Preen by Thornton Bregazzi Resort 2022 Collection

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Justin Thornton and Thea Bregazzi have been drawing parallels between the London Blitz Kids and Princess Diana in the early ’80s, and the Bright Young Things who Cecil Beaton photographed in the 1920s. What can they have in common—the post-recession New Romantics whose club night was co-hosted by a poet-bloused Steve Strange, the young “Shy Di” in her pie-frilled necklines and pouffy-sleeved wedding dress, and the flappers of the Jazz Age who danced away memories of World War I? They resonate now in the general longing to get out and dress up again after our own dark days, of course—or “bringing things back to a sense of celebration,” as Thornton puts it.

All these emotions are very much in the air in London. The streets of London’s Soho and Covent Garden have been blocked off for restaurants to serve at outdoor tables packed with young people putting on their best to go out eating and drinking for the first time since COVID struck. Meanwhile, over at Kensington Palace, Princess Diana’s 1981 wedding dress by the Emanuels has gone on display ahead of what would have been her sixtieth birthday, on loan from Princes William and Harry. 

It all ties together, somehow, in the shimmery sequins and the frills and puffed-sleeved drapery of the dresses in the pre-collection that Thornton and Bregazzi put together in their studio at the back of Notting Hill. “Giving things new life” is an emblematic phrase they used for it. In the building-back phase that all fashion designers are going through after the shock of the pandemic, they’ve re-emerged with a better way of doing things, making use of archival materials, designing only what feels authentic to them. “We’re focussing on smaller collections we can do without killing ourselves, trying to use up old fabrics, over-dyeing things,” they said.

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Some of the diaphanous floral dresses have the look and feel of antique ’20s and ’30s pieces that used to be found on Portobello Market—perfect finds, perhaps, for hopeful brides looking forward to long-deferred dates when weddings might finally be back in full swing. Nightclubs may not be open yet, but Preen’s recycled patch-worked sequin dresses hold out hope for a time when double-vaccinated twenty-somethings will be back dancing for all they’re worth.

In the interim, the designers have also devised gestures for adding a little romanticism to daily dressing—poplin poet sleeves and pie-frill collars which can be buttoned in or out of recycled Aran knits, and a series of Lady Di-ish ruffled “caped collars” which are being sold as accessories. “You could just put them on over a sweatshirt or a knit, transfer them onto a dress,” Bregazzi pointed out. Fun plus practicality—that’s a cute idea for making the best of whatever’s to come.

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