James Long hit a chic yet crafty note with his Fall collection—shown not on the runway but in a small gallery presentation. That was the perfect place to present something that felt both domestic and slightly disturbed. It was a homespun tale—quite literally in the case of some knits hand-worked by Mrs. Long, James' mum—about ordinary girls in an Irish village, stifled by boredom and the convent-school propriety. But Maeve Binchy it wasn't.
"It is an idea about girls in Ballanard, the place my gran lived, that we would visit every summer," said Long. "It is the convent girls I wanted to concentrate on—the strictness of their school clothes but how they really wanted to be punks, and the contrast in this. Whereas the women I was looking at last season were more 'wipe-clean,' this season they are just 'clean.' "
These girls in their modest lines—only wrists and ankles exposed by the long lengths and long sleeves—still abide by the propriety of their parents, but they have hidden depths. You felt them (and Long) experimenting with the building blocks of traditional ladylike dressing, layering cropped boxy jackets over long skirts. The designer is rather known for experiments in materials than silhouettes, and on that front, he was playful here, too. Handcrafted elements abounded, such as the variegated knit sleeves of a leather jacket, the raised "micro-camo" print originally seen in his menswear, or the variety of shaved blue sheepskin in a blouson. Yet even with all these details, the collection had an ease, as if the designer had figured out just how his womenswear should be.
"I felt like I was a bit more of a girl designing this collection," confirmed Long, who is better known for his menswear. "For a start, I threw out the heels; I just did not want to be that designer dressing girls to get their pictures taken. I didn't want it to be part of that prescribed womenswear world." In a week dominated by photo ops for light entertainers and random blog bods, that attitude made a refreshing change.