London Fashion Week seeks global audience for 2012

The spotlight turned to British fashion on Friday as London Fashion Week opened its doors a day after the curtain came down on the catwalks of New York.

In a year when British designers have taken centre stage with the weddings of Kate Middleton and Kate Moss, London is determined to capitalise on the mood and prove it can compete on a global platform.

Opening the event at Somerset House in central London, London Mayor Boris Johnson highlighted the accolade recently bestowed on the city by a leading US consultancy as "the fashion capital of the world".

"That verdict is great news for our city and for our economy," he said, adding that the industry contributes 80,000 jobs to London and £21 billion ($33 billion, 24 billion euros) to the British economy.

"If London's fashion business is helping young Londoners in this difficult time by taking them on... then together we can not only reduce youth unemployment... we can also be untapping untold riches of talent, and we would be lengthening London's lead as the fashion capital of the world."

Harold Tillman, chairman of the British Fashion Council, said London, which is generally seen as the edgy but inferior relation to the Paris and New York shows, was driving towards "global expansion", buoyed by royal success.

"What a year we have had, with the royal wedding, with the Duchess of Cambridge glowing in her Sarah Burton dress," he said, addressing a multitude of fashion press and buyers.

But the focus was also on another big event for the British capital.

The latest London Fashion Week, which includes 100 catwalk shows and 200 exhibitions, showcases women's and menswear collections for Spring-Summer 2012, when London will be in the throes of hosting the Olympic Games.

"As the whole country gears up for the Olympic year, the British Fashion Council has some very exciting plans," Tillman said, unveiling the Fashion 2012 project aimed at showcasing Britain's "creative excellence" and encouraging a new generation of fashionistas.

Joining him was a host of British Olympic athletes kitted out by home-grown designers.

As the catwalk shows got under way, however, emerging trends appeared to be giving a nod more to the past than the future, with retro influences prevailing.

London-based Irishman Paul Costelloe kicked off the schedule with his voluminous, babydoll dresses and cropped jackets in A-line sillhouettes, which he says are inspired by the 1962 film "What Ever Happened To Baby Jane".

The collection is dominated by neutral colours set off by brighter coral and lime green shades in luxurious, textured fabrics, as Parisian vintage chic is given a playful twist.

Caroline Charles' collection for the season glances back further still, to the 1930s and the French Rivieria, with wide-legged trouser suits teamed with boater hats alongside elegant, chiffon dresses in classic navy with dropped waistline.

Her black and white eveningwear, meanwhile, sparkles with jewels and sequins for pure glamour.

Charles, who trained with fashion legend Mary Quant, will be one of many British designers looking to entice international buyers in a gloomy economic climate. She describes the next move for her brand as "eastern approaches".

As always at the biannual event, celebrity appearances caused as much of a stir as the clothes themselves, with the sighting of royal Autumn Phillips and shoe designer Jimmy Choo on the front row of Costelloe's show sparking a frenzy of camera flashes.

The opener comes a day after New York Fashion week was closed by Marc Jacobs, whose widely anticipated move to replace John Galliano as the next creative director for Christian Dior is causing a buzz in the fashion world.

In London, however, another US designer is creating a frisson of excitement. American Tom Ford is due to make his first on-schedule appearance, at a secret location known only to invited guests during the week, which runs until September 21.

Other well-known names on the line-up include Dame Vivienne Westwood, Julien Macdonald and Issa, one of the Duchess of Cambridge's favoured designers, who will present their collections on Saturday.
Sunday will include shows by Mulberry, Nicole Farhi and Matthew Williamson.

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