Weekend Surprises : Fashion: <i> Short</i> was the watchword at the London shows. Many designers featured brightly colored, knee-skimming or shorter skirts, such as this one from Jean Muir.

<i> McColl, a free-lance writer based in Paris, often covers fashion for The Times. </i>

Perhaps the biggest news so far from the fall, 1990, collections is the shadow they have thrown on the future of the traditional runway fashion show.

Take designer Franco Moschino’s show last week in Milan. In Moschino’s presentation, members of a ballet troupe wearing flesh-colored leotards tossed a jumble of clothes--which turned out to be the designer’s new collection--onto the stage, then fished out various items, slipped them over the leotards and danced down the runway to French cancan music.

Then, over the weekend in London, two of the city’s most talked about talents, Rifat Ozbek and Jasper Conran, eschewed a show for an alternative form of fashion theater. Obviously, there’s a trend in the making.


Conran’s method, like Moschino’s, was haphazard. He pulled together a selection from the new collection, hung it on a rack and asked friends to pick out something and wear it to a packed party he gave in his Great Malborough Street design studio.

Even Conran was surprised at the ensuing results. “When I made my selection,” he said, “I was sure I knew who was going to pick which outfit to wear. Not one friend chose the outfit I had selected mentally for her.”

Fun, maybe, but confusing for buyers (among American stores represented in London were Bergdorf Goodman, Barney’s, Charivari, Maxfield, Macy’s California and I. Magnin), who were not aware that Conran’s new collection was milling about in the mob. Most had to go back for a second look, this time shown on a video that starred Royal Ballet dancer Darcy Russell. The background music quickly became the weekend’s signature: “I’ve Got the Power,” by Soul to Soul.

But the weekend’s most spectacular event was Ozbek’s video, “Millennium,” directed by John Maybury, considered England’s hippest young film maker. The Turkish-born designer, whose fans range from Madonna to the Princess of Wales, claims he chose this video presentation over a live show because it was easier to control the image he wanted to project.

With shops all over London filled with interpretations of his all-white “New Age” collection from last season, Ozbek’s fall line stunned viewers with a blast of brilliant color. Models drifted and floated across the screen against a shifting field of kaleidoscopic images.

The video was shown by appointment on a gigantic screen at Westway Studio with the clothes conveniently at hand in an adjoining studio.


Another new wrinkle in the London scene is one that riles many in the English fashion community: Designers John Galliano and Katharine Hamnett will present their collections in Paris, not London. Hamnett’s defection deprived the scene of what was usually the maddest bash of London Fashion Week, although her protege, Nick Coleman, will continue to show in town. Coleman also runs BSolaris, a nightclub where the young fashion crowd gathers, as Coleman says: “to sweat” and listen to jazz.

Jean Muir presented her collection against a background of jazz. Colors were primarily gray and black for a collection with a ‘30s feel--cape collars were a theme, as were little shaped jackets. Skirts were knee-baring but demure. Muir’s long, cashmere cardigans formed abstract prints in warm colors. She showed them over short, knit skimmer dresses.

Graham Fraser and Richard Nott of Workers for Freedom, last year’s Designer of the Year team, showed their usual rich-hippie intellectual clothes, this time for a modern-day Millicent Rogers Taos look. (She’s the art patron whose house is now a museum.) A white-tiered georgette skirt had black tights showing underneath, and was topped by a hand-knit sweater decorated with organic images and the word Freedom. This was one of the best-attended shows of the week, but the collection, while charming and fanciful, lacked the drama to hold a runway.

It is a problem many London collections suffered this season. In his show, Joe Caseley-Hayford did himself a disservice by accessorizing the basic, clean shapes of his men’s and women’s collections with clunky hiking boots. And, in his quest for a new twist, he may have reached too far. Suits resembled doctor’s uniforms, with shoulder-button jackets and straight-leg pants--unfortunately, shirred up the side.

John Richmond is a young London talent who is quietly coming into his own. He had the coveted Fashion Week windows at Joseph’s Brompton Cross showcase boutique--the fashion crowd lunches at Joe’s Cafe just across the street--and has built a loyal following through Los Angeles boutiques such as Roppongi on Melrose Avenue.

He was among those who chose not to have a runway show, but displayed his new collection at Olympia, the fashion trade fair. “Nobody is interested in shows any more,” Richmond said. “We don’t need the hype. For me, the best catwalk (runway) is the street.”


His clothes, many made of stretch fabrics and almost all of them with hoods, reflect what is happening on the street right now. Along with the hooded sweat shirt, other themes include long loose jackets worn over stirrup pants and leggings, and shorts or minis worn with opaque tights. The American baseball cap and sneakers with a contrast-color tongue pulled out over the laces are other trends.

It’s all rather tame. About the only eccentricity to be seen in London streets is the occasional shaved head rising from one of those hooded T-shirts, a surrealistic reminder of a more flamboyant past.

Queen of the flamboyant past, and Mother of Punk, designer Vivienne Westwood, staged a runway show, late night, at a private club hung with royal portraits. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were at one end of the runway, Edward VII and Queen Alexandra at the other when Westwood sent out the answer to a question that has been troubling fashionables ever since Milan: namely, can anyone but the youngest and skinniest squeeze into the body-clinging shapes that are in every collection? Westwood’s first model was frankly middle-aged, yet definitely had the body to carry off the look. Other than the goofy shoes she showed, some of Westwood’s clothes were in the best British classic tradition.

British classic too was the mulberry cloque dinner suit that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wore to the official reception she held, along with the minister of trade, for designers, press and store buyers at London Fashion Week.

Thatcher’s suit, like everything she wears, was designed for her by Marian Abrahams of Aquascutum. The same afternoon, Thatcher had received King Hussein of Jordan at her country residence. At the fashion party, she worked the room like the consummate politician she is, complimenting designer Zandra Rhodes on her new, shorter haircut--”We can see your face so much better, my dear!”--and asking boutique owner Joseph Ettedguie about business.

A concern for the environment was a sub-theme in many of the collections, from Stephen Jones’ knit hats with an intarsia map of the earth worked around the crown to Betty Jackson’s intarsia map of Africa on one of her knit coats. Jackson explained that the map expressed her concern for “the rain forest.” Right sentiment, wrong continent. Brazil’s rain forests have been the focus of concern.


The mistake was emblematic of the London shows this time. Designers seem lost, eager to connect with the fashion scene at large through message and cause-related clothing. Too often it appears to be just for the sake of keeping up with a trend.