Fashion: Fantasy and nostalgia gang up on the Gap factor: Uncertainty has dampened the industry's wilder spirits, but British designers wore fighting colours at London Fashion Week, writes Roger Tredre

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Indy Lifestyle Online
ROUND about midnight last Saturday, at one of the two big parties that punctuated London Fashion Week, John Richmond got the chance to act out his private fantasy in a very public way. He borrowed a black Ibanez Strat electric guitar from his mate Dave Stewart, walked on stage with the band Miss World, and blasted an audience with a wall of noise.

Outside the crowded event, the bouncers were turning away latecomers including Boy George and Rifat Ozbek, just named designer of the year as part of the Lloyds Bank British Fashion Awards. Inside, several hundred people shouted their approval. Hey, JR, you're a star] For the fashion designer who always said he wanted to be a rock star, the dream had come true.

Fashion and fantasy might be natural bedfellows, and British designers know that better than anyone, but considerable uncertainty in the industry internationally has dampened many wilder spirits. However, the Richmond bash was typical of the healthy verve of London's fashion celebration, with British designers at the cutting edge fighting back.

Richmond, who makes a living designing fantasies for young men and women, is known for his tight, sexy, studded jackets, that make people feel something special - rock stars, perhaps. He made the point in no uncertain terms during the week with a message in huge purple lettering on copies of the Financial Times: F*** It, Forget It, Go For It.

Fashion retailers were doing their bit, too. John Weiser of Charivari, one of New York's most influential stores, was among the buyers in town and in a fighting mood. He said: 'There's a reaction against lack of individuality right now. We need to shake things up. I'm fed up with people who are proud of wearing Gap T- shirts.'

The designers will win out, because fashion can never go out of fashion. It appeals because it enables us to tap into fantasy. We can't all be Madonna, but we can all take pleasure in dressing up and playing with texture, colour and shape. Everyone has access to this branch of popular culture, even if budgets stretch only to Camden Market rather than Sloane Street.

The mood at the London week was Seventies, but not in the naff sort of way that some of the designers had been showing in Milan a few days previously. The ideal wardrobe for spring 1993 mixes Nineties stretch tailoring and stretch sportswear with select

references to the Seventies: wide collars, double cuffs, wide trousers, and long, fluid skirts and

dresses.

British fashion designers slot neatly into two groups: those who produce streetwise clothes for young slim bodies, and those who make grown-up clothes for women of all shapes and sizes.

Of the streetwise names, the best were Richmond, Red or Dead, and Helen Storey. Richmond showed three collections in one: from halter-neck jump-

suits and long slashed skirts to hipster bell-

bottoms decorated with touches of broderie anglaise and long white jersey button-through coat-dresses with denim hems. Best of all were the tightly tailored jackets with ticking fabric used on the sleeves to give an inside-out look.

Red or Dead now deserve to be taken seriously for their clothing as well as their shoes. A delight in kitsch detail is still a feature of their collections, but this has been toned down and married to improved quality of cut and finish. There were cub scout green twinsets, plum safari jackets with scarves and toggles, rope-stitched denim waistcoats, wild clashing prints, and velvet devore dresses.

Helen Storey, who skipped the catwalk for a season, is in touch with her customers. Her nod to the Seventies comprised tongue-in-chic patchwork stripe and paisley high-buttoned jackets, ankle-length waistcoats, and slim, long skirts. Button-front long skirts in an antique flower print contrasted amusingly with 'feminist dresses' with bras sewn into the

garments.

The most covetable pieces, however, are her leather and denim classics, including black leather waistcoats decorated with cuff-links and super-soft denim shirts. The latter use Tencel, a new fibre developed by Courtaulds Textiles which has already been dubbed the 'cashmere of denim'.

So madam would prefer to wear something a little more grown-up? London Fashion Week had it: jersey dresses from Jean Muir, trouser suits from Paul Costelloe, fluid knitwear from Nicole Farhi, loose layers of print and linen from Ally Capellino.

Betty Jackson is quite definitely grown-up, an underestimated designer who, for spring, is playing games with both masculine and feminine looks. She has taken the new longer lines in her stride, and makes all the proportions seem right. The best were the club stripe men's blazers, long stretch dresses, linen viscose cardigans, and safari jackets with long skirts.

Arabella Pollen was uninspiring, repeating her signature short suits and outsized buttons. The best bits were her Gossard Wonderbras customised in satin, lace and animal print; some light- hearted ruffle sleeves for evening; and the experiments with layers of chiffon, including threading chiffon ties round trouser waists.

Jasper Conran decided he did not want to be considered for the designer of the year award this time round, but at least he was back on the catwalk after too lengthy a period away. He offered nothing much new, but his clean, sophisticated lines looked mouth- wateringly modern - not just because of the cut, but because he uses zips as much as buttons.

I liked the belted trouser suits in black or Prince of Wales check, the zebra- stripe jackets with big collars, and a series of full white-on-black broderie anglaise skirts. For evening, Naomi Campbell (and a line-up of some of the best models seen on a London catwalk in years) looked sensational in velvet devore long skirts with velvet corset bodices.

And, finally, there was a new talent to celebrate. Nicholas Knightly is 23, no more than a year out of college, and precociously talented. His resortwear collection, shown in a gallery in Covent Garden, was a promising debut.

The highlights were cream bias-cut skirts and kimono-sleeved drawstring jackets. Harvey Nichols, which is stocking the collection, is more likely to sell the little ecru and blue flared denim shorts and pretty one-piece swimsuits with bows and cute prints.

In his own way, Knightly was fighting back against the Gap T-shirt every bit as much as Richmond, but using sweet nostalgia rather than rock 'n' roll.

(Photograph omitted)

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