If one is looking for the quintessential British collection for next spring/summer, Jasper Conran is where you want to start looking. A founding member of London Fashion Week, Conran understands the average British woman quite well and plays to that mainstream audience that doesn’t take a lot of risks but feels it important to look sharp and contemporary when they go out. Conran gets accused of being a bit old-fashioned at times (though his current fall/winter collection might challenge that concept) but what he’s doing is giving women the everyday styles that fill their lives between the more glamorous moments.
This is a collection of dresses; there are no slacks, no cullots, no shirts, no clam diggers. All dresses, precisely cut, perfectly stitched, and totally appropriate at all times. I found this an interesting show to watch partially because Conran sections his runway presentation into obvious groups of similar styles. The lovely linen day dresses with white stitching came first and their hems fell right at the base of the knees; very polite and proper. There was a short set of dresses with giant gingham checks, then another set of linen separates, the skirts how hitting mid-calf. Next came some beautiful ensembles with broad, curving lines and box pleats whose hems hit just above the ankle. Finally, he showed a large selection of striped chiffon beach dresses, their hems gently playing at the very top of the floor. The hem progression seemed to mirror one’s level of life station and maturity with an understated message of staying appropriate to one’s age.
I also find it quite interesting that within each grouping, as conservative as many of the looks could be, there would always be one that was just a touch more daring. Nothing ostentatious, mind you: a scooped neck here, a plunging backline there, playful romper straps on another, and a well-fitting cashmere sweater elsewhere. One might also note that the chiffon pieces are not entirely opaque and depending upon how one is standing in relation to the light the color and style of one’s knickers might be visible. Yet, this being a runway presentation, we can’t exactly expect the women wearing these beautifully flowing pieces to actually be caught without something more modest underneath.
Two elements really stand out in this collection. One is the embroidered floral prints on pastel-colored chiffon. These dresses are very light and oh, so very full of summer. There is an opportunity to be daring, as the tops are no more than half-opaque, but there is also a delicate elegance to this pieces, a little extra something special, perhaps for those moments when one is having a very special tea.
The other is Conran’s choice to send everyone down the runway in very simple and very flat tan sandals. Nothing remotely elaborate here, yet they are aesthetically the perfect pairing for the quiet dresses he has created. Again, there is that emphasis on a very quiet and simple elegance, an intentional avoidance of anything flashy.
Given the cautious mood of many at this particular time, I think Conran might well have hit well on the cautious tendency here to not look flashy or especially well-off. While one might be able to afford luxury, and these dresses certainly fall into that category, one doesn’t necessarily want to appear as though they’re frivolously throwing money around. Many in Britain are bracing for what they fear is a period of challenging austerity and these dresses echo that sentiment. As a result, Jasper Conran may weather any upcoming economic storm better than many of his peers.
Sometimes, playing it safe makes a lot of sense.