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The Runway Reviewed: London Fashion Week ’12 Eclipses New York

Jonathan Saunders Spring/Summer 2013 / Photo by Antonio de Moraes Barros Filho/WireImage

Throughout the whirlwind of New York Fashion Week, the pressure to make designs salable echoed through even some of the most critically praised collections, capitalist impact evidenced by muted looks across lines tempered by the bitter taste of mediocrity. Every season this happens: London Fashion Week comes along with its convivial irreverence and English aplomb and puts an exclamation point on things, making some mainstream New York designers (barring the ones we love, of course) seem a like a bland bunch. Not that London designers don’t have the same economic pressure to move units, but maybe they’re feeling emboldened — the Guardian reports that globally, British designers are enjoying a 20 percent boost in sales.

Could you tell, though, in the wacky, sculptural Dada of Louise Gray’s Spring 2013 line, which bloomed with more enthusiastic punch than almost every show sent down the runway at Lincoln Center? The Scottish renegade showed irreverent Maxine Headrooms in newsprint frocks, contrasting tights, and scribbled-on boleros; layered colorburst pompom dresses over sheer geo button-downs; and gave your acid trip a little thumbs-up with a splash of neons causing broken-teevee assonance on ’80s and ’60s pop-art frames. Best of all, though, were Gray’s accessories, a blast-and-a-half of crown-shaped eyebrow pasties and her signature wacky headwear — this year, mirrored Duchamp hats that wrapped round the skull like those prank arrows going through one temple and out the other. Adam Ant would be so proud!

On the higher end of hats, Philip Treacy, the master milliner, heavily referenced African military gear through the lens of Michael Jackson— whose actual wardrobe was used to showcase the looks — turning The Glove into a side-cocked beret and even re-envisioning the Neverland Ranch as a wearable bit of art. That and his phenomenal headpieces sculpted to look like silk scarves in a Sahara windstorm were a revelation, so it was disappointing that he allowed muse Lady Gaga to open the show wearing a sheer fuschia “burqa”, a tone-deaf appropriation in extremely poor taste given the tenor in the Middle East at the moment. If it was an act in solidarity — Jackson was all about global peace — Gaga probably could have picked a better time to don it rather than on the runway of the guy who makes Kate Middleton’s Anglican wedding hats.

Moving on! Swedish line ACNE and Glaswegian designer Jonathan Saunders each reinterpreted casuals in their own wild-but-wearable worldviews, giving the information society a kick in the pants with officewear inspired by grunge and raves, respectively. Acne went quite literal, opening their show with a black muscle tee pronouncing “MUSIC” in like, Ariel font; from there, you got the feeling the ACNE design crew are the types who like “every genre, including country.” Comfortable tailoring was key, with pants so wide-legged you could hide Carrie Underwood in them, and a contrasting, structured drop-crop skinny trouser with a ventilated flap for when your ankles get hot from too much dancing. In case they weren’t literal enough: COLLAGE.

Saunders, on the other hand, took us into his crystal cave, a portal from the Kate Moss ’90s to your office PC, showing a sensible tan top and a knee-length skirt in iridescent leather, in case you need the party nder your desk. With fishscale prints, flounce skirts, and one perfect power suit, he imbued feminine silhouettes with maximum power, and reminded us that flash-bang tactics aren’t just for night. Deck ’em in the boardroom!

Elsewhere, it was hard not to flip for Mary Katrantzou, who blew out postage stamps she collected from around the world onto dreamy caped frocks for the global traveler, or Henry Holland’s tie-dyed SweeTart dresses, soundtracked by Deee-Lite’s “Groove is in the Heart.” But we’re holding our breath especially for (favorite designer ever) Ashish, man of many sequins, and Meadham Kirchhoff, whose lines have a distinct roots in specific music — both of whom show today. And as this last day of LFW unfolds, we level this question to NYC, our hometown: why so serious?