Taking over Claridge's ballroom, Luella Bartley brought her collection back to London in a one-off pop-up show coinciding with the opening of her first store on Brook Street. "It was about Thora Birch in Ghost World. A bit geeky and cartoonish," the designer said, as her nanny deposited her toddler on her hip and her husband, the photographer David Sims, kept baby number two distracted near the racks; number three, newly born, had a prior engagement. Bartley had just shown a cute, ultra-commercial collection of fifties Americana-meets-English punky references.
The things she did with tiny Liberty-style florals were an object lesson in how to contradict sweet with street. She dip-dyed the hem of a print dress, put military epaulets on a shift, turned the florals into a flounced "batwoman" cape flowing from the shoulders, and plasticized them to make a sixties dolly-bird mac. A green plaid Peter Pan-collared dress faithful to Birch in the 2001 film; a sharp, shiny mohair pantsuit; and a funny twinset with a bat logo on the breast stood out, although they had tough competition from the accessories. Luella's new bags are giant navy patent totes and orange see-through plastic shoppers, and she's been letting herself loose with plastic-poppy hair ornaments, too.
All in all, it was a grand demonstration of the evolution of Luella Bartley, the brattish British designer who left to show her collection in New York and came back polished up as the homecoming queen of bankable product.