It sounds like an irreconcilable paradox, but Nicole Farhi's Autumn/Winter 2012 was both intensely glamorous and supremely understated. Shorn of gimmicks designed to provoke popping flashbulbs, her collection at London Fashion Week was of such polished perfection that reader, if I had a diary stuffed with international business meetings, drinks parties and chi-chi dinners (and a bank account to match), I would buy virtually every garment.
Sensibly, Farhi has kept the off-duty pieces like chunky knits, jeans, and casual jackets for her diffusion label, Farhi by Nicole Farhi, concentrating, instead, in her 30th anniversary collection, shown amid the Gothic splendour of the Royal Courts of Justice, on clothes to lust after.
It was glamorous in a way that Hollywood stars of the 30s were glamorous, without vulgarity or glitz, offering a slightly New York vibe in its laid-back simplicity. Each piece was immaculately cut, using beautifully luxe fabrics, like chintzed or bonded wool, laminated jacquards, technical jersey and many, many sequins, crafted into fluid, contemporary, shapes that would suit real bodies as well as etiolated, model-thin ones. A colour palette of hazy greys, chartreuse, copper, moss, deep yellow, pumice and winter white, was not only in line with all the other A/W12 palettes, but also reflected her awareness that a typically high-spending Farhi client will find all of these colours more appealing than black.
From the first garments, a simple, long-sleeve shift dress in grey, embellished with a curve of metallic jacquard, a ladylike, belted, double-face wool coat in pumice and a grey fabric and fur trench coat, Farhi demonstrated she understands the DNA of her client. She followed with silk or wool tulip skirts topped with narrow sweaters with funnel neck tops - some sleeveless - or neat little blouses. She used pumice colour wool for a short jacket with softly draping funnel neck, worn over a black tulip skirt, and used ivory wool for another ravishingly cut funnel-neck coat. There were sleeveless, 60s-inspired sleeveless dresses with zips and funnel necks, and collarless, metallic jacquard coats which wrapped across the body fastening at one shoulder. She used the same jacquard for a broad panel on the front of a simple, long-sleeve shift, and for a gently A-line skirt worn with a high-buttoning white shirt. Her beautiful, formal day-wear included a long-sleeve belted dress in white with origami folded skirt, and a dark grey, sharply waisted coat dress with narrow collar and rever, and origami folds that stood in for a peplum.
By fusing her heavily ornamented skirts - either sequin-lavished or with shards of flying metal strips - with austere, high-neck sweaters, simple silky knitted sweaters or dead plain, long-sleeve silk tops, she made them wearable for everyone. She transformed a simple grey overcoat into a statement piece by bonding the wool with gold foil splashed across the front. She used her yellowychartreuse shade for a fitted, elongated jacket with long collar that gave it a slightly Puritan feel, and teamed it with an on-the-knee, tulip-shape skirt for a laid-back, pared-down aesthetic, which continued with long-sleeve, slash-neck silk tops which she mixed with easy, peg-top trousers in wool, in grey suede or, for evenings, in bronze or pewter metallics.