Is This the Real Life? Is This Just Fantasy?
LONDON — In the British capital, it is the calm before the storm. The country’s scheduled departure from the European Union — Brexit — is mere weeks away, although no deal has been reached. And so little is clear about what will become of Britain in the wake of its decision to “Leave” that many people seem resigned to the uncertainty of the moment. There is a tempest bearing down. But until then?
Until then, it is London Fashion Week, which wrapped up its biannual round on Tuesday.
Fashion is a multibillion-dollar industry in Britain, and a global one: It can neither afford to grind to a halt for Brexit nor afford to ignore it.
“There’s nothing we can really do,” Molly Goddard said after her show in answer to the inevitable questions. “We have a lot of European partners but beyond that I don’t really know.” Ms. Goddard’s signature are many-tiered tulle dresses, candy-pink confections that can each require 200 feet or more of fabric — the lady as layer cake — but this season she showed them undergirded with trousers and boots beneath, and balaclavas above. “Everything was meant to be stomped in,” she said.
Like the Boy Scouts say: Be prepared. Ms. Goddard, whose dresses can look princess-y, has always understood that there is no inherent contradiction between sweetness and strength. Not for nothing is one of her most famous customers Villanelle, the deadly assassin in “Killing Eve.” (Never mind that Villanelle’s fictional.)
It is unfair to demand that designers reflect the politics of the moment in their work, and unfair to ask them to be spokespeople for the decisions of government ministers. Yet the question bubbled up again and again over the course of five days in London, in the backstage scrums where they faced the press and explained their work: “Don’t you hate Brexit?” said a voice from the crowd that was facing down Riccardo Tisci, Burberry’s chief creative officer, on Sunday under the hot, sharp glare of the lights at the Tate Modern following his second show for the brand.
“I cannot answer,” Mr. Tisci said. “Everyone has a different opinion, of course.”
But he had called his show “Tempest.” And he had just finished opining that “we need the younger generation to be more free, and express themselves.” He felt there had been greater freedom 20 years earlier, when he was studying at Central St. Martins. But two days before, London schoolchildren had skived off classes — Americans call it “cutting,” but the Britishism really captures the sense better — to noisily protest inaction on climate change in the streets. It seemed Mr. Tisci was the less-free one, practicing the diplomatic parry of the corporate steward.
He has, after all, a behemoth to consider. Burberry aspires to be all things to all people, and Mr. Tisci ticked off the strength he felt the label “deserves to have”: not only fashion, but accessories, evening wear, streetwear, underwear, expensive clothes, affordable clothes. (All things being relative: Burberry T-shirts, like the one Mr. Tisci was wearing, can cost $390.)
“To me, Burberry is lifestyle,” he said. “It’s not a fashion label. It represents a lifestyle. And it represents a country.”
With a remit that broad, it only makes sense that he based his collection on the idea of “including, not excluding things.” In the Tate, he divided his show space into two: one room, concrete, grimly lit, with chain-link fence; the other a kind of private theater with gleaming wood and cushioned seats. The tough and the posh.
He divided the collection along the same lines. There was a streetwear section of rugby shirts and puffers, trainers and track pants. Then came the bourgeois: the good old Burberry trench, fluty dresses, trailing scarves. (It would be nearly impossible to mistake one for the other, but if, say, you were viewing from space, the hair was the tell: gorgeous, elaborate curlicues more or less tattooed to the models’ foreheads for the street; sober, severe buns for the rest, snug in their own little nets.)
It had more sharpness and more bite than Mr. Tisci’s first collection for Burberry, which was washed-out in a medley of dutiful beige. But it nevertheless had more of the attitudes of aggression (familiar to Mr. Tisci’s fans from his years at Givenchy) than real snap. For all its enormous breadth, it felt more styled than meant, a tempest that would fit neatly in a teapot.
r. Tisci played with references of Cool Britannia, rave and chav (British for lout), and the vaunted DNA of Burberry — a word fashion executives love to use, in an eerily eugenic way. But the effort to be everything to everyone is enervating, and no doubt exhausting. It’s no secret in the industry that “lifestyle” is the lifeblood of the business: Those that can’t afford or can’t wear luxury runway fashion have to be invited in with a T-shirt, a boxer brief, a perfume, a handbag, a keychain. But is that effort killing fashion?
I’m sorry. That’s grouchy.
It’s not Mr. Tisci’s fault that fashion has grown so giant. Lifestyle is the general ambition.
It is clearly Victoria Beckham’s. But then, she’s already a lifestyle. Ms. Beckham is an icon in a truer sense of the word than is usually meant by the term’s constant invocation — images of her are studied and revered — and she has built up a line offering women a way to dress like her.
It’s tempting to think of Mr. Anderson floating above it all, especially when he said that he had designed his set, with its little rocks poking out of cream-colored carpet to suggest mountaintops poking through the clouds — as if his models were sailing over the sky, safe from the storm. But this was a much more grounded collection for Mr. Anderson, and all the better for it.
“Shows like that put me in a good mood,” Sidney Toledano, the chairman and chief executive of the LVMH Fashion Group, a minority stakeholder in the brand, whispered to Mr. Anderson.
Little else at the moment may be clear but this: I felt the same.