What's an English beach holiday without rain?
With giant ice-cream cones, hundreds of animal balloons and plenty of raincoats in sherbet colors, luxury English brand Mulberry kicked off day three of London Fashion Week Sunday with a whimsical catwalk show that evoked a soggy English family vacation in the 1970s.
"I have photos of my family in our macs at the beach, eating fish and chips in the pouring rain," creative director Emma Hill told The Associated Press. "It's just very English."
Mulberry's show was followed Sunday by spring and summer 2012 collections by Paul Smith, Unique by Topshop, Marios Schwab and Matthew Williamson. American designer Tom Ford also presented his latest womenswear in London for the second season in a row, although he kept the collection a mystery to most journalists _ only a selection of magazine editors were invited to the presentation.
The day began with Mulberry's retro, kitschy show at London's elegant Claridge's hotel, which drew model Kate Moss and "Twilight" actress Kristen Stewart to its front row.
The carnival vibe was set with an entrance hall lined floor to ceiling with hundreds of carousel animal balloons and human-size plastic ice-cream cones.
Models with big, green-streaked blond hair sauntered down the catwalk in sporty layers and practical clothes _ macs, wind breakers, hoodies, shorts and thermal leggings _ in a palette of sandy tones and candy colors. Sunny lemon sherbet and candy pink were prominent, and there was even a "lollipop dress" with wide horizontal stripes of green, yellow and pink.
One dress had a print of plastic zebras, leopards and giraffes, echoing the animal balloons that greeted guests at the entrance.
The second half of the collection punctuated the casual daywear with gold and navy blue party dresses and baseball jackets covered in oversized gemstones _ garments inspired by the bright neon signs at seaside pier rides, Hill said. Flowy, sheer pleated maxi dresses also injected femininity and glamor.
Mulberry is best-known for its luxury leather bags, which have been seen on the arms of the Duchess of Cambridge, Emma Watson and TV presenter Alexa Chung, among others.
For the new season, the brand continued to offer its classic signature styles as well as updated, trendier models in neon-yellow patent leather and animal prints.
Despite the gloomy economy, Mulberry has seen big profit and share price jumps in the past year, and recently celebrated the brand's 40th birthday with much fanfare with a party in New York, where it opened its first U.S. flagship store.
Hill said that the brand will continue to focus its branding on selling "Englishness" _ not through overt symbols like the Union Jack, but in styles marked by an irreverent and quirky English attitude.
"It's a bit bonkers, a bit out there," she said.
As in previous shows, dogs were prominent at the collection, with about a dozen of the animals taking front row seats with their owners. Some models walked with a mini schnauzer in a Mulberry raincoat on a leash instead of a handbag.
Young Greco-Austrian designer Marios Schwab dished up a dark and sultry collection that was a world away from Mulberry's sweet childhood memories.
Unlike the cheery colors and prints at some other spring and summer collections, Schwab's clothes for the season were monochrome and grown-up; they whisper sexy, instead of shouting it.
Some of the dresses had an elegant, ladylike silhouette that just hit the knee, but layers of fine mesh and strategically-placed, oversized fishnet and eyelet panels tease the eye. Some pieces, like the shiny leather caps, are a nod to the season's fetish trend, while classic outfits like a crossover swimsuit and belted trench coats ooze old Hollywood sophistication.
Schwab ended his display with a show-stopping evening number that features a sequined leotard overlaid with a flowing sheer black mesh gown _ a dramatic and smoldering end to an impressive show.
UNIQUE BY TOPSHOP
The designer line of the popular high street retailer drew inspiration from the glamor of Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra, but updated the ancient Egyptian theme by mixing it with '90s urban streetwear.
The overall aesthetic was tough, young, and aggressively sexy. Rich, shiny gold was used throughout in the fabrics, jewelry and on the models' slicked-back hair. Metallic running shorts, hoodies and baseball caps looked like they could have come straight from hip-hop music videos, while models in skintight skirts, metallic basques and catsuits with sheer panels channeled the modern goddess.
"I liked the heavy gold," said Alexandra Shulman, the editor of British Vogue. She said the use of gold reminded her of the London Olympics next year, though she didn't think the brand deliberately referenced the Games.
Among the front row celebrities were American Vogue editor Anna Wintour, American socialite Olivia Palermo and supermodel Naomi Campbell, who sat next to Topshop boss Philip Green.
London Fashion Week: http://www.londonfashionweek.co.uk/
Sylvia Hui can be reached at https://twitter.com/sylviahui