The Intelligent Consumer: The fashion month

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Something was stirring at last week's London Fashion Week. Always hip, perky and headline-inspiring, there were signs this time of a new pragmatism, that the British fashion industry has learned to combine its cutting-edge creativity with sound business sense. Meanwhile, Naomi Campbell gave the proceedings a miss - she was too busy hob-nobbing with Fidel Castro. She may be a pro on the runway, but she's starting to look mighty comfortable on those podiums...

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From the cutting edge to the hard sell

THE MOST telling show of London Fashion Week came not from a college- leaving genius or a ground-breaking Next Big Thing, but from someone who's been in the business for 20 years. Paul Smith, Britain's most successful designer, showed for the first time ever at London Fashion Week.

Many saw his presence at LFW as proof that British fashion had finally got its sums right. Smith, who now has a global business worth pounds 171 million, turned down a nomination as British Designer of the Year in 1992 because he believed the industry did little to help young designers. However, over the last six years, the British fashion industry has managed to bring together two opposite poles - cutting-edge creativity and business sense - and Mr Smith is impressed.

"Designers are more organised, and they are running successful businesses," he told the Guardian. "In the past, it was just hype. Important buyers would have come over, they would have given a significant part of their budget to British design, and would never have seen the clothes, or they would get them horribly late, or horribly made. Now, our designers are bringing in the goods, and I'm happy to show here for that reason."

Matthew Williamson, a media darling who showed his first collection of just 11 frocks last season, is typical of the new breed of designer. He is self-financed and was cautious not to over-stretch himself with his first catwalk collection. "The reason we did a show last time," he says, "was to accelerate the press coverage of our firm but not to get too many orders... Eventually we chose just 13 stores that we wanted to do business with and these are the best shops in each of their cities."

For those who can remember, the fashion crash of the late Eighties taught designers and journalists a hard lesson. Businesses such as Body Map, Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano learned that endless editorials were not enough to make them a success. Buyers got their fingers burnt as British designers did not have the business acumen, backing or organisation to fulfil orders. But now, the buyers are back. "Bergdorf Goodman, the ultra- chic Manhattan department store," reported the Times, "is sending no fewer than 13 buyers to the shows... Leading buyers from Japan, France and Italy have also made a firm commitment to the event."

In between all the self-congratulatory hype, there was an increasing number of articles in the press about British fashion's commercial viability. "The wacky ideas that have made London the creative capital of the fashion world are finally being turned into serious money," reported the Independent's Tamsin Blanchard. "Design, once seen as an afterthought, a blot-on to industry," said Sally Brampton in the Times, "is now recognised as the cornerstone of economic prosperity." and the Guardian reported that the British fashion industry "has tripled in size since 1990, with sales rising from pounds 185 million to pounds 600 million last year."

So how did British design shed its wacky-but-unwearable image? "The British retailing system is unique throughout the world," John Wilson, Chief Executive of the BFC, tells me. "Designers, with encouragement, have realised that if they want to grow throughout the UK they have to work with the retail market here. More designers are going for wearable clothes and are not just aiming at getting their clothes in the papers."

And the high street/designer deals just keep coming. "Every high street chain has bagged itself a name," said Sally Brampton. "Marks & Spencer is heaving with designers; Dorothy Perkins has Clements Ribeiro; Owen Gastor and Paul Frith are at Bhs, Jasper Conran, Pearce Fionda... are at Debenhams." The Independent also pointed out the high street's helping- hand. "Antonio Berardi, Clements Ribeiro, Pearce Fionda, Sonja Nuttall and Julien Macdonald have all also graduated from the M&S sponsorship scheme," said Tamsin Blanchard, who also reported that Hussein Chalayan is to "design a capsule collection for Top Shop - which will in return sponsor his London catwalk show."

However, not all designers have become commercially savvy. London's latest enfant terrible, Andrew Groves (who released a swarm of flies onto an unsuspecting audience at his Spring/Summer catwalk show) was refused a slot on the official Fashion Week schedule. According to the Evening Standard, the BFC said he was "not yet ready" to be included.

"I don't understand why I'm not on the schedule," he told the Independent. "I have two books full of press clippings for my first show." And there's the rub. As Melanie Rickey said in the Independent: "A show is just a show, after all. It's fun, but it's the clothes that have to sell, and if they don't, what's the point?" British fashion has learnt it's lesson at last.

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"THERE'S nothing wrong with them wanting to pose with designers, but they should do it after they've achieved something."

Wayne Hemmingway, head of Red or Dead, on how the Government has capitalised on British Fashion through Downing Street parties rather than policies, the Independent on Sunday

"Who's that prat in the hat? I wish she"d take it off - I can't see a thing."

Pass Notes in the Guardian, on what not to say to Isabella Blow

"From the wrap dress I derived my freedom, my financial independence, my names and my brand. Every product I did was connected to that. I thought, 'My God, this is going to be written on my tombstone'."

Diane von Furstenberg on her little Seventies design classic, Frank

"The girls I know who are strutting their stuff on the catwalk are beautiful, or at least they were before they lost a 'bit' of weight and took a 'few' drugs."

Reader's letter on the perils of modelling, Elle

"In the end, haute couture functions, at its best and least elitist, as a laboratory of ideas. It's the Tomorrow's World of fashion, if you like."

Susannah Frankel, the Guardian, on made-to-measure's influence

"This is my Hendon housewife top."

Designer Anthony Symonds on his North London influences, the Evening Standard

"You photographed Kate Moss without noticing that her hands were so badly taken care of, her nails were actually black."

Reader's letter, Vogue

"We thought that it was creative, but it was perceived as drug addicts and messy. People don't want that now."

Calvin Klein on the "heroin chic" ad campaigns of the past, Independent on Sunday

"With true Dunkirk spirit, we spy giant dustbins, upturn them, step on and get a balcony view of the catwalk."

Iain R Webb on the trials of getting to see Daryl K's show last season in New York, Elle

"Putting on a catwalk show is like asking the world to a fantastic party and spending the next five years paying it off." Antony Price, the Independent

Business News

RICHARD Branson (above) is to launch Virgin Clothing, his own line of womenswear, in July at Selfridge's in London. Apparently logos are low on the list, while prices are rather high.

(Source: the Evening Standard)

In the past 12 months, property agents have leased 29 Bond Street sites for actual or planned shop openings by international or home-grown fashion houses. The reason for the boom is that many sites are over 10,000 sq ft, perfect for flagship stores.

(Source: the Sunday Times)

A Which? survey reported that designer- label shirts are of no better quality than supermarket versions. A pounds 50 Thomas Pink shirt was found to be of lesser quality than a pounds 9 Tesco one, while a Debenhams pounds 11 classic came tops in the polycotton category, closely followed by Asda.

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Pretty girlies: butterflies flew into Frank (above) and sent Marie Claire and Vogue a-flutter; the Independent, the Observer and Frank had embroidery all sewn up; Real Life went for witchy-girly style while the Times believed in fairies.

Covers girls: Madonna graced the front of Vanity Fair; looking wonderfully fresh-faced and maternal, dressed top-to-toe in Voyage and adorned by her gorgeous daughter, Lourdes (the coverline: "Madonna and child", spawning a thousand similar headlines). Georgina Grenville on Vogue; Rollergirl on the Face; Cindy Crawford on She.

Shooting from the hip: Marie Claire came up with the best fashion spread: bikers, tough broads, little old ladies and transvestites all got the look with leather. And not a Super in sight.

Male order: i-D went for that Eastern Bloc emigre look; Real Life homed in on undies; the Telegraph waxed lyrical on the Italian suit, while Arena went for easier style; the Sunday Times adored Nicole Farhi's menswear, and the Independent on Sunday said that boys should wear lemon.

High street style: the Independent charts the clothes chain, from top designer to high street; the Observer and the Independent profiled Jack (below), a high street chain which will sell well-made, reasonably priced, commercial clothes. Elle shot all this season's hippest looks at Jigsaw, Kookai, Warehouse etc.

Profiles: Tristan Webber in Vogue and the Daily Telegraph; Lainey Keogh in the Independent on Sunday; Janet Reger in the Sunday Telegraph; Hussein Chalayan in the Sunday Telegraph and Independent; Patrick Cox opened his doors for the Times, as did Matthew Williamson in Frank; Anthony Price (above) in the Evening Standard; Paul Smith in the Guardian.

Colours: Grey and white in Vogue; grey in Frank; pink in Marie Claire, the Evening Standard, the Sunday Telegraph and Elle; white in the Observer; burgundy in the Sunday Times and Red magazine.

We're unclear on clear: Vogue said transparency was in; the Daily Telegraph was tired of seeing bums, breasts and legs on the catwalk; the Sunday Times warned of the thin line between transparency and indecent exposure (via the Public Order Act, so wear a jacket).

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IN I-D this month, Naomi Campbell is described as a "Supermodel survivor, relentless re-inventor. Model, designer, writer, actress, singer, restaurateur, charity worker, one of the world's most famous women."

If it's possible that anything is missing from this impressive list, it must be "expert self-publicist". Naomi might not be an awfully good singer, actress or writer, but this girl can work a photocall almost as well as a catwalk. Eighteen models (including Kate Moss and Christy Turlington) turned up to wear Versace at a charity auction in Cape Town on February 14. The charity was the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund and guess who was photographed hugging the President? Yep, you guessed it.

Campbell may simply be expressing her genuine sentiments and concerns, but it certainly doesn't do her global profile any harm. The Mandela shot certainly had a suspiciously stagey quality about it - but then, doesn't everything Naomi does? Either way, it furthered her image as, as i-D put it, an "icon".

In fact, she had already made the gossip columns before she had even touched down in South Africa. "Naomi's temper has flared again," reported the Times. Apparently, a fellow first-class passenger decided to film her while she was sleeping. Understandably, Naomi flew into a rage and the Peeping Tom had to erase his tape.

Naomi didn't make London Fashion Week. Instead, she flew to Cuba for a week-long shoot with pal Kate for a Harper's Bazaar photoshoot. She managed to fit a meeting with President Fidel Castro into her busy schedule.

A most extraordinary photograph appeared in the Guardian of the Streatham supermodel in front of a bank of microphones, the kind of pose that is normally reserved for the White House. Naomi is mid-speech, her hands raised as if stressing world-changing words. She looks every bit the politician, the stateswoman. In the caption she is quoted as saying Castro found the meeting "very spiritual". Star quality? No one else stands a chance.

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WHAT KATIE didn't do next: Kate Winslet (right) turned down front row tickets to the top shows, reported the Observer. "It's becoming 'Spot the star' not 'Spot the frock'," she said. "The shows are becoming so paparazzi-driven." However, Kate still loves fashion and rumours abound that Vivienne Westwood will create her Oscar frock. "Kate is a real fan since Vivienne made her a dress for the Sense and Sensibility Oscar nomination," a spokesman said in the Daily Telegraph.

Launching F2: Fergie's younger half-sister Alice Ferguson has joined Models One, so said the Sunday Times. Known as F2, the paper reported that "she is fortunate in not sharing all of her sister's ample qualities."

Putting the Life into Country: the Daily Telegraph, the Independent and the Guardian reported that Country Life magazine had finally dropped its pearls-and-tweeds image and gone for biker leathers instead. Chloe Courtauld was photographed on a Honda CBR600. "I thought the concept was great fun," she said in the Independent. "It is a bit more eye catching for Country Life."

The Big Apple turns sour: the Fashion Cafe in New York, part-owned by Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer and Elle Macpherson, owes its creditors $700,000, according to the Evening Standard. And business is not booming: "Cynics were debating the wisdom of basing a restaurant around women who scarcely eat at all," reported the London newspaper.

Too much, too young: the Daily Mail got hot under the collar reporting on 12-year-old Elizabeth Preston's modelling career and questioned her mother's willingness to expose her to "a world in which drug-taking, anorexia and eating disorders are rife". The Daily Telegraph and Independent also covered the story, re-igniting the whole "young girls as provocative models" debate.

It's a boy: model Elle McPherson gave birth to a baby son in New York, called Arpad Flynn Busson (he's not named after an advertising agency, but after his father). She is said to have had a 16-hour labour and the baby was a bouncing 7.1 lbs.

What Katie didn't do next 2: It may not be long before Kate Moss (left) struts her last on the catwalks. On BBC1's recent Inside Story programme on the modelling industry, she was less than gushing. "It's a great job," she told , "but it becomes like you are on autopilot."

Size is everything: Sophie Dahl is H&M's new model for its Big is Beautiful range (is size 14 big?). "Dahl is proud of her size and should prove a powerful role model for girls shy of rummaging around the racks in the BIB range," said Time Out.