English heritage brand Daks has undergone a stealth reinvention. Sheila McKain-Waid quietly took charge of the house's womenswear last season, and just as quietly made her debut with a Spring '12 collection that had an almost meditative cleanness. Today's Daks show had a similarly Zen quality to it, but it made for a high-volume announcement of its emergence as a brand to watch.
Despite Daks' Englishness—the brand has three royal seals, and a history that goes back almost 130 years—the house is actually a rather international concern. Its biggest market is in the Far East, and not only is McKain-Waid American, but she arrived at Daks following stints at Halston, Donna Karan, and Oscar de la Renta. It's not altogether surprising, therefore, that this collection had as much an international feel as an English one: The designer's woven detailing and cocoonish outerwear silhouettes owed something to Japan, and her pared-back approach to the clothes owed something more to the look and attitude of classic American sportswear. (Claire McCardell is one of McKain-Waid's oft-cited references.)
All of that served a distinctly English sense of reserve, with the Daks checks artfully exploited. The most successful use of the check was in inventively constructed outerwear: McKain-Waid amassed an army of pattern-making techniques for the coats and jackets, including circular seaming, paneling, and bias-cutting, which provided the pieces with an unexpected sense of volume and movement. Elsewhere, her high-waist, wide-leg trousers were dramatically chic, and a group of check-referencing burnout velvet pieces gave the dévoré a graphic update. With today's show McKain-Waid nicely positioned Daks as a minimalist's answer to Burberry.