'Sam Cam' opens London Fashion Week amid cuts warning

Britain's first lady, Samantha Cameron, opened London Fashion Week Friday in her first appearance as the event's ambassador, while a key figure said the industry was "suffering" under her husband's cuts.

Keeping her style British in a short black dress by Mulberry and a black Sykes jacket, Prime Minister David Cameron's wife described her "passion" for fashion and its importance to the British economy.

British Fashion Council (BFC) chairman Harold Tillman welcomed her involvement but warned of the impact of spending cuts on his organisation, which receives state funding to promote emerging talent and British designers.

"We feel very upbeat and excited about the week ahead, but there's no doubt that this year will be difficult as we are all suffering alongside many other organisations from the cuts the government have made," Tillman said.

The autumn-winter 2011 collections kicked off with a riot of colour from Paul Costelloe, who sent his models down the catwalk with bright pink hair and stunning mini-skirt suits in hot pink, yellow and orange.

One of the most hotly-anticipated shows this season is Saturday's collection from Issa, who designed the blue dress worn by Kate Middleton when she announced her engagement to Prince William last November.

Meanwhile American designer Tom Ford will reportedly be showing his womenswear collection for the first time in London, although only during a series of private appointments with selected fashion editors.

Speaking at the opening of the six-day event Friday, Samantha Cameron said: "I am passionate about fashion so it's a real honour to be here as an ambassador to the British Fashion Council.

"That passion isn't just about how fashion makes people feel. It's about what it can do for our country."

The 39-year-old was appointed BFC ambassador last year but was unable to attend September's shows because she had just given birth to her fourth child.

Ahead of a reception she is hosting for designers at her husband's Downing Street office later Friday, she said fashion was one of Britain's "most important industries", worth more than £20 billion ($32.5 billion, 24 billion euros) a year.

Irish-born designer Costelloe opened proceedings with a range of bright autumnal colours in tartan and houndstooth.

His only daughter, 24-year-old opera singer Jessica, modelled a red coat dress with a nipped-in waist and swinging mid-thigh skirt, grinning broadly at the cameras with her long, brown curls bouncing on her shoulders.

Her brothers took part in last season's shows but she had stayed backstage.

All the other models sported outlandish dyed-pink bobs as they showcased structured necklines, pleated skirts and wide swing coat dresses for a fun, youthful collection.

Meanwhile Caroline Charles, the veteran British designer who used to dress Princess Diana, took her inspiration from the late 19th and early 20th century suffragettes fighting for the vote.

With typically elegant and understated glamour, she presented slender skirts with ruffles at the back reminiscent of a bustle, blazers and jackets in tweed, herringbone and plaid, finished off with bowler hats and printed fedoras.

A muted autumnal palette was livened up with animal print and splashes of colour, from a red snake print dress to a leopard skin shift and wide trousers, and a turquoise tweed coat worn with a black silk skirt and turquoise tights.

Although lower profile than New York, Milan and Paris, London Fashion Week has made its name as a breeding ground for talented young designers, including Christopher Kane, who won this year's BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund.

Kane, who will receive £200,000 as well as mentoring from top figures in the industry under the prize, will be showing his latest collection on Monday.