Fashion: Four days that will shake the world

London Fashion Week may lack the big names of Milan and New York, but one woman is determined to keep the buzz alive.
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The Independent Culture
`Oh my God, Bunny's walking all over that painting," shrieks Kate Monckton as Bunny the shitzu - for it is she - wanders blithely across a precious artwork lying on her studio floor. "Don't put that in," says Monckton, "everyone will think we're really unprofessional. I don't want people to think I'm a ditzy PR or something."

Monckton is, in fact, anything but the stereotypical fashion PR. Her dog may be called Bunny, but Monckton's no Bubble - the legendary assistant to Edina in Absolutely Fabulous, for those who don't know about such things. "She was sick in front of her kennel the other day," says Monckton blithely, almost as if to prove just how hard she (and her dog?) really are - that's pretty damn hard, incidentally.

London Fashion Week - a mere four days, cruelly sandwiched between the rather more starry schedules of New York and Milan - kicks off tomorrow, and it is facing its most difficult season for some time. It's not news that many of our biggest names - Ghost's Tanya Sarne, Nicole Farhi, Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen all unveiled their spring/summer collections in New York last week. Antonio Berardi will show, once again, in Milan. The word on the street, then, is that many foreign buyers and press will be bypassing the British fashion capital altogether.

Monckton is a woman on a mission to stop this from happening. It would, after all, be a great shame. There are, as always, more than a few names on the official British Fashion Council (BFC) schedule that may go on to become stars in their own right - Shelley Fox and Robert Cary Williams, to name just two. But the unofficial schedule - comprising far smaller, more intimate shows, for the most part staged not in huge marquees in central London but in battered old warehouse spaces in London's East End - is to many people's minds the thing that distinguishes our fashion capital from its older, more obviously commercially viable sisters abroad.

The unofficial schedule (or off-schedule as it is known in the trade) is presided over by 34-year-old Monckton, whose PR agency, Abnormal, has established itself at the vanguard of British fashion for the past three- and-a-half years: more companies like Monckton's have since sprung up and they all work together to ensure shows don't clash. But while Monckton has long represented some of London's most interesting young design talent, this season her work has taken on a more cohesive structure.

For the past year, she has been working on a three-day event, held in a single, five-storey space in London's St John Street, sponsored by Italian accessory designer Mandarina Duck. It looks set to be a particular draw. There's an exhibition, Another Point of View - fashion luminaries ranging from Hussein Chalayan to Manolo Blahnik and from Stephen Jones to Joe Casely-Hayford, as well as just about any photographer, stylist, make- up artist and so forth worth his or her salt, have been asked to submit a piece, with no brief save that it has to be in a medium other than the one that they work in professionally.

"However much you love your job," says Monckton, "there will always be restrictions. This gave people a moment of release and, more importantly, fun." Aforementioned shoe guru Blahnik has submitted a portrait of his great friend Paloma Picasso, snapped way back in the Seventies, and Casely- Hayford has turned his hand to sculpture. The stylist Jane How has donated a dress made entirely out of cup-cakes. All in all there will be more than 50 exhibits on display. And the exhibition - unlike London Fashion Week as a whole - is open to the public.

"I don't believe in keeping things under wraps," says Monckton. "Why shouldn't people outside the industry know what's going on?" Such an anti- elitist approach is, it almost goes without saying, very refreshing, given that, for the most part, the fashion industry is a proud-to-be-closed world.

Not that Monckton has abandoned clothes altogether; far from it. Boudicca, Jessica Ogden, Roland Mouret and a new kid on the block, Sophia Kokosalaki, will all be showing at the space to small groups of fashion buyers and press. These will be no ordinary catwalk presentations, however. "We're not into seasonal fashion," says Monckton. "This isn't about skirt lengths and trends. It's another point of view."

Mouret is showing in a salon environment, and his lovely one-off pieces will come out to a live performance by his friend Marc Almond. Ogden has made a Super 8 film of her collection that will be shown on one wall and a slide projection will be put up on another. On pieces of old furniture, dotted about the space, the clothes themselves - made out of vintage pieces of fabric - will be folded so people can pick them up and touch them.

"This whole thing has been like a breath of fresh air," says Monckton. "I think the reason why people choose to show off-schedule is that they would rather present themselves in a more individual way. We have never been against the establishment. It's just about having the freedom to do what we want to do. These designers have in common the fact that they cherish the idea of individual dressing. "The conventional catwalk completely contradicts that. I'm just here to help these people, to make it work for them."

To this end, she will have her own press and production office on-site, and there, throughout the event, will sit Bunny in her kennel, reigning supreme over the proceedings. "I'm getting a bit jealous of her, actually," laughs Monckton. "She will be sitting there surrounded by all her recent photo opportunities and will be available for comment throughout the event." Woof! Woof!

Out Of Fashion, Berry House, 148 St John Street, London EC2, open 21- 23 September, 10am-7pm, admission free. Catwalk presentations by invitation only

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