THE GOSSIP has already started and there are still three months to go. Nomination forms for Designer of the Year, presented at the Lloyds Bank British Fashion Awards in October, are winging their way to the high and mighty in the industry. Who will take up the mantle of Vivienne Westwood, who has held the title for an unprecedented two years? It is unlikely that she will make it three in a row.

There are three front-runners. Rifat Ozbek, a former winner of the award, has emerged as a designer of international standing since he switched his production and fashion shows to Milan.

John Richmond is the newcomer who has been around a long time. In the mid-Eighties, he was half of Richmond/Cornejo, then went solo, making leather jackets for clubbers and rock stars. Of late, he has revealed a softer touch, exploring classic tailoring and launching lower-priced collections to bring his look to a wider market. Richmond, say the gossips, is ready for recognition.

But Paul Smith, the menswear designer who sells more clothes than most of the rest of the industry put together, is the favourite. He has never won the award because, until last year, it was only open to womenswear designers. But no one doubts that he deserves it.