On a day when fashionmake that everyonecould do with some cheering up, Luella Bartley did quite a brilliant job of perking up London's spirits. How that's possible in combinations of mauve, orange, and pink, executed in tweed, lace, and frills, doesn't quite translate to the written word. Yet once the girl got going with the boxy jackets, and the asymmetrical tiered frill skirts, and the big satin hair bows, and the net veils, and the pearl-chain handbags, and the tulle gloves, she had the audience smiling like the financial markets could take care of themselves for a moment.
"I wanted it to be a proper, ladylike characterbut a bit psychedelic," Bartley said. "And I wanted color, but in a sort of sick way. When I saw it all lined up, I thought, Ew! Can we do this?" Good job she did, because her Spring collection was simply the most worked and accomplished she's ever done. True, Comme des Garçons, Marc Jacobs, and Vivienne Westwood may have passed by way of Chanel-ish tweeds, hyper-color, tacky-but-cool frilly trimmings, and mini-crinis, but Luella's unique angle on haberdashery is that it must end up flattering the girl. The little suiting pieces patchworked together from lavender tweeds and overlays of lace with their upstanding frills encircling the shoulder somehow made tweed look nonfrumpyand possible to wear without the slightest air of irony. And when she does a dress, she knows what girls love: a bit of a prom number, but in this case with a nipped waist, a swathed top, a yoke to flatten the hips, and all kinds of bouncy tiers and rear peplum action switching along as she walks.
The fact that Bartley also incorporated the striped collegiate blazers that used to pop up at the beginning of her career and new versions of last summer's Liberty florals among the fan-pleated dresses was a smart commercial movethey liked it last time, here's the update. Everything else she had going on was a delicious step into girl-tempting newness: the pillboxes and hair accessories and the piled-on, mixed-up pearls and diamanté in the jewelry, as well as her clever transpositions of necklaces into shoulder-bag chains. Bartley herselfpossibly because she's an ex-journalist and doesn't pretend to be anything other than an accessible mid-price designeris quite offhand about the level of accomplishment it took to achieve all this. Still, it seems like a fitting time to remember that Bartley is part of the close-knit cohort of London designers, including Stella McCartney and Phoebe Philo, who have been coming into their own these past few years. She's often overlooked, but Bartley now deserves every bit as much credit as her friends in high places.