Setting a fashion show at Spencer House, the ancestral home of the late Princess Diana, feels a bit awkward, as though perhaps we’re being a bit disrespectful. Of course, it has been over twenty years since her tragic death and in terms of the British peerage, of which the Spencer family has long been a part, that’s more than enough time to keep going as though nothing happened. Still, the pink wall with the flowers and the theatre-in-the-round runway felt a bit odd.
Odd is a bit appropriate for Mulberry, though, a brand still struggling to climb out of the well of bankruptcy. This is the one fashion house where concepts begin not so much with the clothes but with the handbags. What would be considered an accessory elsewhere is the main event for this label. Everything else is added decoration—important decoration but still not as important as the bags. Such an approach automatically throws the collection off balance from what we might normally expect.
Creative director Johnny Coca definitely delivered on the bags. Sumptuous leather attached to long gold chains, color blocking, stripes, embellishments, ruffles and much more captured the attention of guests much more than, say, the oh-so-very-British hats that remind one of Ascot or perhaps a formal tea event with the queen. Those will be the best sellers that bring the label’s balance sheet out of the red.
What remains questionable is whether women will go for the clothes as well. Mulberry decided to join several other British labels by moving to a see now/buy now format, which means that, while everyone was shivering from the cold, Mulberry’s models were walking around in spring outfits and staff delivered champagne and tea sandwiches rather than the hot coffee many desired. Yes, the clothes look nice, focusing on satin suits and print dresses, but there’s such an obvious sense of entitlement to the collection as to feel out of touch. Given the brand’s need to grow its base audience considerably, this hardly seems the best path they could take at this moment.
Here are a few samples from the show:
Another strange occurrence came toward the end of the show when the mirrored centerpiece lifted to reveal pop singer Alison Goldfrapp singing something about not being able to wait. Such a stunt might have been appropriate at a more contemporary label such as Ashley Williams. Here, though, especially with the whole garden party theme going on, it further cemented that feeling of wrong place, wrong time.
Mulberry is far from being out of the economic woods and desperately needs to find a way to make itself appealing to an audience of Millennials who, more often than not, don’t bother carrying any kind of bag at all. Retro can be a good thing at times but this was a look back at styles no one was asking to repeat. Combine that with the unfortunate setting and the whole show of someone who thought they were attending a party only to discover it was a funeral.
Johnny Coca is a better designer than what we see here. Mulberry is a better brand than what was shown on this runway. Let’s hope they can find a way to do a lot of refinement before next season.