If there ever was a designer who could work endless magic on a single garment, it's Burberry Prorsum's design chief Christopher Bailey and the luxury brand's signature trench coat.
With prints, delicious colors and myriad styles both ladylike and sporty, Bailey wowed a star-studded crowd Monday with dozens of variations of the trench coat at Burberry's catwalk show for London Fashion Week.
The Burberry show is the weeklong fashion extravaganza's glitziest production, and drew a well-groomed crowd of celebrities including Kanye West, actresses Sienna Miller and Gemma Arterton, and tennis star Andy Murray.
Bailey, who has been at the helm of the historic brand's designs for a decade, has been credited with revitalizing the once-fusty fashion house and boosting its international style credentials.
For the spring and summer 2012 season, he dished up a commercially savvy collection that ensured the clothes suited all tastes.
The classic waterproof trench — a Victorian-era innovation credited to brand founder Thomas Burberry — appeared variously in slim-cut, buttery turquoise leather; in a feminine, cinched-in and full-skirted silhouette reminiscent of Christian Dior's New Look shape in the 1950s; with big, poofy sleeves; and as cropped, hooded, unzipped parka-like sports jackets.
Neutrals were ditched for earthy, autumnal hues like rust, burnt orange, hunter green and mustard, which dominated alongside colorful abstract prints. Woven or geometrically shaped embellishments were seen on tops, coats and thick belts throughout.
"I thought it was fabulous," a smiling Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour said, before disappearing into the crowds.
Bailey said he wanted to celebrate traditional craftsmanship, such as hand weaving and beading, that is being forgotten — and to juxtapose that with the digital technology that the brand is embracing.
"I like the fact that what we're actually showing takes time. It's slow and it's really beautiful," he told The Associated Press after the show, staged in a conservatory-like tent in Kensington Gardens just across from the Royal Albert Hall.
That is in direct contrast with the instant, online social media-driven strategy that Burberry has been focusing on in the past few seasons. Shows are live-streamed around the world — including on prominent Chinese websites to cater to the brand's significant number of wealthy Chinese customers.
On Monday, the company even showed its Twitter fans each model's look before they hit the runway.
"We are 155 years old, but it's a very young team," said Bailey, 40. "I just think it's a natural extension of our company."
Bailey said he used so much color because he wanted the collection to be "joyous," and guests were pleasantly surprised when the show ended with a burst of copper confetti raining from the ceiling.
"I wanted the colors to make you smile," Bailey said.
Burberry's show followed those by Christopher Kane, another blockbuster display, and Pringle of Scotland earlier Monday as the fashion week reached its fourth day.
Kane, the young Scottish talent whose shows have become the week's hottest ticket in the past few seasons, showed a collection rich with brocade, fringe appliques and glittering embellishments.
Surprisingly, the designer chose to pair his glamorous clothes with flat, rubber flip-flop like sandals — a look sure to divide opinion.
Pringle, another "heritage" brand steeped in British history, showed its first womenswear collection to be headed by newcomer Alistair Carr, who joined the brand in March after a stint at Balenciaga in Paris.
Drawing inspiration from the brand's 200 years of history, the British designer took Pringle's iconic argyle patterns and twinsets and modernized them for a modern and elegant collection.
There were variations on the twinset throughout, with some cardigans unbuttoned at the back, and the argyle pattern was updated as a colorful abstract print on light sweaters and shirts. Silhouettes were relaxed and unfussy, and pops of canary yellow and turquoise provided some pleasing contrast to a palette dominated by white, grays and blush pink.
"I think he's supersonic," Tilda Swinton, the "face" of Pringle, said of Carr.
"He's taken an old lady texture and recycled the concept to make something modern. It's really clever," she told The Associated Press, before going backstage to give Carr a big hug.
London Fashion Week: http://www.londonfashionweek.co.uk/
Sylvia Hui can be reached at http://twitter.com/sylviahui