Has Johnny Coca spent the past season binge-watching Downton Abbey and The Crown? Reading Riders? Touring Chatsworth? The Mulberry replica creative director showed an unabashedly British collection that drew heavily from the stately-home circuit, but with a gritty edge that made the tweeds and equestrian details relevant to the fashion set in 2017.
For this, his third collection since joining Mulberry in 2015, the increasingly assured designer invoked dressage, hunting, the English countryside, wallpaper florals, animals and broken-down heirloom jewellery as just some of his inspirations. ‘A lot of ingredients from everything, and I was trying just to cook everything together and make it very strong visually,’ he said backstage after the show.
That was evident in the clothes – but first: replica handbags. Coca didn’t lose sight of the fact that for most of Mulberry’s clientele, bags remain the main (or only) event. New styles included the Amberley, a top-handle saddlebag that the brand pitches as ‘a new heirloom for tomorrow’, and a quilted version of the Bayswater. Meanwhile, he based the structured Trunk Back on antique luggage – a round, hatbox-type affair with shoulder straps and a centre handle – and reimagined slouchier styles with plaited-scarf straps.
Many of the replica bags could have come out of the Queen’s wardrobe, although her saddle-brown leather shoulder bag probably doesn’t feature Cadbury-purple side panels. (A note on how to carry: Disregard the top handles; they’re superfluous. Reach a hand through the handle and clasp the top or bottom of the bag itself instead.)
As for the clothes, the show opened with a tartan pinafore dress with buttoned cross-body sash – very ‘young Elizabeth at Balmoral.’ The looks grew progressively more undone, with dressing-gown-style dresses in menswear-striped silks suggesting an outfit assembled on the fly. Silky tiered dresses, quilted horse-blanket ponchos and long-sleeves blouses with extended flyaway cuffs suggested spontaneity and rifling through an ancestor’s stables or storerooms in search of faded gems. Noomi Rapace, Anais Gallagher and Anya Taylor-Joy watched from the front row.
Colours came rich and mashed-up: pond blue, curry yellow, tack-room brown, lavender, Tory red. Sometimes these curdled, as in the kelly green panels on a rust-red crocheted dress (the crochet introduced a homespun feel – just the thing to fight a draft in an old house).
Prints from Mulberry outlet Home archive continued the National Trust theme, but refracted through Vetements stylist Lotta Volkova’s streetwear lens. Her influence (she also styles Balenciaga) was apparent in the glossy white boots and relaxed, oversized fit of the tweed blazers. ‘We wanted to make it extremely English – countryside, lace, wallpaper, carpets, culture, etc etc,’ she said backstage (wearing, by the way, a wide-wale red corduroy suit and chain-link necklace). ‘But for us, what makes it interesting is to do it in a different version, something that could be worn today, and could fit the context of now.’