London Fashion Week starts with record global support

British designers stepped out to prove their worth on the world stage at the start of London Fashion Week on Friday, as organisers hailed the capital as the globe's "number one fashion destination".

British fashion icons Vivienne Westwood, Paul Smith and Betty Jackson will feature in this season's event alongside international brands Burberry Prorsum, Pringle of Scotland, and Mulberry, as well as London's emerging young talent.

Hot on the heels of New York Fashion Week, the event - featuring 66 catwalk shows over six days - will attract the biggest ever turnout of international buyers, said organisers the British Fashion Council (BFC).

"I think we have reinvented ourselves to such an extent over the last two years that we are now the number one fashion destination in the world," said BFC chairman Harold Tillman.

While the London show may not reap the riches of rivals in New York, Milan and Paris, a report released Thursday showed that British fashion remains big business.

The industry has a direct value to the British economy of nearly 21 billion pounds and its influence on other industries is worth more than 16 billion pounds, according to BFC-commissioned research.

That makes it the equivalent of 44 billion euros or 58 billion dollars.

BFC chief executive Caroline Rush said top designers were driving the sector's growth despite the economic climate.

"The strengths of the fashion industry are its innovation and breadth of designers here in London," she told AFP.

"It is the trends that you see here at London Fashion Week that you will no doubt see on the high street and in mid-market brands."

She said the London event, which runs until Wednesday at Somerset House, stood out from the "more commercial" New York offering by its wealth of fresh talent.

"Our emerging designers are true innovators and that gives them global influence and the ability to compete with major brands in attracting international buyers," she added.

Newcomers scheduled include Swedish fashion house Acne and up-and-coming designers Michael Van Der Ham, David Koma and Holly Fulton.

But it was long-established designer Paul Costelloe who opened the programme with his latest womenswear and menswear collections.

The Dublin-born designer, who trained in Paris, says his collections are inspired by French fashion designer Madeleine Vionnet and styles of the 1920s and 1930s, "reinterpreted with a rock'n'roll attitude".

The playful womenswear collection represents a radical departure from Costelloe's previous lines, featuring girlish mini dresses in silver and pastels, teamed with metallic, cropped biker jackets.

The menswear collection retains his trademark crisp linens in muted indigo blues, with splashes of scarlet, and includes quintessentially British blazers, mackintoshes and tailored shorts.

Designers will take orders for their spring/summer 2011 collections at the event, which usually generates orders of around 100 million pounds, as well as directly contributing 20 million pounds to the London economy, according to BFC.

London-based Maria Grachvogel, who presented her collection Friday, is one designer hoping to attract international attention after announcing plans to open five stores in Asia over the next two years.

Grachvogel's elegant creations, popular with actress Angelina Jolie and model Yasmin Le Bon, are designed to sculpt the body with sensual silk crepes and chiffons.

Her spring/summer 2011 collection was awash with floating long dresses and trousers in beige and grey, offset with bright, canary yellow.

On her website Grachvogel claims to use "real women" to reflect clothing which "flatters women from a size six to a size 20".

But there were no signs of larger models in this show, nor in any of the openers, despite the introduction of plus-size models by designer Mark Fast last season.

"Our feeling is that if girls are healthy and well looked after at London Fashion Week then that's our main aim," added Rush.

The BFC is keen to extend this caring approach to the environment, hosting Friday its first ever "sustainable fashion show". The display showcases designers committed to eco-friendly production, including Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood.

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