A tent in Berkeley Square, Champagne flowing at multiple bars, a long balmy September evening: This was the hip but glamorous setup for Topshop's Unique collection, the most talked-about (and certainly best funded) show in London.
Topshop is a high street fashion phenomenon with 300 stores that attracts customers from celebrities to kids. For years, it has won itself popularity behind the scenes by philanthropically sponsoring young talents (who rely on its New Generation Award to be able to show at all). But all along, it has had its own in-house team of 14 young women designers, led by Nick Passmore (also a girl), working away at the basics. Now, the company has given that team its own chance to try out its abilities on the runway, with a smaller, higher-priced collection named Unique.
In a year when fashion teamwork (thanks to Chloé) is becoming better recognized, it's a justifiable move. Setting out to prove they aren't mere copyists, Passmore's gang went for a sportswear vibe, mixing slinky, boxing-influenced hooded jerseys with cotton judo jackets, keeping the look short and leggy. Dresses came in cotton with fluted gored skirts, belted and full, or as any number of asymmetrically slithery printed jerseys.
In spite of the grandeur of the setting, this was still the brand's debut performance in front of the world press, and, unsurprisingly, the team made several beginner's mistakes, including too many ideas and the failure to focus on a single look. Was it totally original? Nothere were echoes here of Azzedine Alaïa, Hussein Chalayan, and Helmut Lang. But then again, no designer ever creates in a vacuum. The interesting angle, from a brand that speaks for (and dresses) youth in Britain, is that these young women are veering sharply away from anything frilly and ladylike. Like everyone in fashion right now, they're searching for the next new thing.