Ten years after her first solo show, the British designer crystallises the season's trends from a position of power.
Anyone observing Stella McCartney backstage after her Paris fashion week show would find it hard to believe that this is the woman who once had such a spiky relationship with the fashion industry that her first solo show was dubbed a “car crash” by the critics.
Ten years later, almost to the day, McCartney holds court from a position of power. The polka dot cocktail dresses from her current collection have been the red carpet hit of this year so far, seen on Kate Winslet, Jane Fonda and Liv Tyler. Latest figures show profits at the UK arm of her fashion house rose 34.4% to £2.8m in 2010.
In the sunny, crowded rooms at the Opera Garnier, where the show is staged, McCartney receives and doles out compliments (“thank you, I’m happy you liked it” to critics and buyers; “you look amazing!” to fashion-plate fashion editor Anna Dello Russo, who is wearing the aforementioned polka dots for the show), switches fluently between hugs and handshakes and poses for camera as required, greets her friends (to Mario Testino: “I’ve just remembered I dreamt about you last night!”) and answers questions (to Alexa Chung, who wants to know if she has any playlists for her afterparty, “I’m thinking maybe Heaven 17 and Daftpunk?”) while her small children weave around the forest of models’ legs and camera tripods.
Impressive though this multitasking is, there is one detail she has forgotten. “I totally forgot to look in the mirror before I went out to take my bow. All those cameras! Oh, I’m hopeless.”
Far from it. This ability to add a reality-check moment into an image of gloss and glamour is an essential part of McCartney’s brand. (And, of course, she looks terrifically chic, in her tobacco silk blouse, rolled up jeans and high-heeled sandals.) The first outfit on the catwalk in this collection was a sleeveless, ivory shift dress buttoned at the front in the style of a double breasted jacket. Models wore their hair in tight, ballet-school buns, with no jewellery and minimal make-up. For evening, there were full-length, long-sleeved jumpsuits in sharply cut shantung silk that looked every bit as glamorous as the miniscule cocktail dresses.
The new element in this collection was sportswear. Panels of Airtex Mesh were spliced with boudoir silk and intricate lace, highlighting the fabric’s delicacy and sex appeal, instead of its utilitarian appeal. “I wanted to shift the stereotypes around what sportswear can be, to take sport and make it more sensual, so we used cutting edge fabric-bonding technology and applied it to luxurious and sports materials, to change the mood of the fabrics,” the designers aid. “My clothes are for wearing. I am not interested in sporty as a gimmick, but in how my customer will actually wear it.”
With only three days of catwalk shows to go, trends are crystallising, and several were in evidence on McCartney’s catwalk. Trousers and blouses in matching prints – here, a refined dot pattern of the type found on expensive ties – are a hot look, as are blouses with pyjama-style piped edges. “Pool sliders” – the chunky flat mules which are an unglamorous staple in many hot climates – are making a surprise bid for fashionable status, showing up here as well as at Christopher Kane’s London show.
Sport is natural territory for McCartney, who has a successful collaboration with Adidas. That McCartney is sports-focused for 2012 will be seen as a good omen by those in Britain who are hoping to persuade the designer to make a pre-Olympic homecoming, to London fashion week next spring.