London has more buzz than swing

Energy, yes; creativity, in abundance - but did it live up to all the hype? Tamsin Blanchard chooses the best - and worst - of London Fashion Week.
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
Across the road from London Fashion Week loomed a huge billboard advertising the March issue of Vanity Fair, with Liam and Patsy swathed in Union Flag sheets with the words "London Swings Again!" Inside the tents last Thursday, Prozac Patsy, fresh from the depression clinic, modelled eveningwear by Ben de Lisi while Liam egged her on from his front-row seat.

Later that night, after the fashion pack had snoozed through Jasper Conran's Eighties time warp show (celebrity guests: Mick Hucknall of Simply Red, Simon Callow, Bob Geldof and Sarah Armstrong-Jones), Liam and Patsy were in attendance again at the derelict old market in Bermondsey for Alexander McQueen. But no amount of swagger and snarling could detract from the fact that goat-skins, Flintstones-style cowhide dresses, Camden Market patchwork denim loons and a novelty crocodile head stuck on to the back of a man's jacket are not what London's swingers are killing each other to wear right now. The show fell flat on its face, along with the hype that London is hot again.

"Whenever people start saying that London is swinging again, I am always sceptical," said American Vogue's fashion news director, Katherine Betts, at the static show of Karl Lagerfeld's protege knitwear designer Julien MacDonald, at the Imagination Gallery in central London. She had flown in on her way to Milan and Paris, to see McQueen's show and check what all the Brit fuss was about. She was patently underwhelmed, along with other foreign press and buyers who had come to London to be, in the words of Vanity Fair, "part of the excitement and energy in a city that is full of innovation in fashion and quality".

It is true that London has raw energy and creativity on tap. Jefferson Hack, editor of the underground magazine Dazed & Confused, thinks people are only just beginning to take notice of a scene that has been bubbling for years. "That's why we started the magazine four years ago, because there were so many creative people about." Still, he went to only one show last week: Alexander McQueen, which, he said, "lived up to all its hype. I don't think it's about selling clothes at all. It should be about ideas and inspiration - theatre as well as fashion."

This is the only country that has a serious, consistent art school system and the degree show from Central Saint Martin's at the end of the week was a source of excitement that will no doubt spew out some bright sparks, ready to set the fashion world alight. But when Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall are still cavorting about the shows, you have to ask yourself why their Nineties equivalent aren't doing the same. Sure, Patsy and Liam showed their faces for one evening. Prince and Sting were at the Antonio Berardi show. And Robbie Williams danced in his seat at Copperwheat Blundell's show. But Kate Moss didn't bother to show up. Where were the Spice Girls? Damien Hirst? Damon Albarn? Justine Frischmann? Jarvis Cocker? All the overheated paparazzi had to focus on were a few has-beens from Swinging London Mark I: Raine Spencer, Princess Anne, Norman Lamont, and a handful of cast members from EastEnders.

As for the clothes, they were a mixed bag. Antonio Berardi showed skill at both showmanship and cutting, with a buzzy collection he intends to sell as well as be talked about. Sonja Nuttall, the 32-year-old making a comeback with a collection of luxuriously simple clothing that will be a dream to wear next winter. The Ghost off-shoot Seraph had a cultish young collection that was hit-and-miss but had a strong sense of raw energy.

The more established designers Betty Jackson, Nicole Farhi and John Rocha showed good, wearable clothes, Rocha's with a strong dose of Chinese imagery, and Jackson's with an eye on how to make fashion wearable. Clements Ribeiro produced a collection brimming with ideas - naive embroideries, mini-kilts, a smattering of punk and bondage, and some pretty chinoiserie - but scarred by the use of mink trims - which fortunately will not go into production.

Prada's younger line, Miu Miu, shown in London for the first time, was a one-note wonder with kitsch plastic circus sequins and schoolgirl gymslips. Pearce Fionda's collection went back to Eighties Dallasty with slick tailoring for serious women who demand more from their wardrobes than just clever ideas.

Hussein Chalayan showed a finely tuned exercise in good design. The tailoring, the choice of muted colours with flashes of bright scarlet, and the luxurious fabrics were near perfection. But it was the eveningwear - long sheaths with jet beads weighing the dresses on to the shoulders, starbursts of gold embroidery, gold chains threaded in perfect Art Deco geometry - that was the stand-out of the week.

"I put a lot of pressure on to myself," said Chalayan. "I'm just doing my own thing." He added: The hype about London is all a media thing - it makes a good story"n