can imagine everything hanging in Celine stores the world over. What she built with this collection was a total wardrobe, and yes, one that women will want to call their own come autumn.

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Autumn/Winter 2015-16 Whistles

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Whistles is a contemporary fashion brand, based in London.

Led by inspiring CEO Jane Shepherdson, Whistles encapsulates an intelligent sense of design with timeless and luxurious pieces. Collections are modern and laid back with an attention to detail and quality.

Chief Executive at Whistles, Jane Shepherdson is the figurehead of our brand. Originally from Bristol, she studied in London and worked as Brand Director at Topshop. With an uncanny ability to know what women want to wear, she has been working her magic at Whistles since 2008. Here, we find out a bit more about her world.

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Can you describe what you do at Whistles?
The most important part of my role is to establish the direction, the aesthetic, and what the brand stands for. The designers and buying teams create each collection, and I keep checking in with them to ensure that we are all still working towards the same vision. They’re totally involved in what they are doing, but I can be objective, and from that position, I can see the shape of it – the big picture, as it were. The role also involves making decisions on where and when to open new stores, both in the UK, and abroad, and how best to invest for the future.

What would you say the Whistles aesthetic is, then?
It’s an effortless way of dressing. It is unique, there’s an insouciance to it, a sort of ‘I just threw it together and it worked’. That’s what we try to encapsulate. It is easy and laid back, but also luxurious.

Is that quite a modern way of dressing?
I think it is. We try to create collections that tell a story through design, fabric and colour, but also where each piece stands up on its own, and can be worn in a myriad of different ways. It isn’t too formulaic. Each season we decide what will be the most covetable pieces that anyone would want to own.

They’re pieces women can slot into their wardrobe…
Yes, that’s important – but we also want to provide solutions. Often, if women are going to some kind of event, they panic and buy something totally out of character. What we try to provide is a dress that is special but interesting and contemporary as well. It might be a purple lace number but it will have pockets or a big thick zip down the back. They’ll be something about it that will look cool rather than overdressed.

Have you seen women wearing Whistles on the street?
I increasingly see women in Whistles. I love it – I always want to say ‘I know where you got that.’ I was at an event recently and happened to notice the woman in front of me. Right from the shoes up, every single thing was Whistles. I tapped her on her shoulder and said ‘you like Whistles, then?’

Is it inspiring when you see real women wearing it?
Oh yes, I love to see how different women style our clothes, as it is a brand that can be worn in so many different ways. I love that each summer, I notice Whistles dresses from two or three years ago coming out. That means they weren’t just one season, trend-driven items. They stand up on their own and have a timeless quality.

How else do you keep up with what women want out of their clothes?
I spend a lot of time out visiting the stores seeing what they look like and experiencing what customers experience. Because however much you look at numbers or a sample on a rail, there’s no substitute for being in the shop and seeing it as the customer does. I watch people, I butt in, I start serving.

So you could be in a Whistles store and be served by Jane Shepherdson?
Definitely. There’s nothing I like more than asking people what they think of things.

Is there anyone you have in mind when thinking about the Whistles woman?
We love Sofia Coppola. She’s creative, intelligent, stylish, very understated, confident. You have to admit she is pretty cool! We always think of women who are creative and intelligent as well as being stylish. That’s quite important – Whistles is an intelligent choice. We’ve been described as ‘the thinking woman’s fashion brand’, and we quite like that.

How do you feel about being a role model to younger women in fashion?
Young women in this industry need female role models, so although it feels a little odd, if I can help more women to realise that they can achieve their ambitions, then it is worth it. This industry employs over 80% women, and yet in the boardrooms, they make up less than 10%. It’s women’s fashion – it just doesn’t make sense to me. I am always keen to talk to students, both to offer them advice, but also to hear things from their point of view.

Did you always know you wanted to work in fashion?
Yes, but I knew I couldn’t design. I think when I was about 14, my mother, who was a Biochemist, said one of her students was a buyer and described what it was. It really clicked with me, I had no idea that jobs like that existed. I thought ‘yes! that’s what I want to do!’ I was 22 when I got my first job in fashion. I had really short hair, and my favourite outfit was pair of DMs, black tights with a pair of brown velvet hotpants and a vintage jacket.

While your style may have changed, you still love fashion. What keeps it exciting for you?
I think it’s the ever changing nature of it, the way that trends develop and grow, that nothing is certain. Fashion is the thing that gets us up in the morning – interpreting trends and creating something unique that will work for a Whistles customer. That’s really exciting and that’s what I think is really intelligent design. I love that.

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Autumn/Winter 2015-16 Sacai

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How do couture-like silhouettes manifest into something essentially urban and city-ready? Ask Sacai’s Chitose Abe who this season looked to haute couture – volume, panniers and Fortuny pleats included – to stir her no-holds-barred imagination.

This collection proved that there is no end to her ambition; it takes gumption to reimagine those exaggerated volumes and ideas and rework them in heavy – often masculine – fabrics, all the while executing something elegant. An M65 parka was puffed up at the back, pannier hips and tulle padding shaped sweaters and skirts, while herringbone tweeds were elasticised to form womanly hourglass silhouettes. It was about something precious and rarefied applied to the familiar and everyday.

Her series of sweater dresses – if you can call them that, the workday term seems almost insulting – were exceptional. They comprised chunky Aran knits which were peeled away at the shoulder line to reveal crisp white shirting underneath, while flippy skirts kicked out in panels of knit and cotton.
As complicated as that all sounds, the cleverest – and most crucial – fact about these hybrids is that they’re very often the simplest of pieces to wear. Take the show-goers for example, so many of whom were touting the hits of previous seasons, from the leather-perfecto biker jackets to military and guipure lace coats, khaki bombers, floral maxi dresses, even, a sighting of a broderie anglaise full skirt.

There’s something about these designs that tug at the heartstrings.

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