Kate Phelan brought 18 years of experience at British Vogue to Topshop's in-house design team when she joined the retail behemoth as creative director last June. It showed in today's collection. The way that structure and slouch were combined to create something edgy but accessible had the fingerprints of an expert stylist all over it. "Relax it, mix it up" were Phelan's straightforward goals, and the design team took them to heart. The khaki officer's coat that opened the show set the pace for dramatically scaled outerwear with a strong utilitarian bent. But the scale carried over into big shirts slipping off shoulders, and full hip-slung skirts. Outfits mixed fabrics—like the pants that were leather in front, wool in back, or the green felt dress with the leather bodice. The element of surprise was a distinct asset.
The utility theme was elaborated on in military and workwear touches, like the serried ranks of crosses that were the collection's major visual motif, or the thick-soled, spike-heeled "army" boots, or the dungaree details. Phelan said another aim was "From runway to reality," and the forceful, somber-colored looks shown here could certainly have marched straight off the catwalk and onto a big city street. But it was actually a blessed relief to be thrown a frivolous bone at show's end, when a handful of glittery party dresses eased on down the road. A backless sequined shift with a netting overlay had a poppy little kick of the sixties, to go with the Jane Birkin hair. That, too, spoke of the seasoned stylist's eye for detail.