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Suzy Menkes on Mulberry’s Ode to the English Country Garden

A “tea dress” for Mulberry Spring 2018. Credit: @SuzyMenkesVogue

What could be more English than having a nice cup of tea, in pretty porcelain, while wearing a giant straw hat to ward off the sun (or maybe rain)?

As the nights draw in and the russet leaves fall in London, I am now looking back – and forward – to summer sunshine.

Mulberry’s Creative Director, Johnny Coca was thinking about Spring 2018 for a collection that offered accessories with a flourish of English eccentricity. As I absorbed the garden-party hats, flower-patterned dresses, and handbags inspired by designs on bone china, I knew that in his mind’s eye, the Spanish-born designer was immersed in the green grass of “Olde England”.

Rose buttons and a discreet, abstracted floral fabric. Credit: @SuzyMenkesVogue

“It’s all about soft colors, because I went for a palette of light porcelain in shades of pastel,” said Coca, as the presentation came to its finale with shelves of bone china plates patterned with garden prints in leaf green, rain-washed-sky blue, and that particular muddy pink of the English landscape.

Mulberry, founded in Somerset in southwest England in 1971, is renowned for its handbags, and they were on offer in squishy soft leather in pinks and blues with gilded chain straps. Some were set with fanciful sparkling stones, which twinkled in the light as Coca swung them from his arm.

“This season was supposed to be about mechanical hardware, but we saw a more jeweled effect – not too forced,” the designer said. “Sometimes you just want the full pleasure, sometimes just an element of it; or you might feel like something more artistic than just functional.”

Quirky jewelry for Mulberry Spring 2018. Credit: @SuzyMenkesVogue

The embellishment on shoes and accessories for Mulberry Spring 2018 conjured digging up flower-bed finds. Credit: @SuzyMenkesVogue

Since Johnny was telling me that he was trying to define “what Mulberry is and what the UK is”, I was not surprised to see dresses that looked fit for a flapper in the 1920s, with low waists breaking into frills, or girlish tight-waisted tops with full skirts amid patterned blouses – and the same florals on big garden-party hats.

Just when it seemed as though Johnny could not dream up another play on plates, there was a display of shoes with heels made from bone-china balls that might have been converted from upended cups or salt-and-pepper pots.

Porcelain heels for Mulberry Spring 2018. Credit: @SuzyMenkesVogue

The presentation, with its flouncy, festive dresses, looked increasingly like a scene from Alice in Wonderland. Yet like the stitches that sewed colorful crystals on frilly shoes, the accessories had a sweet charm.

The display could have done with a dollop of irony. Yet Johnny Coca showed his skill in matching a diagonally patterned blouse and skirt with a sleek handbag that, even post-Brexit, proves that British style can have an international edge.

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