LONDON — Stella McCartney used a flash mob, Issa relied on colorful floral prints, and Alice Temperley turned to 18th Century paintings for inspiration as London Fashion Week moved into high gear Saturday.
It was a day of elegant, sexy dresses, raucous performances, and beautiful detailing as London designers showed what makes their fashion approach unique.
While some designers looked to the east for inspiration, Kinder Aggugini set his sights on cowboy chic, evoking the streets of Laredo in an impressive catwalk show that used acid-drench silk with western motifs.
The imaginative shows left little doubt that London's sense of self-reliance is growing as the 2012 Olympics approach. Britain may be gripped by economic gloom, but the designers see no reason for pessimism.
"Things are difficult business-wise," Aggugini said before his show. "But it has sparked creativity. I see a lot more talent germinating. I see a lot more newness than I ever did."
McCartney certainly tried something new, turning her back on the traditional catwalk show and instead having a group of models dressed in her creations emerge from a sitdown dinner for an unusual, choreographed romp.
The models were passed on chairs held high by waiters and gyrated on tables with abandon, rarely slowing down enough to give the audience a careful look at the gowns.
But what they could see looked great.
"It was a good idea, and she made it work," said former model Bianca Jagger, wearing a signature white suit. "It was nice to see something different, something dramatic. The clothes looked great. And the food was delicious."
The menu included duck with black truffles, chestnuts and Jerusalem artichokes, beetroots with Sicilian blood oranges, saffron risotto, and Wigmore cheese with still more black truffles, along with a variety of wines and Veuve Clicquot champagne.
Brazilian designer Daniella Helayel, whose label is known as Issa, also scored with audiences Saturday night.
Long a favorite of the former Kate Middleton (now the Duchess of Cambridge), Helayel made liberal use of furry caps and fur trim around the shoulders, the brown and gray nicely offsetting her dresses' forest greens and splashes of red. The prints were radiant, with oversize floral motifs, and red-and-blue swirls that looked like the models were wrapped in bubbling lava.
"I loved the really juicy colors," said Bobby Jackson, a 36-year-old chef from Vancouver who came to see the show with a friend. "The paisley prints are very hot this season."
The colorful shows offset a certain severity that developed early Saturday.
John Rocha draped his models in voluminous black dresses that clung to their bodies like trash bags. Jasper Conran showed off a set of austere-looking brown, bronze, and black creations that harkened back to 1920s trench coats or even 19th-century bloomers. Even young designer Henry Holland — whose work tends to be quite eye-catching — went with patterned clothes mainly in blue, black or crimson.
Rocha's billowing black womenswear was among the most original of the lot, although the work may not find much purchase outside the Goth community. Black lace, black leather-looking sleeves, black veils and webbed tops were in evidence, as well as what looked like furry black leg-warmers. Cutaways and veils added a touch of sex to the show, but some creations — like the Dublin-based designer's big rumpled greenish dress — looked as if their models had fallen into upscale supermarket sacks.
The super-short haircuts sported by Jasper Conran's models matched the severity of their clothes. Take out a sparkle here and hike up a top there and the dresses could easily have been worn into an office. A very strict office at that.
Fortunately there was Aggugini, whose big pink cowboy hats and super-sheer tops brought smiles to the standing-room-only crowd.
London Fashion Week has a number of hotly anticipated shows in the coming days, with the lineup including Vivienne Westwood, Burberry, Christopher Kane, McQ and others.
The biannual bash features more than 100 shows. It's expected to generate orders in the region of 100 million pounds ($160 million.)
London Fashion Week: http://www.londonfashionweek.co.uk/
Raphael Satter can be reached at: http://twitter.com/razhael