LONDON – A little snowfall is no problem — even inside — if you have proper raingear to protect you, so the models at the Burberry Prorsum London Fashion Week show Monday had no complaints about the artificial snow cascading down on the catwalk for the finale.
The models were, of course, kept dry by a modern variation of the formidable Burberry raincoat, in this case reduced to a jacket-sized transparent piece with black detailing that allowed the models' outfits to show through.
The snow was dramatic, but the outfits were the main attraction. Once again, Burberry design czar Christopher Bailey wowed a celebrity-laden crowd with his dresses, coats, flared pantsuits and other ensembles that played with the traditional Burberry style without seeking to replicate it in every outfit.
The company's military heritage was evident in the epaulettes, buckles and braiding on many of the coats and dresses, but the clothes were soft, feminine and witty.
"I've been with him for a long time, when we first started at Burberry we were all sticking to what Burberry had been and now I can just so clearly see that there are no limits to where Burberry could go. The proportions, the mix of materials, I think he's broken through a lot, he's a lot more free now."
The Burberry show has been a centerpiece of fashion week in recent seasons as Bailey has helped revitalize the brand after years of drift. Staged in a temporary building erected in Kensington Gardens just across from the Royal Albert Hall, the Burberry extravaganza drew top models, including Lily Donaldson, and American Vogue editor Anna Wintour along with stylish TV personality Alexa Chung.
Bailey dipped into the Burberry archives for his inspiration for the Autumn Winter 2011 collection, inspired by images of swinging '60s icon Jean Shrimpton.
He married that vision of wide-eyed English chic with his musing on the weather. He played on the theme of coat dressing, combining different textures — fur with tweed or knits with leather trim.
"I loved the idea of playing with all these textures. I loved the idea of playing with cashmeres, with fur, with wools, with silks with jerseys," he told The Associated Press after the show. "For me it was about the combination of everything that made things feel new."
Bailey is credited with giving the company a cutting edge image while still paying homage to its traditional, more conservative designs. So there was plenty of plaid — as one might expect with Burberry — but it went far beyond the traditional check.
Coats came in mustard or black or red — some with voluminous sleeves. One take off on the classic trench came in white wool knit — a combination that nodded to its popular design while adding a chunky 'Let's warm the toes around the fire' feel.
"The great thing about Burberry is that (Bailey) can take the traditional Burberry aesthetic and evolve it into something that is new or a trend," said Katharine Zarella, who writes for Interview and Dossier magazines.
Bailey, 39, tried to set a mood he described as light and fun, starting with a visual display of a snowstorm — as if anyone in dark gray London needed extra help in imaging inclement weather — and then using a snow machine during the finale. The audience seemed intrigued as guests in the front row reached forward to try to see what the falling flakes were made of.
The show marked another high point for Burberry, which has been expanding its global presence in fashion hubs like New York and Tokyo while keeping its London base.
The presentation came near the end of a Fashion Week that has seen several designers touch back to their English heritage, and take advantage of the international attention being directed at the fashion world because of the upcoming royal wedding between Prince William and Middleton.
"I think she's beautiful," said Bailey of the princess-to-be. "I'm a big, big fan and I'm very excited for the date and I can't wait to celebrate. We're lucky as a nation to have two wonderful ambassadors: They're young, they're good looking, they're smart — and I think they live exciting lives."
So, will he be doing THE wedding dress?
"No," said Bailey — and the guessing game about who will continues.
Paul Smith stuck to his signature pinstriped suits and mannish dress coats in his new womenswear collection, dressing his models in skinny cropped pants, flat patent loafers, waistcoats and school ties.
The look was "Annie Hall" and Patti Smith-inspired, the silhouette was unapologetically androgynous, the attitude was nonchalant and urban. In fact, with those large black-framed glasses and disheveled hair, the models look much like the hipsters that roam the trendy areas of cities like London and New York.
"This was a pure Paul Smith show," the designer said after the collection was showcased at the revamped Savoy Hotel. "I wanted this to be totally focused."
There was nary a skirt in sight, although coats and jodhpurs in juicy, warm tones of orange and magenta, as well as a couple of delicate see-through silk blouses in burgundy and violet, injected some traditional femininity.
Inspired by a rummage through its attic of vintage clothing, Pringle of Scotland presented a genteel, understated womenswear collection steeped in the historic brand's heritage.
Centuries-old Pringle, best known for its luxury cashmere sweaters, showcased long knitted wool capes, high-waisted flare trousers and reworked trench coats.
The idea was "editing your grandmother's vintage clothes in the perfect modern wardrobe," said creative director Clare Waight Keller.
Colors at the show were as if dipped in yesteryear's sepia photographs: Earthy, autumnal shades of rust, burgundy, chocolate and spice dominated, with a vintage teal thrown in for contrast.
Some of the most pleasing pieces were reinterpretations of a men's shooting trench coat, which came with a fluttering cropped capelet — think a feminine Sherlock Holmes.
Like many other designers, Pringle's Autumn Winter 2011 collection also featured furs — wrapped around the neck, on a luxurious shearling gillet with an oversized hood, and on furry knee-length boots.
Sylvia Hui contributed to this story.