After the hype, British fashion lures the serious money

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The Independent Online
After decades of hype and no substance, London fashion is finally being taken seriously. Last week, Paul Smith, a world player in menswear with sales totalling pounds 165m last year, announced that he would be showing his women's collection on the catwalk for the first time later this month. And he has chosen London as the venue.

Hussein Chalayan, one of Britain's most challenging and innovative designers, announced that he had signed a three-season contract with the United States giant TSE Cashmere, and is also to design a capsule collection for the British chain Top Shop - which will in return sponsor his London catwalk show this month. Chalayan's TSE New York collection will be shown on the catwalk at the city's fashion week at the end of March. The line is expected to make pounds 4m wholesale in the first year.

Meanwhile, Sonja Nuttall, a designer with the potential to be Britain's answer to Jil Sander, has gained sound financial backing and support for her company from British high-street supplier, Intraport.

Owen Gaster, a young designer who has struggled to self-finance his past five collections, has won backing from the Italian manufacturer Casor, who will sponsor his show alongside BhS. And Antony Price, a fashion legend since the Seventies when he dressed Roxy Music, Jerry Hall, Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, as well as David Bowie, is the latest in a line of British designers rumoured to be in the running for the job as head of Versace Couture.

The wacky ideas that have made London the creative capital of the fashion world are finally being turned into serious money. British designers became a viable commercial proposition when John Galliano was given the house of Givenchy to reinvent. Then came Alexander McQueen, also at Givenchy, and Stella McCartney at Chloe. The traditional fashion houses have recognised that to capture affluent young customers and maintain any credibility beyond the millennium they need to buy-in young blood. The British fashion pack is the natural hunting ground.

Antonio Berardi, whose first collection for Italian leather company Ruffo is unveiled in Milan next month, is also rumoured to be up for the Versace job. But gossip links 52-year-old Antony Price with the Italian house. Price sent samples of his work to Milan in November but says the deal is still "very much up in the air". Donatella Versace appears to be searching for a designer to keep the company's made-to-measure, one-off couture business alive. There has not been an haute couture collection for Versace since her brother's death last year, despite the launch of a cosmetics range which needs the publicity and kudos a couture collection brings.

Price has his own small-scale but thriving couture business, based in London. His customers include Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, Patsy Kensit, Jerry Hall and Anjelica Houston. And, like the late Gianni Versace, Antony Price is in the business of creating an illusion of perfection. The safety-pin dress that Liz Hurley wore to the premier of Four Weddings and a Funeral was the result of clever corsetry. Women, even Liz Hurley, simply do not have bodies that go in and out in exactly the right places. But with a little help from Mr Price, anything is possible.

"If I am given the money to do it, I will not fail," Price said yesterday from his studio where he is working on a collection to be shown at milliner Philip Treacy's show during Fashion Week later this month.

"The terrible thing that has always hampered me is not a lack of ideas ... but money. Putting on a catwalk show is like asking the world to a fantastic party and spending the next five years paying it off." Instead of "staggering around on a British shoe string" the job at Versace would give the resources to bring his ideas to life. "You could do fantastic things there," he says.