British thrills and frills and Stateside buzz

It's called symbiosis. The hottest American designers added their own glamour to London Fashion Week, as they revelled in British creativity. By Tamsin Blanchard Pictures by Ben Elwes
Never has London seen a fashion week like it. The brouhaha that Donna Karan and Tommy Hilfiger brought from the other side of the Atlantic gave London Fashion Week the glamour and pizzazz usually associated with Milan, Paris or New York. Karan threw a party in aid of charity and the opening of her European flagship store; Hilfiger held a celebrity-studded show with a party to follow. The money they spent would fund British fashion for five years.

The work of our creative young designers has paid off. The Americans are keen to see what all the fuss is about and get in on the action. London is abuzz, thanks to Hussein Chalayan, Antonio Berardi, Clements Ribeiro, Pearce Fionda and, above all, Alexander McQueen.

The 27-year-old designer, who is hotly tipped to take over at Givenchy if John Galliano is moved to the House of Dior, showed his most accomplished collection to date. The front-row representatives from LVMH, owners of both Dior and Givenchy, could not have failed to be impressed. Models, faces frosted with blue and silver glitter, waded through a purpose-built lake in the middle of the huge Royal Agricultural Hall. Every pair of fine brocade trousers, each dusty pink catsuit, and every stitch of his bias-cut evening dresses, was masterful. Not only were the pieces creative in cut and thought, they were wearable and desirable. A fine, sheer mesh dress embroidered with dragons; a razor-sharp, shiny, sea-green trouser suit; a bias-cut dress with a train trailing out into the dark ripples of water. This was a collection to leave no one in doubt that the designer could take on a couture house and breathe fresh life into it.

Similar precision tailoring was apparent in the collection by Pearce Fionda. There was a slick, Seventies, woman-on-a-cruise appeal to the immaculate white suits with their ultra-wide-legged trousers, the black- and-white-striped knitted boob-tubes and the sleek, long tunic dresses.

Indeed, the Seventies just won't go away. This time, the look is more chic YSL than flower-power hippie. New name Justin Oh showed safari suits and Seventies kick-flared trousers as well as picking up on the ubiquitous knee-length, pedal-pusher trouser length. Clements Ribeiro defined the look of next summer with an upbeat, snappy collection of bright, floral- printed chiffon wrap-front dresses and tops edged with ruffles and frills. Garish paisleys worked best in luxurious cashmere knits. Indeed, knitwear stole the show at many collections: Katharine Hamnett's was lacy and sexy, adding to the general return to a softer, prettier, more "girly" feel to clothes for next summer.

Soft frills edged otherwise simple tops and skirts at John Rocha; and even the hard-edged People Corporation showed a collection that, despite its New York Doll's trash glamour, included pieces - a fuchsia-pink wrap dress, a T-shirt laddered and beaded into a sparkly spider's web - that also had a warped innocence and sweetness.

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