Fashion: The raw and the buffed

Variety was the key at London Fashion Week. Young designers got the attention, but big names held their own.

Last week's London collections were nothing if not diverse - from the young designer Robert Cary-Williams's second collection, a low-budget, raw-edged affair held in a tiny venue, to Burberrys' first appearance on the London catwalk - a super-slick, super- expensive show more reminiscent of the Milan runways than anything normally associated with our fashion capital.

The clothes themselves were equally disparate. Cary-Williams's designs are ripped, torn and tattered, romantic but deconstructed, and aimed at a fashion- literate and probably very small clientele. But Burberrys', now designed by Roberto Menichetti from the Jil Sander stable, was polished from start to finish, if in a highly derivative manner. Blink and you might have missed the odd flash of Burberrys check. Without it, this was, well, Jil Sander to tell the truth, from the luxury hi-tech fabrics to the three-buttoned jackets pulled very-slightly-too-tightly across the top of the chest. What the Burberrys customer is likely to make of it remains to be seen.

The two most accomplished shows of the week represented very different aesthetics, courtesy of Hussein Chalayan (hot tip for this year's British Designer of the Year) and Alexander McQueen.

For his show, Chalayan returned to his preoccupation with flight. The first outfit out, in gleaming white metal, had a red, flashing light at its hem and a panel that dropped down like the wings of a plane coming in to land. This was Chalayan's most sophisticated offering to date, apparently minimal but increasingly complex the closer you looked: fabric moulded into shape by intricate webs of seams; a crescent cut out of the back of a dress to reveal layer upon layer of the fabric that has constructed its perfectly pure silhouette.

McQueen follows a rather more dramatic and high-impact route. His larger- than-life snowstorm was filled with his most unashamedly pretty collection to date and will go down in fashion history as one of the most brilliantly imaginative, brilliantly orchestrated and brilliantly beautiful shows to be seen in London.

Much is made - quite rightly - of Britain's bright young design talent. The Jerwood prize-winner Shelley Fox took us to the East End for a quietly beautiful, conceptual collection; Markus Lupfer, formerly a design assistant at Clements Ribeiro, offered up a more obviously glamorous, highly coloured and cutely idiosyncratic debut. Both are names to watch. Tristan Webber's show this time round exercised rather more restraint than it has done in the past: a more controlled colour palette suited his accomplished cutting techniques far better. Matthew Williamson, too, continues to pull in the crowds. As a colourist he is unrivalled in London, and his hot pinks and reds contrasting with more neutral hues won't disappoint. It's all very west London; the requisite pashmina, for example, was here transformed into a skirt.

Clements Ribeiro, too, will attract this type of customer, although the clothes are more complex. Tailoring looked super-chic: low-slung but still sharp. Devore sheath dresses were lovely, as was black tulle appliqued with gold roses and worn over white, paying more than lip-service to the vintage good looks beloved of London girls, but with a modern feel.

The knitwear supremo Julien Macdonald held back from turning women into the proverbial Christmas tree this season, and the result was good to see. Joe Casely-Hayford turned out soft shapes in pretty colours, with a raw edge that looked very of-the-moment; dresses and skirts with the texture of teddy bears were adorable.

Sonja Nuttall, another great hope for the future, went down the arts- and-crafts route that is emerging as one of next autumn/ winter's major trends. Crochet knits, applique, multi-tiered frills and bold prints were all suitably upbeat, complementing perfectly a largely pared-down silhouette. Here, as on other runways, burnt orange reigned supreme.

While our younger designers continue to attract the most attention, other more established names remain a force to be reckoned with. Nicole Farhi and Betty Jackson both sent out easy, relaxed clothes in super-soft fabrics that looked a pleasure to wear. Farhi's emerald velvet was especially desirable - velvet also cropped up on the catwalks of Elspeth Gibson and Clements Ribeiro - and Jackson's subdued but lovely colour palette (sage green, smoky blue, deep red and dusty rose), subtle textures and fluid silhouette were good to see.

Jasper Conran's collection was more minimal that it has been - very cool in soft leather, matt jersey and heavy satin. Also a first was a pretty new neckline: a wide funnel that stood away from the skin, giving the illusion of slenderness and length.

Paul Smith, showing his womenswear in London for only the third time, is looking increasingly confident. Argyll knits, masculine trouser suits and tulip-shaped shift dresses were particularly appealing, put together in that very English way that Smith understands well; models looked like kooky aristocrats strolling round the Basil Street Hotel.

Tanya Sarne's Ghost label continues to go from strength to strength. The collection, inspired, as last season, by Victoriana, looked less overtly pretty and more modern, without ever losing the signature style known and loved by women the world over.

Finally, the Japanese designer Kosuke Tsumura continues to honour us with his presence - it was great to see his soft-shouldered silhouette.

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