Renowned British designer Jasper Conran has done a complete volte face for S/S 2008. Showing in the Royal Academy yesterday in an all-white room punctuated with bleached trees that threw leafy shadows onto the pristine walls, the collection hopped delightfully from prim to sexy and back again in direct contrast to A/W which was all highnecklines, beautiful curved cuts, and flat shoes.
In flesh tones, they elongated the girls' legs to infinity. The girls came out teetering on high, high heels, peep toe'd and platformed -- they evoked the 1940s immediately. Wartime shapes, but in ethereal fabrics and colours, wandered through the collection, emerging in defined shoulders and waists, neat little skirts and hair worn long and waved in the Veronica Lake style.
Fit and flare suits -- corsetty tops and swinging bias cut skirts in gorgeous cobwebby and flesh pink neutrals, lengths wore flatteringly on the knee to begin with, in keeping with Conran's record for dressing real women for real occasions. Japanese style obi belts defined tiny waists, bodices often crossed over, and there was an emphasis on square shoulders.
Highlights were the divine tea dresses, more 1930s in style, embroidered, appliqued in lace or sequins, they were worn sometimes with sparkling bikini style underwear. Boy pants and bandeau tops showed merrily through a black gown that was so 'Miss Otis Regrets..' that it sent a shiver down the spine. Another was a dreamy full-length drift of smoke gray organza covered in embroidered blossom, cinched at the waist with yet another obi. Another very sexy look was a deconstructed Chinese silk shawl, the fringes moving fluidly around the girl's limbs. Very pre-war Shanghai nightclub singer. Even when the front seemed like a sweet little puffed sleeved number, the girl would turn to show her back naked to the waist defined by a wide satin ribbon.
And what occasion Conran envisaged for the dear little knickery shorts, frilled on the hips like tennis pants, in shades of coffee and cream, it was difficult to tell. Worn with a corseted top, deceptively modest neckline belied by sheer fabric.
When we caught up with him afterwards to film a mini-interview for my new project International Life, and he confessed to sexing up the collection to beat credit-crunch gloom. It was certainly light-hearted, but also commercial and wearable. He was clear on influences - Stephen Tennan, one of England's stateliest homos - wrote a book in the 1920s about a missionary lady who falls among saucy sailors, which explains the move from prim to raunchy in the space of not only a season, but also a show.
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