Fashion: Mutiny in the ranks

As top British designers threaten to desert the event, Cayte Williams keeps her fingers crossed for next month's London Fashion Week
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Indy Lifestyle Online
It's one thing to close the stable door after the horse has bolted, but quite another to declare the poor nag lame before she's even been mounted. London Fashion Week hasn't even started yet (it begins next month) but already it's been doomed to failure before the first clog hits the catwalk.

Vivienne Westwood, the doyenne of British design who's made good with Italian backers, has expressed dismay at London Fashion Week's lack of imagination. Viv, who will be showing in New York this season, suggested that young designers set up an alternative show in London's East End.

The Sunday Times quoted a friend of the designer: "She feels that London has got tired, that the standard of dress has never been lazier and she needs a change but she would naturally be interested in a rebel show in east London."

The reason for such pessimism is that British fashion is currently suffering a brain drain. In fact, the only grey matter that will be left come next season is the rows of suits in M&S. Alexander McQueen is threatening to take his show from London to New York; Hussein Chalayan and Julien MacDonald are considering New York; and Antonio Berardi will show in Milan.

Why are they clearing off? It would seem that the British Fashion Council is at fault, with most designers blaming its poor organisation and an inability to attract international buyers for their exodus. New York is tempting because it is "so keen to attract new talent", or so said MacDonald in the Daily Telegraph. "The British Fashion Council is absolutely hopeless. They seem to want to make it more difficult for young designers. This season they're saying we all have to pay pounds 4,000 or pounds 5,000 for models, which is crippling."

Then there is the question of scheduling. The new ready-to-wear season, which will show Autumn/Winter 1999-2000 collections, will now kick off in New York when traditionally it was London which always got first bite.

"London Fashion Week is sandwiched between the Milan and Paris shows," said Hilary Alexander in the Daily Telegraph, "which also clashes with another major fashion event in New York."

Apart from scheduling troubles, there is still a great cultural divide in Britain between cutting-edge designers and those "grey men in suits" who can't for the life of them see how a velvet bustier, a pair of matching pants and a spray-painted white dress will ever make them any money.

But still it doesn't stop Britain providing the kind of original talent that designers abroad would give their eye teeth for. As soon as McQueen and chums hotfoot it out of the sceptred isle, there'll be another crop of enfants terribles waiting to gallop into their place. Anna Wintour of American Vogue remarked in the Daily Telegraph, "As some designers move on, it makes way for the next generation. London always produces these new talents who have dreams and no money. Then they have to move to grow. It's a cycle."

Perhaps Alexander McQueen has finally decided he's outgrown British fashion. He is, after all, going from strength to strength in Paris. This month saw the haute couture shows for Autumn/Winter 1999-2000 and McQueen's fifth offering for Givenchy was a runway success. "The young East Ender dazzled the eye with a charming and quirky fashion fairy story, based on the inhabitants of a French village..." reported Hilary Alexander in the Daily Telegraph. "In spite of its evocative imagery and fantasy, the collection was full of wondrously wearable clothes."

Susannah Frankel in The Independent also heaped praise on the best boy of British fashion. "McQueen has managed to create a distinct identity [for Givenchy] which is, rather cleverly, very different from that of his signature label. He is, after all, catering to the whims of an entirely different client. In place of raw, often subversive energy, a more gentle, playful spirit has come to the fore."

And that other great home-grown talent, Galliano, played his cards right at Christian Dior and came up trumps. Susannah Barron reported in the Guardian that last season his Elizabethan extravaganza was almost universally derided, sparking rumours that his days at Dior were numbered. "He instead produced a collection that was short on gimmickry and was, simply, about great clothes..." He was still heavily influenced by past times - in this case, Jean Cocteau's Thirties surrealism - but the clothes looked more wearable frocks, less fancy dress.

Apart from the terrific two, the British press was rather lukewarm about this season's couture collections. The Guardian believed that "in Lacroix's world there is nothing that cannot be improved by a frill, a ruffle or a bright pink bow"; the Evening Standard asked why Thierry Mugler couldn't "make women look like women as opposed to contestants in the alternative Miss World contest"; Chanel was nice but dull; and Donatella was still finding her form at Versace. Only Jean-Paul Gaultier, hotly tipped to take over when Yves Saint Laurent retires from couture, received rapturous print applause.

Meanwhile, newspapers fell over themselves to report on a healthier, curvier Kate Moss freshly returned from her stay at the Priory. "The 25- year-old model fulfilled a commitment to appear in Milan for the Versace 1999/2000 collection on Saturday night," said the Daily Mail, as if she suffered from Naomi show-up-three-days-late syndrome. The Saturday night in question was 16 January, the capering Capricorn's birthday, so Donatella laid on a bash that was both after-show party and Kate's 25th.

Donatella might not have the skill of her brother, but she knows a main chance when she sees one. Photos of Kate blowing out her candles appeared in papers worldwide giving Versace endless free publicity. But then, the Peroxide One is a dynamic go-getting girl. Perhaps she'd like to work for the British Fashion Council?

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