FASHION : From Femme Fatale to Lady Aristocrat


With fake bloody knives as accessories in one show and innocently seductive lavender gowns in another, British fashion week opened Saturday with an astonishing range of ideas for spring/summer '96.

Red or Dead's blood-splattered models were dressed to kill: One brandished a kitchen knife that appeared specked with blood; another licked red dye from a giant pair of scissors.

Wayne Hemingway, 34, who runs Red or Dead with his wife, Gerardine, said the show spoke to future prospects for the world "if we continue to abuse the environment and allow the French to carry on nuclear testing."

"To get a message across about violence you have to use blood," he added.

So models in shiny pencil skirts and see-through plastic dresses trailed it down the catwalk. There were also androgynous mesh tops, tight leather trousers and body-sculpting cotton shirts. Lightening the mood were seashell-printed silk and chiffon Gypsy dresses.

Bella Freud's collection conveyed a false, alluring innocence, reflecting her idea of feminism: "Being as feminine as possible and taking everyone unawares with your intelligence and purposefulness."

Her colors were dreamy and seductive--lavender, dove gray, pink and cafe au lait.

The fabrics were often shimmery. Notable were a white dress with capped sleeves, princess waistline and an exaggerated stand-up collar; a red-and-white gingham dress with ruffled neckline, sleeves and hem, and an elegant knee-length dress of black lace scooped up at the hip in a frilly bow.

Katharine Hamnett returned with a colorful display of clean, classical lines inspired by favorite looks of the 1960s. She described the first collection she has shown in London since 1989 as "very English aristo[crat], very ladylike look with a helping of Sweet Charity. She wears the image of an ice queen as a disguise and underneath is surprisingly sexy." Hamnett contrasted textures--matte and shiny, rough and smooth--and used a range of colors: cafe au lait, bronze, flesh, mother of pearl. Buttocks-skimming skirts were shown in leather, shiny nylon and treated linen.

Nicole Farhi's classic, timeless designs harked back to the simple, demure fashions of the '50s.

Knee-topping pastel linen shift dresses, simply tailored skirts with cropped jackets, and Capri-style pants, reminiscent of the enduring style of Audrey Hepburn, were the highlights.

Neat sweaters and crisp, checkered shirts teamed with simple cotton trousers added an American collegiate feeling to the collection.

An exotic touch came from shimmering raw silk evening and cocktail dresses with delicate embroidery.

Straight three-button knee-length coats, Farhi's signature piece for the spring-summer season, were featured in leather, electric blue, orange and yellow toweling, and in gabardine.

Hussein Chalayan, 25, is the youngest designer to be nominated for Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Awards. His previous collections have been hailed as innovative, but this show was sadly lacking.

Many of his clothes were so tight you'd need not only a perfect shape to wear them, but a perfect navel as well.

In an unwelcome display of misogyny, he dressed a waif-thin model in an industrial-strength corset, atop a buttock skimming skirt. Others were sent out with their mouths awkwardly propped open by sticks wedged between their teeth.

For decorative touches, he used fragmented, computer-generated prints of flowers, waves and abstract shapes.

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