Designer Katharine Hamnett made headlines in March 1984 when she wore one of her "58% Don't Want Pershing" T-shirts to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's fashion reception at No. 10 Downing Street.
For spring 1986, that same designer didn't even show a protest T-shirt, let alone wear one. Instead of urging us to "Save the Whales" or "Stop Acid Rain," two of her favorite T-shirt messages, Hamnett's new cause seems to be "Bring Back the Body."
In a collection featuring tight cotton-knit capri pants, tight sleeveless T-shirts, tight bermuda shorts, tight jeans and tight denim bra dresses trimmed in rhinestones, the winner of 1984's Most Influential British Designer Award seems to be saying that ragtag layering and genderless, oversized clothes are over, over here.
The Hamnett collection, which was done entirely in black, white, beige and blue denim -- no prints, no patterns, no colors -- is in many ways symbolic, not just of a new body English, but of a general cleanup, sweeping this city's streets as well as its salons. The Dickensian street urchins who paved the way for Japan's so-called postatomic look seemed to have discovered soap and water, and even the last remaining punks on King's Road are wearing fewer razor blades this season. The city that coined "gender bending" as a fashion catch phrase for unisex dressing is once more straightening out the sexes. At least when it comes to clothes.
At Body Map, for example, last season's models depicting the nuclear family all wore the same clothes -- mainly tights and oversized tops, with an occasional skirt for both sexes. This season Boy George modeled a long skirt, along with the most outrageous idea on the runway -- a pair of tights cut out in back to show a cheeky cleavage. Other ideas from this school of fashion outrage include men wearing black lace panty hose with tie-on cotton print tutus, and young boys modeling fabric printed with menorahs and the Star of David.
An appropriately named firm called English Eccentrics also delves into fashion ecclesiastics by showing men's jackets with back appliques portraying the Madonna and Child.
While the heroines of young British fashion seemed to be patterned more after Madonna the rock star, at least one rising young talent, Rifat Ozbek, draws his inspiration from what he calls "the women of Italy in the '50s -- Anna Magnani, Sophia Loren, the contessas of Capri and Sicilian widows." The look is tight cotton capri pants, shirts that knot in front to show just a peek at the midriff and striped cotton-knit tops that end at the midriff above high-rise pants. The models' heads are wrapped in black scarfs knotted under the chin and their feet are slippered in gold Lurex scuffs by Manolo Blahnik. When the scarfs come off, you see earrings shaped like spit curls.
Other signs of Italy in the '50s and early '60s include palazzo pajamas by Jasper Conran and Betty Jackson, who won this season's Most Influential British Designer Award. Jackson's prints, which appear on everything from coats and sweaters to halters, are childlike drawings of four-story buildings.
A young designer who dandified the world in brocade and tapestry jackets, Scott Crolla, says he's finished with his Mozart waistcoats and ready to move on to more modern looks. His favorite new materials are stretch fabrics, cottons and stretch silks in skintight dresses and body stockings made to look even skinnier by the placement of lace and see-through panel appliques.
The curvy side of fashion has long intrigued Bruce Oldfield, the young designer who helped bring the princess of Wales out of her ruffles and into her sleek-and-soigne' look. He says he does not know for sure what she'll be bringing to Washington next month, but he wouldn't be surprised if she packs the silver brocade gown with the back cut out -- the one she wore earlier this year to his 10th anniversary gala for Dr. Barnardo's, the orphanage where Oldfield was reared.
For Thea Porter, who mothered the rich hippie look in the '60s, spring is a season for either/or. Either oversized abayas in ornate fabric from the Middle East or delicate hand-painted body dresses in chiffons with tulips placed in a herringbone pattern.
This city's two superstars, Jean Muir and Zandra Rhodes, continue to lead their country's fashion pack. More than any others, they are responsible for pioneering the design invention that is now a 3.7-billion-pound industry -- the nation's third largest.
Muir, who has just produced one of the most brilliant collections of her already brilliant career, sets new standards in cashmere sweaters by elongating them to just above the knee and pairing them with matte jersey leggings. Her newest jackets are either short and shapely in menswear silk foulards or long and lean in navy wool crepes and white linens.
Muir's new shapes include a navy cashmere body dress that traces every curve, a blue wool crepe blouson jacket that curves up in front and a lavender suede dress with strategically placed darts that bring it in and out in all the right places. The usually sedate matte jersey dresses explode this season in a riot of color. One color-sliced dress features bold bands of red, lavender and white.
Zandra Rhodes is bullish on Spain this season. But don't expect anything momentously matador or torridly toreador from Rhodes, as her own design signature always dominates.
The Spanish look revolves around long black capes slung with braided bandoleers. These are worn over high-waistbanded black pants that extend into deep Vs over the backs of high-heeled shoes. The models wear jeweled lace eye patches and exaggerated spit curls. There are no lace Carmens, no taffeta fandango numbers, just marvelous Rhodes fantasies in fabrics ranging from silk crepe de Chine to elaborately beaded chiffons.