Fashion: London comes of age

Lurid leather, time travel and the trouser boot - it's adult, feisty, and very, very Brit. Tamsin Blanchard calls it Adult Frock

YOU'VE heard of Adult Oriented Rock. Well now, fresh from London Fashion Week comes AOF: Adult Oriented Frock. The British Fashion brat pack are coming of age - and so are their clothes.

London is all about celebrating individuality and difference rather than chasing the same hem length or trouser shape. The designers are doing their own thing; five years after Marks & Spencer sponsored the first New Generation designers in March 93 - including Abe Hamilton, Alexander McQueen, Copperwheat Blundell, Paul Frith and Sonnentag Mulligan - many of those names have now become established in their own rights and have had time to solidify their businesses and feel confident enough to know who they are, what their signatures are, and where they are going.

Alexander McQueen shows his collection tonight. The story of his career so far needs little explanation. But there are many other success stories too. Copperwheat Blundell showed its strongest collection to date this week. It received the finest accolade a collection can have, and was declared "absolutely spot on for next season". There was lots of sheepskin - the fabric for winter 98 as seen at Berardi, Gaster and Betty Jackson (below) - and there was a new invention, the trouser boot, a knee length leather boot with its very own trouser leg to cover it. Paul Frith's business has been growing steadily too, with a little help from Bhs which sponsors his shows and has had a hit on its hands with the capsule collection he designs for it. Tracy Mulligan, formerly of Sonnentag Mulligan, presented her first solo collection and it was a winner with both press and buyers, cool elegant and chic, words not often associated with British fashion.

Antonio Berardi, Clements Ribeiro, Pearce Fionda, Sonja Nuttall and Julien Macdonald have all also graduated from the M&S sponsorship scheme. And they all came into their own this week, focusing on what they do best. From Antonio Berardi we had killer leather. From the New York West Side Story-style set with pedestrian crossing lights flashing "Walk. Don't Walk". And walk they did, from Michelle Hicks' first march into the audience wearing a leather biker outfit in orange, bubble gum pink and white leather, ingeniously intercut as only Berardi knows how. The collection for winter was a new step forward for the 28-year-old. It is feisty, sexy and high- voltage as always. But it is also resolutely modern. Best of all was a pair of stonewashed denim jeans inset down the side seams with a strip of pink Swarovski crystals. Casual, sexy, effortless - and all a girl needs to make her mark. Likewise, Suzanne Clements and Inacio Ribeiro built on their signature: an eccentric mix of sophisticated design and naive surface detail. The theme of the collection is Orlando - a bit of time-travelling took us back to the 16th century: Elizabethan jackets with sleeve seams slit to reveal puff of white cotton shirt underneath. There was severe tailoring, and opulent one-shouldered drapes of tartan, emboidered and appliqued coats, and the cashmere knitwear without which it simply would not be Clements Ribeiro. This time, they came in sumptuous solid colour blocks of orange, scarlet and pink. Muscling in for space amid the cashmere, tartan, tailored sheepskin (again) and lace was a good smattering of folk embroidery and gyspy trim. It is just this style of eclectic design and bravura that overseas buyers have come to expect from London.

Clements Ribeiro's freedom to be creative has been assured by its deal with Dorothy Perkins for whom it designs a high street capsule each season. So too, Pearce Fionda has found a more mainstream market with help from Debenhams, leaving it free to do what it wants to with its own collection. It focused on byzantine eveningwear with exotic mixes of fabrics and textures - rich brocade, shiny satin, silk jacquards - adult and exotic.

Sonja Nuttall has also come of age. She has just signed a backing deal with a British manufacturing company, allowing her to concentrate on design. Her signatures shouting loud and clear are her masculine tailoring, and her luxurious understatement. She also threw in a few lines of crystal sequins, some sparkly knitwear and glittery bobble hats, and some tropical hibiscus prints to lighten up the mix.

British fashion is a case of quality, not quantity. You do not have to present a 60-piece collection to get noticed. Last season, it took Matthew Williamson just 11 outfits and this time there weren't many more. A firework beaded cocktail dress, a snowflake embroidered coat, and a baby blue cashmere jumper worn with a fuchsia pink beaded skirt is all you need to get the world's most influential stores interested. Williamson's philosophy has been to keep it small and select, the antithesis of the big corporate designers who are interested in quantity first and foremost - just like the rest of the British fashion industry, really: small but perfectly formed.

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