LONDON FASHION WE; EK: A CAPITAL A TO Z

For weeks, London's fashion world has been preoccupied with one thing: how to get into the Alexander McQueen show at London Fashion Week, opening today. McQueen isn't the only star attraction, though - both Jasper Conran and Vivienne Westwood make their return to the capital's catwalks; while Miu Miu, Prada's younger and more accessible line, arrives in London for the first time. For an insight into who will be who over the coming season, read our A to Z of London Fashion Week

A is for Alexander McQueen (see left), now responsible for his own label, as well as for four Givenchy collections a year. Fans expect his collection this Thursday to have low-cut bumster trousers and spiky precision tailoring. Antoni & Alison, known for their vacuum-packed slogan T-shirts, have expanded to include bobble hats, bags and smiley friend purses. Antonio Berardi, a name for the future, has secured a deal with Italian manufacturer Givuesse and mixes modern tailoring with wispy chiffon. Makes lighter-than-air underwear, too.

B is for Bill Amberg, who sells his modern and traditional luggage (the best of it in leather), around the world. But he's also a consultant for the likes of Donna Karan, Romeo Gigli and Margaret Howell. Bella Freud, daughter of Lucian, has designed saucy, coquettish clothing since 1990. Collections include jaunty knitwear, kinky shoes and a good dose of old- fashioned French Riviera dressing. Betty Jackson is into her 16th year of designing under her own name. Her clothes are understated and classic, giving them the timeless appeal her customers love. BJ Knits, her knitwear collection, sells nationwide.

C is for Clements Ribeiro, the husband and wife team of Suzanne Clements and Inacio Ribeiro. They met when they were studying for fashion degrees at Central St Martin's in 1989 and set up their working partnership four years later. With clothes that are both desirable and commercial, they are one of British fashion's young designer success stories; this month, their second capsule collection for Dorothy Perkins goes into the stores.The pair also won the Lloyd's Bank British Fashion Award for New Generation Designers in 1996.

D is for Dollargrand, who make handbags, belts and other leather goods. They are extremely good at picking up on high fashion trends on the catwalks and translating them for a wider middle market. Also for Dead, as in Red Or Dead, the shoe and clothing label set up from a Camden Town market stall by the colourful Wayne Hemingway. There are now five Red or Dead stores in the UK and the clothes are sold in Japan, Germany and Israel. For spring, look out for clothing inspired by the kitsch imagery of Bollywood, Bombay's film industry.

E is for Emma Hope, and her elegant shoes. Emma Hope left Cordwainer's in 1984 and has recently opened her second shop, off London's Sloane Square. Her elegant shoes are worn by the likes of Britt Ekland and the Duchess of York. English Eccentrics are as important for their textile designs as they are for their clothes. The company was founded in 1983 by Helen David. Hand-finished techniques, such as devore, go into making luxurious clothes that will only get better with age and wear.

F is for Fabio Piras, one of the St Martin's class of `91, which also includes Sonja Nuttall and Clements Ribeiro. He was born in Geneva to Italian parents. His clothes combine a certain charm and naivety with a harder, more streetwise edge. Fred Bare have been making hats for over a decade. Rather than concentrating on weddings and Ascot, their hats are for everyday wear. Their shop in East London's Columbia Road is a great hunting- ground for bargain samples, which for this spring might include pork-pie hats, pinstripe knitted pull-on beanie hats, or small- brimmed stetsons.

G is for Giant, the label set up by 34-year-old Susan Ball four years ago. Her clothes are unashamedly glamorous and raunchy - and loved by curvaceous women everywhere. The label's high-profile customers include Dannii Minogue and Gina G. Gilly Forge is the ex-lawyer and journalist who is now a milliner. Well-known for her fake fur day hats and Ascot creations; clients include Princess Michael of Kent and Lady Antonia Fraser.

H is for Hussein Chalayan, the young avant-garde designer who mixes edgy tailoring with truly original thinking: a rare thing in the fashion world. He first shot into the fashion limelight with his paper dresses made from Tyvek, as well as dresses he buried in his back garden with iron filings. His collections have been inspired by everything from Descartes to flight paths, kite-flying and death. In turn, he has been the source of inspiration for countless other designers, including Calvin Klein in New York.

I is for Idol, the label set up in 1989 by New Zealand's Penny Meachin and Kerrie Hughes. Idol's clothes look like one-off numbers, with their use of hand-sewn beads and shells, as well as feathers, embroidery and applique. The first collection was snapped up by Whistles. It is also stocked by Liberty and sold from Idol's own small shop in Soho.

J is for Jasper Conran. Jasper is approaching his 20th year of designing under his own name, and although he has kept away from the hype of the London catwalks in recent years (he says he hates fashion shows), he is making a return on Thursday. John Rocha is the Hong Kong-born designer who has built up his own label from his headquarters in Temple Bar, Dublin. His clothes take inspiration from Celtic imagery as well as from Rocha's Asian roots. This spring, he launches a jeans collection of simple basics.

K is for Katharine Hamnett, who set up in business in 1979 and made headlines in 1984 with her "58% don't want Pershing" T-shirt. Hamnett maintains her high political ground with her use of eco-friendly fabrics and slogans. This spring, her message is "Sanction China". Kirk Originals is a relatively new name in sunglasses and specs frames. Set up by Jason Kirk in 1991, the company specialises in frames made from components from the Sixties. Kirk Originals opened a shop last year in Covent Garden.

L is for Lainey Keogh, the Irish knitwear designer who shows for the first time on a catwalk in London tomorrow. All her pieces are hand- knitted from luxurious fabrics. She has been hailed as the Irish answer to Missoni and is very popular in the US, with customers including Demi Moore, Isabella Rossellini, Elizabeth Taylor and Jamie Lee Curtis.

M is for Mark Whitaker, the British fashion editor turned fashion designer. Whitaker was fashion editor at GQ, then at New York's Details magazine. Two seasons ago, he launched his own label in New York. For autumn, the collection was entirely in red, with organza slip dresses and vampish leather dresses. Whitaker shows his collection on Wednesday. Miu Miu, affectionately named after the mighty Italian designer Miuccia Prada, is Prada's new diffusion line. After showing in New York for the past few seasons, Miu Miu is making its London debut on the catwalk tonight.

N is for Nicole Farhi, the French designer who has had her own very successful line for14 years. Twice winner of the Contemporary Collections award at the British Fashion Awards, Farhi is a champion of the modern woman's wardrobe. Her shops and restaurant, Nicole's at 158 New Bond Street, reflect her clean visual sense, attention to detail, and, most of all, her fresh approach to the "real clothes for real women" aesthetic.

O is for Owen Gaster, who showed his first collection in February 1994, which earned him a place among the New Generation designers. He has continued to show his futuristic and hard-edged clothes to a receptive international audience, and sells in LA, New York, London and Manchester. His fans include Kylie Minogue and Siobhan Fahey. Orla Kiely is the London- based Irish bag designer who started her company three years ago. Her most popular bags are tactile and comfortable rucksacks. The range is stocked from Saks in New York to Liberty in London.

P is for Pearce Fionda (the pair whose first names are Ren and Andrew), feted since 1994 for their injection of new glamour into British fashion. Philip Treacy is the young Irishman whose passion for millinery has resulted in antlers for Alexander McQueen, as well as illuminated flying saucer hats. Paul Frith is the ex-Marine who gave it all up for fashion. His autumn/winter `97 collection promises wearable clothes for West End girls. The unisex range People Corporation, described as "Helmut Lang at affordable prices", is designed by Frenchman Roland Mouret, and sums up London street style.

Q is for Queen Viv (as she is affectionately known), or the Queen of Punk. We're talking about Vivienne Westwood, of course, the woman who put a gold safety pin through the nose of convention and reintroduced women to heaving bosoms and padded bottoms (men suddenly discovered the wonders of codpieces). Her Milan and Paris shows for both sexes have always been a hot ticket, and this afternoon she opens London Fashion Week with her more commercial knitwear-oriented line, Red Label. It's the first time she has shown in the UK since 1990.

R is for Roland Klein, one of the few French designers to have made his base in London. Now 59, Klein's mentors have certainly been prodigious. He worked with Christian Dior from 1960-62, and with Karl Lagerfeld from 1962- 65. He then moved to London to learn English, and eventually opened his own shop in 1979. He has built up a solid base of customers who love his couture-ish designs. Ivana Trump is often seen at his shows.

S is for Seraph, designed by Sherry Lamden, previously of Ghost. Where Ghost is romantic, Seraph is stretchy and streetwise. Sonja Nuttall, absent from London catwalks for three seasons, returns with her Lee Miller- inspired collection on Thursday. Her style: classic masculine and romantic tailoring for women. Shirin Guild presents her first catwalk show on Tuesday; her designs are inspired by clothes worn by Middle-Eastern peasants. Stephen Jones, the milliner whose work now adorns the perfectly coiffed heads of Dior couture customers, still designs for mortals. His shop is in Covent Garden.

T is for Tomasz Starzewski, the 35-year-old London-born designer with Polish roots who can count Shirley Bassey and Cosima von Bulow among his clients. His design ethos is "glamour, pure glamour" - and he's best at cocktail wear, day, evening and bridalwear. He also has a shop for ladies who lunch in Knightsbridge.

U is for Frank Usher, the company set up in 1944 by Max Bruh, while Britain was in the grip of rationing and wartime austerity. The label has since gone on to fame as Norma Major's favourite designer: the clothes are conservative separates for working women and grown-up evening wear.

V is for Vivien Walsh, a Dublin-based costume jeweller whose delicate and romantic creations take their inspiration from Russian royalty, Indian maharajahs and Hollywood glamour. She uses semi-precious stones, wiring and glass for her individual antique-like pieces - which are fast becoming a popular choice for those who want their jewellery to reflect their artistic sensibilities.

W is for Workers for Freedom, also known as Richard Nott and Graham Fraser, who received the Designer of the Year award in 1990. They returned to the catwalks with a new backer last October after an absence of two years.

X is for X-rated. London Fashion Week is not for the faint-hearted, and often presents the kind of catwalk shows that would make Mary Whitehouse despair. You'll have heard of McQueen exposing bums and breasts, encasing models in restrictive metal contraptions, and even presenting a show entitled "Highland Rape", but don't forget that Red or Dead models have brandished knives and been covered in pretend blood, and that Hussein Chalayan's spiked mouth jewellery could prove painful. But it wouldn't be London Fashion Week without all the gore, would it?

Y is for Young Designers, who include Stella McCartney, 25-year- old St Martin's graduate and daughter of Paul and Linda, whose clients include Kate Moss and Patsy Kensit. Her clothes mix Savile Row tailoring with delicate, girly slip dresses. Copperwheat Blundell are now in their fourth year. Lee Copperwheat designs sports-inspired menswear, Pam Blundell the urban womenswear. Julien Macdonald, 24-year-old Welsh knitwear designer, was spotted by Karl Lagerfeld and has since worked for Lagerfeld and Chanel. Forget jumpers: he designs intricate dresses that look like filigree lace.

Z is for Ronit Zilkha (see right), the diminutive 29-year-old Israeli designer. She has five London shops, and a clientele including Cherie Blair, Maureen Lipman, Carol Vorderman and Esther Rantzen. Her clothes are business-like and presentable, without being showy.

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