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Prints Go Under a Digital Veil

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19 February 2013
Prints Go Under a Digital Veil

Dots, dashes and color splashes — all that’s new and fit to print used to be the mantra of British designers. But there is a new and thoughtful sophistication to the patterns that are showing up at London Fashion Week.

Intense color, used in blocks or in stripes with fuzzy or sharp edges, are new ways of using the digital skills that are so prevalent among British designers.

Jonathan Saunders is an example. He used as much texture as graphic pattern to create an effect — without moving too far from his strength as a designer of colorful geometry. The show opened with a felt dress that had a floral appliqué in PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, pitting shine against density. Other pieces were plays on color, with a juicy orange used with rust or a clementine-colored skirt worn with a beige sweater and sky-blue jacket.

More problematic was the visible-bra effect from Mr. Saunders. Focusing on bustiers that had two layers, one in the shape of a bra, might have looked good in a drawing. On the runway, the bosom was flattened. But the idea of insinuating sexuality as another side of tactile fabric was not such a bad idea.

Can the dark and decorated vision of post-medieval Spanish artists and the work of El Greco really be translated to the 21st century by “a sharp modern filter of radial light,” in the words of Christopher De Vos and Peter Pilotto?

In the Peter Pilotto collection, the effect of rich mannerist embellishment projected onto square silhouettes that could have belonged in the 1980s seemed mostly weird rather than wonderful, although when lavish embroidery was limited to the pockets of a coat, the effect was less jarring.

The sudden appearance of full-skirted dresses with handkerchief hems offered a new perspective on cut. But however intense and interesting the research, the show still seemed to be weighed down by the historical references, dragged across the screen to today.

Calligraphy was the theme of Marios Schwab’s collection. But not, it seemed, just the scrolling patterns with which the designer embellished dresses that might be shown under a new favorite of the fashion season: the narrow cape.

The entire collection had the feeling of a world of women who — for reasons religious or historical — did not want to expose too much flesh. That led to one of the most appealing dresses seen in the endless parades of red carpet gowns: a velvet dress, cut away to bare shoulder and neck, but still with arms and body covered.

Matthew Williamson has for a few seasons shown a new subtlety and the show he sent out for autumn/winter 2013, set against a colorful digital backdrop, showed the evolution of brand from hippie de luxe to elegant restraint.

The zigzag patterns that opened the show kept popping up on a tailored coat or on a sweater worn with slim pants. That graphic style moved toward a softer look for long dresses that might have digital prints giving a blush of pattern and color. It was all gracefully and effortlessly handled, showing how yet another British designer has matured without losing his spark.

Richard Nicoll had zigzag dress patterns — that graphic effect being a strong trend for the new season. The designer then moved to softer silken dresses when the focus was on gradation of color, from orange through apricot to peach and pale pink. The show lacked any fashion punch, but that attitude of mature calm is more in the current mood than over-the-top looks.

Paul Smith sent out what was probably his best look yet for his women’s line. He achieved that not just by letting the girls dress like the boys, but by using rich, strong colors, like the purple coat with pink top and ginger pants that opened the show.

Mr. Smith is a fine tailor and there was something casual and charming about the young women, flat tablet or folio bag squashed under the arm, strolling down the aisle of a modern art gallery.

The designer also picked up on something he knows well: the man’s necktie. He used those graphic patterns on dresses, giving an extra dimension to his collection.