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Notting Hill Carnival on the Catwalk

As the Notting Hill Carnival approaches on 28 & 29 August, Luxury London seeks out the fashion designers championing sequins, feathers and bright colour

Each summer hundreds of thousands descend upon Ladbroke and Westbourne Grove in a three-day celebration of creativity and multi-culturalism. The Notting Hill Carnival toasts its 50th anniversary in August, where the boldest and brightest fashions will prevail and scarcely a head will turn without a feather in sight. The carnival’s first edition was inspired by a fair to promote local relationships that had been strained by politics, housing issues and the race riots of 1958. It saw a steel band trio go on a walkabout through west London’s streets, and soon expanded to encompass masquerade, calypso and the Caribbean music for which the event is best known today.

Both summer and autumn high fashion collections channel the carnival spirit this year, offering the chicest solutions to become the life of the party. Roberto Cavalli leads the pack, weaving – as ever – striking animal prints with slim silhouettes. Full of metallic accents and bias cuts, the designer’s pre-summer collection saw a sheer lime green dress (£2,660) and a studded mini dress (£2,270), but his autumn pieces take on a rock and roll edge. Heavily embroidered biker jackets and jacquards are complemented by a midnight mixture of teal, aubergine – and sparkling beaded leopard print, by way of a fearlessly figure-hugging off-the-shoulder dress (£13,415). Most eye-catching of all is a rich yellow jacquard wool silk suit (from £1,160): elegant eveningwear meets the joy of carnival.

Meanwhile Versace’s summer collection offers racy competition with a sequinned mini dress in bright yellow and green leopard print (about £4,101) and a sleeveless evening dress – mini skirt at the front, light chiffon and lace train trailing the back (about £4,352) – that has more than a touch of peacock majesty about it. At Balmain, a bright orange silk skirt (£4,500) would be sure to ruffle feathers in its own right. Maximum plumage is indeed top priority for the carnival-inclined, and is on full show in bold outerwear this season. Best of all are block colour jackets from Alexander McQueen (POA) and vivid yellow long kid hair that lends exoticism of the first degree to one coat at Gucci (£7,240). For those seeking a rather more versatile plume, swathes of black are sequinned with feather motifs at Cavalli (shirt, £1,155), while Henry Holland’s summer footwear features delicate and elongated sprays at the toes: magenta teamed with white, or orange on top of yellow (£330).

Pucci’s pre-fall collection tackles feathers both figuratively and literally, and is one of a number to turn primary colours into feathered pastels this autumn. The Italian fashion house showcases over-sized feather designs: printed on scarves and dresses or embroidered on coats (from €185), the effect no less striking in pastel. A baby blue fur coat from Cavalli (£10,160) has an ostrich-like quality, and the skirt of a long-sleeved nude tulle gown at Gucci (£11,090) has a skirt that takes on a multi-coloured life of its own. At carnival, less is sometimes more. With all the confidence of Notting Hill’s masqueraders – each of whose costumes are hand-sewn – come Alexander McQueen’s sheer tulle gowns embroidered with parrots, butterflies and hummingbirds (POA). Knee-high flamingos kiss and a surrealist floral jungle comes to life on intricately sequinned floor-length skirts.

Only the bravest will opt for a set of a skin-tight body suits that cover the human form in illusory tattoos

Elsewhere prints are the source of the fiesta. Fendi’s undeniable elegance is overlaid by abstract plant life in yellow and burnt orange (POA), but DSquared’s parrots shout the loudest on sweatshirts and skirts (from £355 at FarFetch). The Canadian designers have never shied from the outlandish, so it will perhaps come as no surprise that the twins call Notting Hill home. Only the bravest will opt for a set of a skin-tight body suits that cover the human form in illusory tattoos (£180). Dolce & Gabbana also embraced primary colours this summer. There was a raffia, leather and brocade bag with woollen pom poms that was inspired by Sicilian opera-inspired marionettes, but two new autumn prints offer a sophisticated celebration of the Mediterranean. Less overtly carnival, one conjures a verdant botanical vision of banana leaves that serves best on a boxy bag embellished with bejewelled bugs and an especially playful shoe decorated with miniature bananas and a fluffy pom pom of its own. The other takes its design from hand-painted Mediterranean ceramics, printed on a range of fringed silk twill pieces and leather accessories (all POA). Paula Cademartori, whose vivid handbag and shoe designs are not for the faint of heart, has launched a new series that is thoroughly splashed with colour and finished with whimsical embroidery. “The Monkey line [from £525 at Harvey Nichols] mixes the most kaleidoscopic prints of the season, matching them with stylised hearts with tapestry-effect stitching,” describes the young Italian-Brazilian accessories designer. “Playing with the figure of a ‘little monkey’ and embellished with tiny flowers in every colour, they are perfect for carnival season.”

Carrying the warmest colours of the rainbow are versions of Prada’s Galleria (£850) and an orange crocodile version of the Concertina bag (from £595) that Paul Smith launched earlier this year. Made in Spain using Italian leather, its folded side panels reveal colourful pleats of either fiery or sky tones. “On a trip to Argentina I spotted the most amazing couple dancing tango in the street,” says Smith. “As they danced this guy was playing a traditional concertina next to them. I’m famous for my use of colour and stripes, and I suddenly thought the folds of the concertina could work on the pleats of the bag.”

“If you want to give a nod to the carnival trend look to Jill Haber"

Jill Haber’s leather bag with paint-splashed cork effect panels (£1,185 at Harvey Nichols) is both artistic and exotic – the epitome of carnival spirit. “If you want to give a nod to the carnival trend look to Jill Haber, whose Charles handbag offers an easy way to inject some carnival fever into your wardrobe this summer,” says Tina Lamb, Harvey Nichols’ shoes and accessories buying manager. “The vintage inspired silhouette is a timeless design that will ensure you can carry this bag through the party seasons, with its air of ladylike elegance. Mixed with vivid colours, exotic skins and metallic paint finishes, this micro bag is a fun yet elegant addition to any wardrobe.” 

Meanwhile, Anya Hindmarch neatly compartmentalises the entire spectrum on her Bathurst satchel (£1,595). For something a little less structural, this summer Hermès released a new interpretation of a bag designed in 1953 by Aline Hermès – a bucket-cum-knapsack creation that comes in a bright silk twill with an ultra-modern leopard illustration (£2,315). Christian Louboutin’s new dynasty-influenced Tudor Boot 120 (£825) and Tudor Bal 120 (£895) are the closest one might find to Notting Hill’s performers on stilts. Their metallic heels glisten and studs shine like precious pearlescent candy; Master Key On Fire flats (£1,195) celebrate every step with a firework display. A metallic theme continues in Jimmy Choo’s mirror leather Lucy (£450), but at Charlotte Olympia patterned furs rule the roost. There are fanciful zebra cat flats (£425) and sole-sized leopards (£445), as well as an exotic skin rug in miniature (African Queen t-bar 10cm heeled sandal, £595). Viva la fiesta.