The coolest catwalk

London Fashion Week is about to begin. For years international fashion saw it as a backwater, but now everyone wants to be in on the act

NEXT weekend the world's leading style press and store buyers will descend on London for the start of the capital's Fashion Week. It's the moment when British ready-to-wear designers reveal what they envisage women wearing in autumn/winter '98 (not always a pretty sight).

In the past, Fashion Weeks - there are two a year - have been a time when our designers would whinge about lack of backing from government, press and public (who were criticised for not spending enough money on clothes) and lament their inability to get anyone to place meaningful orders. Even the title, Fashion Week, seemed comical when it lasted a weekend at most and there was only a handful of names on the catwalk schedule.

But the Nineties have seen a remarkable resurgence for London style. This season the "week" lasts a hectic six days - seven if you count Friday's opening-night celebrations. There are 46 shows scheduled, while more than 20 designers who wanted runway presentations didn't make it past the increasingly picky British Fashion Council's selection board; plus numerous smaller-scale, unofficial catwalks. Equally important is the London Designers Exhibition, where jewellers, milliners and fashion designers take elegant stands. So has Cool Britannia turned fashion into a solid business at last?

Wayne Hemingway, head of the ultimate street label Red or Dead and a veteran of the London catwalk season, says: "I've never known such an interest in British fashion. In New York everyone is in awe of Britain at the moment, whether it's shopping, fashion or music, Britain is the place." Like many he's unsure how British fashion managed to get itself into such a great position. "Perhaps it was the publicity surrounding the appointment of Galliano, McQueen and McCartney to Paris fashion houses. Maybe it's a reaction against the Thatcher years. It's hard to say."

But Hemingway is concerned that without increased grassroots support, the industry could still falter. "What sickens me is that all this is being turned into just another photo-opportunity by Labour with their Downing Street parties. There's nothing wrong with them wanting to pose with designers, but they should do it after they've achieved something." Hemingway believes, for instance, that more money needs to be invested in our design schools: "Labour keeps on going on about how great our colleges are but that's often in spite of their facilities, not because of them. It's the teachers who make them great."

However, he admits that for now, "Wherever you go doors open for you as a British designer. In the past, no matter how good your product was, they often stayed closed." It's a level of excitement that could aid Britain's 14,000 apparel manufacturers and their 240,000 employees.

THE YOUNG designer Matthew Williamson, showing at London Fashion Week for the second time, has become something of an overnight success because of the interest in all things British. Self-financed, Williamson is facing a problem that many young firms would kill for: too many stores want to buy from him.

"The reason we did a show last time was to accelerate the press coverage of our firm but not to get too many orders, because that needs to be very carefully monitored and controlled. Eventually we chose just 13 stores that we wanted to do business with and these are the best shops in each of their cities. So we sell to Browns, Joseph and A la Mode in London, Barneys in New York and LA, Nieman Marcus in San Francisco and so on."

Williamson's cautious approach also shows that British fashion is maturing. In the past the catwalk has been littered with firms that looked promising but which overstretched themselves in the first season, failed to meet orders, lost the confidence of buyers and collapsed.

The emergence of British style as a stable business also owes a big debt to the British Fashion Council. Once regarded as ineffectual, the BFC has matured under the leadership of Clinton Silver, a former director of Marks & Spencer. The BFC used to find it impossible to find regular backers for London Fashion Week, but now firms such as Vidal Sassoon, Renault UK and Marks & Spencer have become reliable supporters. M&S plays a crucial role in encouraging young talent by backing emerging designers showing under the New Generation banner.

What's more, the Department of Trade and Industry has put its weight behind Fashion Week and insists that, "When it is successful, as it is now, its success has a knock-on effect on the image of the UK, which in turn reflects positively on UK design and product development generally and on all things British." The DTI says that our hippest fashion designers can even have an impact on the number of tourists who come to the UK.

SIMON Ward of the British Fashion Council has only one concern: that economic chaos in the Far East may stop Japanese and Korean buyers travelling to London. "We've been ringing around to see who is coming and are hoping for a significant number, but there will be some drop-off. It's a shame because these are good markets for young designers."

London Fashion Week is also set to benefit from an unusual tie-in with the Foreign Office. On Friday a show has been organised at the main catwalk stage in the grounds of the Natural History Museum to celebrate Britain's EU presidency, with the theme of youth. The show will feature the work of three student designers from each EU country. There will then be a reception where the fashion kids will get to mix with Labour ministers and EU ambassadors. Hopefully all ice buckets will be kept under lock and key.

Simon Ward is delighted with the initiative, while the Foreign Office is hoping a bit of Cool Britannia will rub off on its rather grey image. A spokesman says: "It's the first time the EU presidency has had a fashion show and we're hoping to discover the new Jasper Conrans. Every country is taking part except the Greeks; presumably they don't have any young designers."

How to be cool

TAISHI Nobukuni is preparing for his first London Fashion Week show. The only problem is he can't get on to the schedule and is having to organise an unofficial event. Trained in the UK at Central St Martin's college, he is now based in Osaka but believes that London is the only place for a young designer to have a show. "It's not so good for manufacturing, but for press and sales it's perfect."

For Nobukuni to be a hit, he needs not only to produce a great collection but to generate publicity - that requires a dramatic venue and the support of cutting-edge stylists and technicians.

Nobukuni has had the good fortune to link up with the young PR Kelly Luchford who also has the contract to promote the forthcoming trendy London hotel, One Aldwych. In a move that helps both of her clients, Luchford has arranged for Nobukuni to show his collection in the concrete shell that will become the hotel's Axis restaurant. The hotel's owner, Gordon Campbell Gray, explains, "I like the idea of a designer showing here in this raw space. It will act as a teaser, so that the people who come will think that they must come back here once it's all done."

Next Luchford persuaded Beki Lamb to style the show. Lamb, currently working on the latest All Saints video, loved the clothes and signed on her friend James Dimmock to make the video and light the catwalk.

What's more, the show is being talked up by London's most influential trend-spotter, Isabella Blow. Blow is famed for discovering Alexander McQueen and the model Sophie Dahl, and is now helping promote Beki Lamb, James Dimmock and, of course, Nobukuni. She has promised to sit on the front row at his show which will ensure that this event will be the epitome of London cool - well, for 20 minutes anyway.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SEN Learning Support Assistant

    £50 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an SEN Learning Supp...

    General Cover Teachers - GRIMSBY

    £120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: We are working with a number of ...

    SECONDARY SUPPLY TEACHERS NEEDED IN AND AROUND FOLKESTONE

    Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Description Randstad Education i...

    KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

    £85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week