The market: Ahh, the smell of Brit

Vivienne Westwood is the living embodiment of her ex-boyfriend Malcolm McLaren's favourite saying - Cash From Chaos. Peer beneath the good lady's own underwear choices and general cocky attitude and you'll find a business mind that's 20 times more astute than most British cloth cutters. Symbolic of this is the announcement that she intends to be the first British designer to launch a scent.

Okay, some Savile Row tailors have gentlemen's scents, but Westwood is planning to compete with Hugo Boss, Calvin Klein, Chanel and Givenchy. No other British designer has dared to take on these giants in the unseemly brawl that is the perfume shelf. Katherine Hamnett has been toying with the idea of a fragrance for a long time, but hasn't got anything she feels is exactly right. After all, if you are going to put your name to the most memorable of sense stimulators, you want to make sure it delights not offends. Even so, the dearth of British designer scents is striking.

"The problem is that in the UK fashion colleges they just aren't taught about marketing," says Michael Oliviera-Salac, editor of on-line fashion 'zine Blow and GLR's fashion correspondent. "In France, all the designers have fragrances and it comes perfectly naturally to them. They do it because a Givenchy suit costs pounds 500 minimum, but you can get a bottle of scent for pounds 30. That means you're buying into the designer. It looks good in your handbag and you can drop the name around without paying through the nose. The British designers could and should do that. Alexander McQueen could make a killing with a fragrance."

Of course, the other problem is cash. If Ralph Lauren or Yves St Laurent plan to put out a fragrance they put aside a cool pounds 10 million for advertising, marketing and promotions. British designers just don't have that sort of wedge to throw around. Westwood is not known for advertising and hasn't said how much she will spend on pushing the scent. Industry observers believe she will rely on her name and her stunts to sell it. Once a scent is out there, however, the cash can really start rolling in.

British designers are also crippled by their lack of expansion in other ways. Very few, for example, have diffusion ranges in the spirit of Junior Gaultier or Versace's Vs. In part, this is a function of the British obsession with street fashion. On the continent, they don't have catwalk-to-high- street interpreters such as Top Shop or even Bhs. With a bit of imagination and a bit of shopping around, you can put together a pretty deft looking ensemble without spending much at all. So, it might only last three washes, but what the hell? It shows that most Brits want to look funky. Even in small villages.

In France or Italy that isn't an issue, so there's no demand for chain stores. In the US, of course, the 'flyovers' are such a bunch of lardy slobs that they couldn't give a toss if it was available or not. That's why you have diffusion lines like D&G, Junior Gaultier or DKNY, so that the select few who love fashion but cannot afford the big-boy prices can attach the name to their chest. Westwood is one of the few Brits to start pushing a diffusion range (her Red Label), so the scent fits nicely into her continental thinking.

These scents are rapidly becoming the front line of the designer war. In fact, CK1 has freaked out so many people with its phenomenal success that Hugo Boss is already conducting research among London's hip community to find out how best to fight back. At the moment, the jury is out, but getting Kate Moss involved is the only constant suggestion.

"I think it has a pretty good chance of success," says Claudia Croft, fashion writer at industry business magazine Drapers Record. "She has a strong enough cult following to sell the scent without too much advertising and marketing. It will be very good for her, especially in Japan where she is huge even though she's slightly gone off the boil in the UK. I don't really think it matters what it smells like as long as the packaging is right and the shape of the bottle looks cool. It can smell like anything she wants." See what I mean? Cash from chaos.