Fashion: Are you being served?

This autumn, British fashion is red-hot. And nowhere more than in ultra-cool New York, where some of our best designers are pulling in the most discerning Fifth Avenue shoppers.

We step from the VIP entrance of Saks on New York's Fifth Avenue, away from the yellow cabs, the crazies on rollerblades and the Empire State Building which has been lit red, white and blue in honour of British fashion, and into a Disney version of London. Desperate Dan legs of roast beef are being carved up on the cosmetics counters to be served with bite- sized Yorkshire puddings.

A model dressed up as a kinky London bobby presides over the shop floor, directing the flow of party-goers and revellers. A couple of acrobats, cunningly disguised as Tower Bridge on stilts, wander through the crowd. On stage, Johnson, destined to be the UK's hottest musical export of the year, are performing. The duo, Noah and Rain, are dressed in Alexander McQueen. And Mr McQueen himself is there, watching in the crowd, just a little knocked out by how many of New York's fashion cognoscenti, here tonight to celebrate "London Now" - Saks Fifth Avenue's biggest ever promotion of fashion from one country - are wearing his clothes.

There's Liz Tilberis, one of the party's hosts and the most celebrated Englishwoman in New York, in McQueen's cowl-back jacket. But nothing can quite beat Trino Verkade, the designer's director of licences, wearing the hot red bugle-beaded dress that was shown on the catwalk in London last February in a ring of flames. A stylist asks Trino if she can borrow the dress for a British designer shoot the next day. She almost unzips her there and then.

If Trino's dress is hot, London is positively a ball of flames in the eyes of New York right now. Our designers are sizzling. Cool Britannia? Forget it. More like red-hot Britannia. The party thrown by Saks in honour of British creativity was proof that, at long last, our designers are being taken seriously. The American store put its money where its mouth is for one reason only: British design talent is no longer just quirky, individual and, at times, outrageous. It is sellable, too. It is also the surest way for a store like Saks to give its credibility a boost and raise its profile as a cutting edge retailer.

Nicole Fischelis, Fashion Director of Saks Fifth Avenue, knows a winner when she sees one. "Fashion is about creativity but it's also about commerciality," she says, as she gives me a guided tour through the shop's floors. Wherever we go, Union Jacks mark the spot: it is like Are You Being Served? meets Absolutely Fabulous. On the ground floor, Bill Amberg's modern leather goods and Stephen Jones's splendid millinery creations; on the second floor, Paul Smith; third floor is home to Antonio Berardi, Pearce Fionda, Anya Hindmarch, Julien McDonald, John Rocha, Alexander McQueen, Philip Treacy, Zandra Rhodes, Tracey Mulligan, Bellville Sassoon/Lorcan Mullany and English Eccentrics; fourth floor is Gina Shoes, Jimmy Choo and Burberry; five for Christa Davis, Elspeth Gibson, Martin Kidman, Joseph and Tracy Boyd, and in the menswear department on six, there are the luxurious cashmere stripy jumpers, the signature for Clements Ribeiro. It is quite remarkable: the Union Jack flies in all areas of the store, from grown-up classics to shoes and accessories to the cutting edge style that has earned British fashion so much praise and publicity. "British designers have achieved a new level of credibility," says Fischelis.

The designers who Saks had flown into town for a two-day event included Antonio Berardi, Philip Treacy, Hussein Chalayan, Pearce Fionda and Clements Ribeiro. No expense was spared. What the small-scale British designer lacks in financial clout and advertising budget, Saks Fifth Avenue made up for. "I know the designers don't have the money for marketing and promotion," says Fischelis. "This is a great way to create the awareness for our customers. But ultimately it's the product that matters. If it's right, it will sell."

It is indeed a coming of age for British fashion. It is now over half a decade since the explosion of raw talent that spawned McQueen, Chalayan, Berardi, and Clements Ribeiro among others. Their businesses have all been steadily growing and they have learnt by their experiences. Take Clements Ribeiro. The husband and wife team has now signed a deal with Staff International, the Italian manufacturer that also works with Martin Margiela, Vivienne Westwood Red Label and Stephen Sprouse. For the first time this season, their samples have been made for them, in duplicate and triplicate. Until now, they, like many other British designers, have struggled to make up their own sample collection each season. "This is the first time we have been able to get on with simply designing the collections," says Suzanne Clements. The deal with Staff means that next season, Clements Ribeiro will have finished selling and closed their order books before their catwalk show, allowing them to compete with the Italians and Americans on early deliveries to the shops. "All the key designers get their deliveries out early," says Inacio Ribeiro. Already, buyers have told them they are delighted; early deliveries means more time on the shop floor to sell and - hopefully - increased orders. It marks a new phase in the growth and development of their business.

Despite the strong pound, making British exports to America expensive, business is good. Clements Ribeiro's men's cashmere sweaters are $700 a throw, but half of the stock at Saks has sold already, and we are only two weeks into September.

It is typical of Britain that it takes an American store to do our marketing for us. Last week, Saks did a better job blowing the collective trumpet of British fashion than we ever could. "They actually did it," says John Rocha, who spent an afternoon in the shop meeting some of the women who buy his clothes as well as giving the shop's staff an insight into what his collections are about. "The London Now party was a celebration. For Saks to do that for us is fantastic. They think we mean business and we do."

While one third of Clements Ribeiro's business is in America for Rocha, he says it is simply a bonus on top of his business in the Far East and Europe. "We give the Americans something different," says Rocha. "Before, we gave them something different and they didn't take us seriously. Now we are still giving them something different and we are being taken seriously. They know that we mean business."

The hyping of British fashion that culminated in Vanity Fair's March 1997 Liam and Patsy cover might have burnt itself out. The feeling in the fashion world is that the cool hunt has moved to Paris. But the hyping of London has paid off. And it was not all hot air. For the first time, it seems, British fashion has entered the world stage, not just as a source of inspiration for other designers - usually American - to look at, rip off and make commercial, but as expanding businesses in their own right.

Despite the lack of manufacturers in the UK, the foundations have finally been built for a strong British fashion industry. Our designers can learn a thing or two from the way American designers build their businesses, but they have a long way to go before they can compete with the Calvins and Ralphs of this world. It is, however, the very fact that British designers offer a different way of dressing that has given them their appeal in America where the dress code is almost universally conservative, grey and bland. "We cater for fashion-conscious people," says John Rocha. "The big American designer caters for America as a whole." It seems that American women are bored with clothes designed by committee and with an eye on sales and production rather than good design. And there is no other collective group of designers who can add vitality and colour to a shop quite like the Brits. As Nicole Fischelis says: "British designers have a passion for fashion."

In two weeks, the Saks buying team will be back in London for fashion week, hungry for new collections and new talent. The store bought Alexander McQueen from the beginning, when other buyers might have run a mile from his uncompromising and controversial collections. The crop of new designers showing their work at London Fashion Week, as well as the more established, have a lot to look forward to.

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
    RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

    RuPaul interview

    The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
    Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

    Secrets of comedy couples

    What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
    Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

    Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

    While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
    The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

    The best swimwear for men

    From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
    Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

    Mark Hix goes summer foraging

     A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
    Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

    With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

    Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
    Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

    Aaron Ramsey interview

    Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
    Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

    Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

    As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
    The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

    Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

    Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
    A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

    A Very British Coup, part two

    New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms