Paul Smith goes for the masculine, ‘borrowed-it-from-my-boyfriend’ look at London Fashion Week

By Raphael G. Satter, AP
Monday, September 20, 2010

Designer Paul Smith goes for the masculine look

LONDON — What should a woman do if she’s going for the ‘I-borrowed-it-from-my-boyfriend’ look but doesn’t actually have a boyfriend? Paul Smith has the answer.

The British designer showed off his 2011 spring-summer collection Monday, and except for a few stylish dresses the clothes could just as easily have suited the men in the audience. The designer told The Associated Press that his collection was based around the idea of “borrowing clothes from your brother or your boyfriend.”

It certainly looked it.

Women in teddy-boy haircuts took to the catwalk sporting men’s style shirts rolled up over the elbow, green shiny suits, ash-colored waistcoats and serious-looking trouser-skirts. There were touches of velvety purple, a splash of Smith’s flowery prints and some sexy playsuits, but overall the look was androgynous.

Smith is known worldwide for his successful menswear range and often favors masculine clothes in his womenswear shows. Many of Monday’s models — some of whom sported black-rimmed glasses with one wearing a severe sweater-style top — looked as if they just stepped out of the library.

Veerle Depoorter, a Paul Smith buyer from Belgium, agreed that the designer had gone for a no-nonsense style. But she defended Smith, who she said has been supplying her store in Leuven, just outside Brussels, for the past 14 years.

“He wants to go back to basics,” she said. As for the collection, she said it had a touch of 1950s American office wear.

“It’s ’secretary,’ but in a cool way,” she said.

Her friend Saida Farhat, who sat next to her in the second row, said that the show was “not as spectacular” as some of Smith’s previous offerings.

Recent Smith shows have included a fashion foray into the brightly colored world of suits from Africa’s Bacongo and a green-and-pink homage to the designer’s native Nottingham — complete with jaunty Robin Hood-style feathered caps. Monday’s show — with conventionally cut white striped shirts and sensible shoes — seemed tame by comparison.

The show, held on an L-shaped runway on the ground floor of Smith’s London headquarters, also lacked the glamor of previous displays in the ballroom of Mayfair’s Claridges Hotel. Models bumped into each other as they negotiated the narrow door to the catwalk, while the painting which Smith cited as an inspiration for the collection — a multicolored work by artist Alex Echo — was almost completely obscured by a piece of metal scaffolding.

But Smith said the pared-down look was what the public wanted.

“People are looking for clothes they can add to their wardrobes without spending too much money,” he said.

The public seems to bear him out. Smith told the AP that sales were up significantly, while cards distributed to the audience announced the opening of a new womenswear shop at Claridges.

Smith’s show is one of the main draws of London’s Fashion Week, a five-day clothing-and-celebrity extravaganza which features such names as Vivienne Westwood and Matthew Williamson. Buyers and the media are still waiting to see collections from Burberry’s Christopher Bailey, Jonathan Saunders, Stella McCartney and Scottish style icon Pringle.


1950s-style twinsets and below-the-knee hem lines were anything but boring at Christopher Kane’s show Monday, as the young Scottish star brought those conservative silhouettes up to date with a combination of crazy neon colors and a floral lace print — on leather. Skirt suits with boxy jackets came in fluorescent green, bright fuschia or orange, all stamped with a retro lace pattern. Next came a series of dresses featuring a psychedelic, oriental dragon print highlighted with neon stripes. The collection was rounded off with delicate, see-through dresses embroidered with intricate oriental patterns, with a palette of mint green and soft coral.


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