LONDON — English style ambassador Paul Smith put the classy into upper-class Monday, unveiling an autumn-winter collection that evoked country houses, outdoor pursuits and just a touch of urban decadence.
Tweed caps, riding capes and chunky woolens were all on display at Smith's show, one of the big draws of London Fashion Week, alongside svelte dresses and statement coats.
"It's very much about the English aristocracy, and the naughty daughter who likes to sneak off to London and go to rock concerts," Smith told The Associated Press backstage at the show, held amid the old-school elegance of central London's Claridge's Hotel.
Other designers including Pringle of Scotland, Nicole Farhi and Osman also presented their collections on the fourth day of London Fashion Week.
Smith – best known for classic menswear with a cheeky twist and accessories with his signature multicolored stripes – offered a womenswear collection that gave traditional fabrics a retro-chic twist and mixed earthy tones, black and gray with bold splashes of color.
The designer said the theme of the show was "the naughty debutante." Pieces ranged from slim-line elegance – a long scarlet coat with martial gold buttons, a sleek little black dress – to playful thrift-shop retro. There was a multicolored crochet dress, pink knitwear with a vintage feel, and A-line dresses reminiscent of the 1950s – one in lavender, another black with poppy red, worn with cropped cardigans.
"I'm a British designer," said Smith, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000 for his contribution to the nation's fashion industry. "It's got a lot of the English countryside about it, but in a very modern way."
PRINGLE OF SCOTLAND
While Smith focused on the essence of Englishness, Clare Waight Keller, creative director of Pringle of Scotland, brought a touch of the Highlands to London's Serpentine Gallery for her fashion week show.
The elegant collection, which drew singers Janet Jackson and Courtney Love, features knitwear made sexy. Many of the tops contained elaborate, revealing latticework that shifted as the models walked.
Strapless black evening dresses in suiting material with leather buckles were impressive, as was the innovative use of knits in traditional colors associated with Scotland – all part of an effort to modernize the brand without abandoning its roots.
"Speaking as a Scotswoman, I think Clare is really downloading Scotland," said actress Tilda Swinton, who is prominent in the brand's advertising. "There is something about her color palette that is so Scottish, that green, that yellow. I'm looking forward to wearing it in the campaign. It's so Scottish, and yet it's completely supersonic."
Love said she liked the classic pieces best, particularly a black jacket she said she had to have. Known for her rock chick look, Love admitted she is now dressing more like a country lady.
"I'm very conservative now," she said. "More than you'd know."
Longtime favorite Nicole Farhi started the day with a collection full of oversized jackets with enlarged collars and lapels that seemed to have tripled in size. As the rain poured outside, models came down the runway in oversized wool jackets very appropriate for a cold winter day.
Collars were amplified on dresses and jacket lapels.
It was "bye bye" to mini skirts – all signs indicate the long skirt is making a comeback for autumn. The below-the-knee lengths created a more mature and sophisticated collection at Nicole Farhi.
Once again, layering came into play. For daywear, knitwear was layered under large wool coats and leggings were worn under skirts. For eveningwear, glittering sequin dresses were worn under a layer of chiffon for a subtle, glamorous look. Shoulders were emphasized in strapless dresses – in line with the liberally exposed shoulders in many collections the last few days.
Farhi's different take on the asymmetric neckline had tops falling seductively off the shoulder.
Contrasting textures were also a big theme in her collection. Shiny patent shoes were pieced with chunky knits and leather was worn with heavy tweeds. The main colors were warm grays and camel beige.
Osman's collection also featured plenty of textural contrasts, including mixing heavy mohair pieces with delicate silks, and offsetting some pieces with fur.
He also used oversizing: Models had collars up to their ears.
Osman started the show differently with four models walking in a line wearing different interpretations of a jersey dress. There was an element of Grecian inspiration as each dress was draped at different parts of the body.
Osman's show-stopping eveningwear was made up of smart cocktail dresses and separates, some embellished with large jewels.
Again, at Osman, the hemlines fell below the knee and this time there were even floor-skimming maxi dresses.
"I think it's a fresh, modern look for autumn," stylist Riannon Foster-Orr said. "I like the patterns and his choice of fabrics which I think will photograph well. My favorite piece was the oversized fur coat. It was a shape I haven't seen in a fur coat before."
Osman managed to bring hints of summer into his autumn collection by adding a splash of pink and blue into a mostly winter color palette.
The list of events Tuesday is topped by the widely anticipated Burberry show. Wednesday will be dominated by menswear shows.
Associated Press writers Gregory Katz and Eleanor Stephens contributed to this report.