High-street stores hit the London catwalk

French Connection and New Look in push to make 'elitist' Fashion Week accessible to ordinary women

It has all the markings of London Fashion Week – celebrity front row, famous models, beautiful clothes. The only elements missing are designer labels and eye-wateringly high prices.

When the model Erin O'Connor struts down the catwalk at the Saatchi Gallery next Saturday, she will wear an outfit from the high street store Reiss. Other retailers on the runway will include French Connection and New Look. The off-schedule show, presented to famous faces such as the pop star Pixie Lott and the model Amber Le Bon, will launch O'Connor's campaign with the fashion magazine Look to make the high street part of the "elitist" LFW.

O'Connor, once LFW vice-chair, said: "Fashion week always seemed so closed off; that's such a shame as ordinary women are the lifeblood of this industry. I hate this idea that fashion is only for the select few, it's for everyone, and the high street allows that."

The show is billed as the first to unite 14 high street shops, and it is the only one open to consumers. In contrast to the official line-up, which showcases autumn/winter collections, this show's featured garments will also be available straight after the show.

Ali Hall, Look editor, said fashion had moved on in other areas, but not LFW. "We want to make something that's quite elitist more accessible to everybody," said Ms Hall, who hoped the show could be included in future fashion weeks.

The designer Katharine Hamnett said: "I think, let the audience judge. Fashion is fashion. The high street is often better than the catwalk these days. Quite a lot of the catwalk is looking pretty irrelevant. The high street is designed by designers."

A New Look spokesman thought LFW was becoming more accessible, but that O'Connor would "help it advance at pace". A digital schedule, launching on Friday, will stream LFW shows live online.

Neil Hendy, Marks & Spencer's head of design for womenswear and accessories, said it would be "amazing" for the store to be involved in LFW. "However, I do think the right balance would have to be reached, because what the British designers do at LFW is amazing and helps to keep the magic and fantasy alive that is so important to the fashion industry."

Andy Rogers, brand director at Reiss, thought the high street could be involved in LFW but said the fashion calendar was "off kilter" as designers would be showing seasonal items that Reiss had "already put to bed".

A spokeswoman for the British Fashion Council, which runs LFW, said high street retailers were among its partners. She added that Topshop sponsored its NewGen scheme for emerging talent, while Topshop Unique and Topman Design were on schedule. She stressed that LFW was a trade event, but London Fashion Weekend, from 25 February, was aimed at consumers.

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