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As Topshop Unique returns to London Fashion Week at its usual show space in the spectacular Tate Britain, the fashion powerhouse's Autumn/Winter collection was a study in effortless glamour. Despite lacking the theatricality of Gareth Pugh's designs or ornate intricacies of Alexander McQueen's, the clothing company still manages to hold its own with its new line.
Started in 2012 by Kate Phelan, the ex-Fashion Editor at British Vogue who later became the Creative Director of Topshop, Topshop Unique is the high street brand's designer label inspired by youth culture in the UK in order to produce clothes that are relevant.
With fashion icons like Anna Wintour and Suki Waterhouse dotting the front row, the crowd twittering with anticipation and the photographers' pit growing restless, the suspense was mounting as the show began fashionably late, as was the custom at London Fashion Week.
Topshop Unique's distinctive penchant for casual luxuriousness was immediately evident from the opening look - a woollen bomber jacket with a white fur coat and matching fur-trimmed pockets demonstrating the brand's knack for accents that elevate contemporary pieces. Streetwear gets a lavish makeover, with leather jackets receiving lush silvery grey faux fur-lined lapels while leather leggings are revised into ankle-grazing cigarette trousers. A muted colour palette of silvery greys, khaki greens, suede browns and midnight blues allows the odd flash of warm ochre and fuchsia pink to pop against the rest of the line up.
Showing off the diverse repertoire that Topshop is known for, the designer division's line boasted their signature elegant silhouettes with tie-neck dresses and jumpsuits which also featured in Alexander McQueen's collection with plunging necklines that managed to be tastefully alluring. Straying from the fitted urbanwear, Topshop proves that it is just as comfortable with flowing dresses and billowing wide-leg trousers. Equally acquainted with sophisticated extravagance that still manages to have a home on the high street, opulent faux-fur coats and long-line waistcoats are casually draped over one shoulder.
However, classic shapes also get Topshop's youthful twist. While leopard print and houndstooth made an appearance, they were quickly eclipsed by the brand's pioneering print for the season. In place of the subtle thistle print that dominated the previous season's collection, this year's print was bold and statement-making. Painted landscapes of forests bordered hems, coming up as high as waist height on dresses and skirts, taking the idea of 'wearable art' to a literal level as clothes become canvases.
Fearlessly fashion-forward, the collection experiments with interesting layering combinations. Oversized masculine coats cocoon short feminine dresses that peek out under them, creating a high-low effect with the drastically different levels. Flowy midi dresses are coupled with sporty cropped aviator jackets, also juxtaposing feminine and masculine elements.
But this year's collection witnessed what is perhaps Topshop's most daring venture yet as the designer division forays into risque territory. What is hinted at with ever-so-slightly translucent leggings later evolves (or maybe, devolves) into an even racier take on 'night out' dresses with completely see-through lace bodices flaunting high-waisted knickers. And according to Topshop, bras are optional, and while nudity is a norm at London Fashion Week, the comparatively conservative high street brand shocks with its decision to forgo bras.
This provocative motif later reemerges surprisingly in an elegant tie-neck dress with a completely sheer top and a similar choice to go braless, as sexiness becomes contagious and infects other styles in the collection. Accessible, contemporary and democratically designed with a range of occasions and girls in mind, Topshop's risky gamble with the risque will either gain a new demographic of consumers or cost them another.
While the collection made use of an array of styles, textures and colours, the uniform makeup did not suit everyone as the heavy eyeliner effaced the eyelids of some unfortunate models and made them look as if their eyelids were turned inside out. Hairstyling, however, was more accommodating as many of the diverse cast of models flaunted their natural hair while others sported beachy texture, coiffed curls and deep partings.
Regardless of inconsistent styling, this year's offering from Topshop Unique exuded a quiet confidence. Though the designs may not match London Fashion Week's avant garde creations that push the boundaries of fashion nor have the exclusivity of designer brand names, the collection manages to be unapologetically self-assured in its identity. Judging by the popularity and reputation of the show, Topshop is evidently in place as the industry's trendsetter for high street fashion. The collection's popularity lies in its ability to possess an aspirational extravagance as well as a translatable relevance to contemporary style that cements Topshop's enduring position as the British fashion giant that it is.