Fashion 85 London : A New Conservatism Diffuses the Old Contagious Outrageous

Times Fashion Editor

Those who live in this international trend center swear that London's current street fashion is much more conservative than last season.

Like Boy George, many young men have cut their hair. Their makeup seems more subdued. And their skirts--once an oddity along King's Road--have now made it to the runway. Only in London could this be called a drift to the right.

The dandy, symbolized by the tapestry frock coat worn with tight-fitted trousers, brocade slippers and the requisite white shirt with tails hanging out, has replaced the post-atomic bag lady in her layers of black rags. And there's a new kind of London flower child who picks her way through the streets in a bouquet of garden-variety prints that include big cabbage rose jackets with tight floral-sprigged pants.

That's one side of London fashion--the side that influences designers all over the world who come here to raid the streets and shops for new ideas.

Another side of London fashion feeds on the shock and outrage of the streets and commercializes the look of the moment, often making it even more shocking and more outrageous. Firms such as Bodymap, Katharine Hamnett and Joseph Tricot, for example, seem to share a kind of nuclear-family view of fashion, whereby everyone in that family--mother, father, child--wears everyone else's clothes. The result is an undersize or oversize assemblage of sweat pants, sweat shirts, tights, sweaters and jackets that seem to be constantly falling off or peeling off. Calvin Klein's underwear ads, in which someone's always in the midst of pulling up a T-shirt or pulling down a pair of jeans, seem to have influenced an entire market here--a market that now sees clothes as moving parts.

At the Joseph Tricot show, for example, models seemed to delight in proving that they could take off a sweater and put it on again without baring a breast. Some succeeded. Others did not. The audience didn't seem to care one way or the other.

This nuclear-family fashion really has little to do with clothes. It's more, as Bodymap insists, about the Half World of Dorian Gray or the Gothic Underworld of 19th-Century London. It's negative. It's anti-social. And it's a dead-serious commentary on modern living. Translated into clothes, it means men wearing pants with pleated satin half skirts dangling midway between derriere and knees. It means women in black lipstick wearing printed tights, body decals and black platform boots. There is little new in the collection since last season, and both the clothes and the vulgarities seem dated.

Katharine Hamnett, who made headlines last year by wearing a no-nukes T-shirt to a reception at 10 Downing Street, seems more concerned now with hats and veils. Not hats and veils for the tea-with-Mrs.-Thatcher- party, but hats and veils with sweat pants. Specifically, purple hats with purple lace veils worn with a purple sweat suit layered with a purple silk skirt. Other new Hamnett ideas for fall include pink sweat shirts with long, pink chiffon skirts, and, for men, long white overshirts worn with long, gray lace skirts over black pants.

Beyond this sometimes lunatic fringe of London fashion, where the message is the medium, there are many talented designers who make excellent clothes that you don't have to "understand."

Betty Jackson, for example, offers a group of navy wool jersey big shirts over narrow pants that might well become a work uniform for the young career woman. Her new prints combine trees with scribbles, and her oversize paisley wool jackets and oversize paisley challis coats seem especially suited to Southern California.

Jasper Conran's Nehru jacket over narrow pants looks new in green tie-silk foulards, and his shearling coats and jackets worn with black gabardine jodhpurs represent the kind of safe-and-sane approach to fashion that's more American than British, and therefore more unusual here in the land of the gender blender, the punk and the urban urchin.

Of all the newcomers to this ever-changing fashion scene, John McIntyre wins the young- talent award for design ideas that are at once original, wearable and well-executed. His jodhpurs made out of chenille bedspread fabric worn with color-coordinated chenille jackets and leather riding boots and his tapestry greatcoats lined in fake fur look especially directional. And his romantic evening look of purple tapestry jacket with full purple lace skirt and matching lace cape are worthy of a princess.

The world's most famous princess, Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales, lit up London Fashion Week by attending a Tuesday night reception given by the Minister of State for Industry at Lancaster House. Wearing a calf-length silk dressing gown design in a patchwork of pink, violet and turquoise, she chatted briefly with many of the 500 guests from the international fashion world. And she will appear again next Tuesday when one of her favorite designers, Bruce Oldfield, celebrates his 10th anniversary in fashion design at a gala to be attended by England's gift to Hollywood royalty, Joan Collins.

Oldfield, who will lead off the evening's dancing with Princess Diana, says he can't reveal what she will wear, but he can tell Fashion85 that he will wear a black tuxedo that's "very '40s with high-rise trousers and proper dress studs."

Oldfield's new fall collection is half Joan Collins glamour girl and half Princess of Wales

regal. Gold lame gauze stars in body-conscious sheath dresses or as hip insets on silk marocain. The look is svelte, sure and sexy. Instead of color blocks, Oldfield features fabric blocks in dresses that merge silk cut-chiffon, panne velvet and marocain. One of his most beautiful new looks consists of easy overblouses, skirts and cardigans in a tissue-weight iridescent gold lame faconne.

Thea Porter, the designer who made the rich hippie a favorite fashion heroine of the late '60s, turns her talent to the opulent outlaw. It's a kind of city-Western look with "Raiders of the Lost Ark" overtones, as in a "Western" blouse of black chiffon with gold lame cowboy yoke and cuff or a blouse of panne velvet that looks like bugle beads. It has a cowboy yoke of paisley Lurex.

Muir and Rhodes

This city's two most famous designers, Jean Muir and Zandra Rhodes, continue to set the standards by which other designers are judged. At a time when prints provide one of the most important fashion messages of the season, Muir leads the way by day and Rhodes by night. Muir's prints are as precise and personal as her clothes. Trapeze artists swing in paisley-like scrolls on wool crepe, and stylized letters from the alphabet bring graphic vitality to suedes. There is also a new Muir pant with crewel yarns embroidered in random strokes of color on purple wool crepe.

The new Rhodes prints are inspired by her recent trip to India, where the maharajah's peacock now struts on chiffon and the mirrored embroideries of Jaipur weave in and out of silks and satins.

In a season that's literally bursting at the seams with tight, narrow pants, the best are at Muir and Rhodes. Muir's are pure perfection in black, bias-cut matte jersey. Rhodes' are sheer magic in sheer printed chiffon edged in tiny beads. Both designers use the narrow pant as groundwork for tunics or dresses.

There's a new '30s feeling at Muir, achieved through the use of long, loose jackets in such diverse fabrics as wool crepe, matte jersey, felt and reptilian leathers.

The late Christian Dior once said that the ugliest part of a woman's body is the back of her knees. Most short skirts prove that point. Now, however, Muir has solved the problem in knee-baring matte jersey skirts that jut diagonally downward in the back to hide the knees. They are inspired, and, hopefully, will inspire other designers to follow her lead.

Satin Frock Coats

Zandra Rhodes raises the dandy to new highs in her black satin frock coats that end in V-shaped, jester-like tails edged in tiny bells. She puts them with silk chemises slit to the waist over black jersey skinny pants.

There's a hint of Nehru in Rhodes' chiffon tunics worn over slender pandit pants in printed chiffon. And even the Indian kurta appears with the traditional chunni over the shoulder. It is especially effective in black felt with a matching gold-scrolled cape festooned with a long lei of gold feathers.

Or: Zandra goes to India by way of Honolulu and comes home a winner.

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