Burberry and Christopher Kane light up London's catwalks

Venerable names like Burberry and such bright new stars as Christopher Kane have dazzled London Fashion Week, giving the so-called poor relation of international shows some high-profile praise.

Squeezed awkwardly between the more prestigious New York and Milan fashion shows, London always has to fight for attention.

But this year the innovative use of digital technology has given London a boost - a feel-good factor only spoiled by the revelation that the final shows have been hit after heavyweight brand Gucci ordered its models to fly to Italy.

There was widespread praise for Christopher Bailey's spring/summer collection for Burberry - always the set piece of London - in a show in which pictures of every look were tweeted before the models took to the catwalk.

African-inspired prints, a change from Burberry's usual look, were featured on pencil skirts and dresses in khakis, deep reds and purples, finished off with sky-high basket-weave wedges.

The starry front row kept the photographers busy too as rapper Kanye West rubbed shoulders with actress Sienna Miller and superstar photographer Mario Testino.

Under Bailey's leadership, Burberry has shaken off its traditional image and increased turnover from 430 million pounds to 1.5 billion pounds (490 million euros, $675 million to 1.72 billion euros, $2.35 billion) in 10 years, mainly thanks to a surge of sales in China.

The label's decision to abandon Milan to return to London Fashion Week in 2009 gave the event a major boost.

In other shows, Belgian duo Peter Pilotto and Christopher de Vos earned the stamp of approval from British Prime Minister David Cameron's wife Samantha, who wore a Pilotto top as she attended their catwalk show.

A trip to Indonesia provided the inspiration for a collection featuring the shadows and silhouettes cast by lush jungle vegetation.

A spokeswoman for the Peter Pilotto collection said the designers were delighted by the support of Britain's First Lady.

"She has worn the label a couple of times to high-profile events - the boys love her and were very, very pleased that she was able to come," she said.

Like Burberry, Pringle of Scotland is another once-fusty label that has proudly showed off its fresh new face in London.

Pringle's time-honoured Argyle was given a new twist in cool twin-sets that had the audience purring in the first collection overseen by former Balenciaga designer Alistair Carr.

But the other smash-hit show at London came from Christopher Kane, watched closely by US Vogue editor Anna Wintour, who appeared to like the playful plastic floral applications on his garments.

On Wednesday the action shifts to Milan, where Italy's fashion industry is worried that it will be dragged down by the euro crisis after enjoying a strong start to the year.

Exports of Italian women's fashion rose more than 17 percent year-on-year thanks to foreign sales and growing interest in emerging markets.

"Consumer spending has gone down in Italy, but tourists have boosted sales. In the area of Milan where the most prestigious labels are based, 60 percent of purchases are made by foreigners," said Gaetano Marzotto, president of Pitti Imagine, who organises some of the Milan shows.

All the big names will be present - and the Gucci show on Wednesday has reportedly already cast its shadow over London Fashion Week, with the Italian label ordering models to northern Italy for fittings.

The move has outraged London-based model agencies after Gucci demanded models fly to Milan on Saturday so creative director Frida Giannini could decide if she would include them in her show, the Daily Telegraph reported.

"I find it insulting that a designer like Frida thinks London is so insignificant that she would do that," said Carol White, founder of one of London's top agencies, Premier Model Management.

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