A model presents an outfit by designer Paul Smith, during his show at London Fashion Week
A model presents an outfit by designer Paul Smith, during his show at London Fashion Week

What should a woman do if she's going for the "I-borrowed-it-from-my-boyfriend" look but doesn't actually have a boyfriend? Paul Smith has the answer.

The British designer showed off his 2011 spring-summer collection and, except for a few stylish dresses, the clothes could just as easily have suited the men in the audience.

The designer said his collection was based around the idea of "borrowing clothes from your brother or your boyfriend".

It certainly looked it.

Women in teddy-boy haircuts took to the catwalk sporting men's style shirts rolled up over the elbow, green shiny suits, ash-coloured waistcoats and serious-looking trouser-skirts.

There were touches of velvety purple, a splash of Smith's flowery prints and some sexy playsuits, but overall the look was androgynous.

Smith is known worldwide for his successful menswear range and often favours masculine clothes in his womenswear shows.

Many of the models - some of whom sported black-rimmed glasses with one wearing a severe sweater-style top - looked as if they just stepped out of the library.

Veerle Depoorter, a Paul Smith buyer from Belgium, said the designer had gone for a no-nonsense style. She said Smith had been supplying her store in Leuven, just outside Brussels, for the past 14 years.

"He wants to go back to basics," she said.

Depoorter said the collection had a touch of 1950s American officewear.

"It's 'secretary' but in a cool way," she said.

Her friend Saida Farhat, who sat next to her in the second row, said that the show was "not as spectacular" as some of Smith's previous offerings.

Recent Smith shows have included a fashion foray into the brightly coloured world of suits from Africa's Bacongo and a green-and-pink homage to the designer's native Nottingham - complete with jaunty Robin Hood-style feathered caps.

Monday's show - with conventionally cut white striped shirts and sensible shoes - seemed tame by comparison.

The show, held on an L-shaped runway on the ground floor of Smith's London headquarters, also lacked the glamour of previous displays in the ballroom of Mayfair's Claridges Hotel.

Models bumped into each other as they negotiated the narrow door to the catwalk, while the painting that Smith cited as an inspiration for the collection - a multicoloured work by artist Alex Echo - was almost obscured by a piece of metal scaffolding.

But Smith said the pared-down look was what the public wanted.

"People are looking for clothes they can add to their wardrobes without spending too much money," he said.

The public seems to bear him out. Smith said sales were up significantly, while cards distributed to the audience announced the opening of a new womenswear shop at Claridges.

Smith's show is one of the main draws of London's Fashion Week, a five-day clothing-and-celebrity extravaganza which features such names as Vivienne Westwood and Christopher Kane. Buyers and the media are still waiting to see collections from Burberry's Christopher Bailey, Jonathan Saunders, Stella McCartney and Scottish style icon Pringle.

The West Australian

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