Fashion: Here today, Paris tomorrow: The aim of London Fashion Week is to steer young names towards an international future. Marion Hume and Roger Tredre look at the best of British

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Indy Lifestyle Online
BRITISH fashion puts on its public face today with the opening of London Fashion Week. In pure fashion terms, the news is encouraging: the best of our designers are formidably talented. Despite tough market conditions, designers can still make their mark.

Here, we show some of the best of the autumn collections. One new name on the scene is Copperwheat Blundell, a label that emphasises sharp tailoring, pictured here in a black-and-white dogstooth three-piece suit. The two designers behind the name have an encouraging record: Lee Copperwheat worked for Aquascutum, while Pamela Blundell assisted the late John Flett, a designer at the cutting edge of UK fashion in the mid-Eighties.

By contrast, Edina Ronay, designer of the sweeping swing coat pictured here, is a familiar name. She started her business in 1978, and bounced back from financial hardship last year, when her wholesale business was acquired by Dawson International, the knitwear giant: an encouraging example of a new willingness by British manufacturers to help small designer businesses.

Another point: we shouldn't forget that the best of British fashion is about more than clothes. It embraces the work of the master shoemaker Jimmy Choo, the jeweller Slim Barrett, and the hatter Philip Treacy, all names that are making an impact on the world stage.

The much-discussed problems of London Fashion Week should not overshadow the clothes and accessories. This season there are 13 catwalk shows and an exhibition at the Ritz. If the event is struggling, it is because of underfunding, not because British designers cannot design. And for women who want to buy designer clothes, the shift in buying patterns - the commercial comings and goings in the trade - should not matter a jot.

It is worth remembering that Richard Ostell and Ellis Flyte, the designers behind the young British label Flyte Ostell, have never shown within the formal framework of London Fashion Week. However, their loose, luxurious clothes sell well in some of our leading designer stores. Ben de Lisi, another successful London-based designer, does not stage fashion shows, but his velvet skirts and long, fluid cardigans should find plenty of takers come next winter.

The British designers who tend to make the headlines - Vivienne Westwood, Rifat Ozbek, Katharine Hamnett, John Richmond and John Galliano - now focus their efforts on Paris and Milan. But we shouldn't see this as a problem; it is a natural progression from the small stage of London Fashion Week to the big international stage in Paris. In the Nineties, London's purpose on the fashion circuit is to nurture the young names. The city is a breeding ground for the future.

Let it be remembered that distinguished designers are showing in London today, including Jean Muir, whose loyal customers appreciate her rigorous, flattering clothes, and Caroline Charles, who started in business 30 years ago dressing the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and still comes up with immaculate collections season after season.

Fashion enthusiasts should not expect smack-between-the-eyes, sensational clothes from these designers, but they should expect clothes that can walk off the catwalk straight into people's wardrobes.

Flyte Ostell: black cashmere sweater, pounds 325, mousseline skirt, pounds 291, both by Flyte Ostell, from A la Mode, 36 Hans Crescent, London SW1; Liberty, Regent Street W1; Browns, 23-27 South Molton Street W1. Black velvet pumps pounds 195, to order by Jimmy Choo (071-249 2082), for Amanda Wakeley; choker, pounds 32, three-strand head charm necklace, pounds 220, horned head pendant, pounds 63, all by Slim Barrett, inquiries (071-387 6419).

Ben de Lisi: bias-cut velvet skirt, pounds 540, scoop-neck top, pounds 490, long cardigan with tie neck, pounds 195, all by Ben de Lisi, from A La Mode, 36 Hans Crescent SW1; Pollyanna, 12 Market Hill, Barnsley, South Yorkshire; brown satin ankle boots, pounds 325, to order from Jimmy Choo (071-249 2082).

Copperwheat Blundell: black-and-white dogstooth three-piece suit, pounds 650, to order by Copperwheat Blundell (071-404-6725).

Edina Ronay: grey wool coat, pounds 890, by Edina Ronay, 141 King's Road SW3; Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge SW1; black leather ankle boots, pounds 250 to order, by Jimmy Choo (071-249 2082), for Edina Ronay.

Philip Treacy: black feather hat, to order (071-259 9605).

(Photographs omitted)