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Designer loses his pounds 500,000 collection

ONE OF British fashion's leading young designers, Antonio Berardi, had his entire 1998/9 collection, stolen from outside his London studio on Monday afternoon.

The collection, which is of inestimable value to the designer in terms of advertising revenue, cost pounds 200,000 to produce, and is worth up to pounds 500,000 on the street.

The theft took place right under the nose of a lorry driver delivering the collection from Italian manufacturers Givuesse in Rimini. When he arrived at Berardi's premises in St Martin's Lane, the driver was approached by two men asking whether this was the Antonio Berardi delivery, and thinking they were legitimate, he gave them the 175 size eight garments, hats by Stephen Jones, shoes by Manolo Blahnik and personal orders for models and friends. They quite simply wheeled the clothes off, leaving the driver waiting for them to return.

"Only a few people knew about the delivery," says Priyesh Shah, Mr Berardi's business partner, "so we can't rule out anything, even I am a suspect at the moment." Mr Berardi, meanwhile, who was en route to Italy as the theft took place, is completely shocked that something obviously so well organised could be directed at him.

The collection, which was shown as part of London Fashion Week in February, was returning to London after being shown to buyers in Milan and Paris.

Heavyweight magazines including American and British Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, Elle, and Allure had all made requests for pieces from the collection to photograph. Their patronage is worth millions to the designer who had his first show in 1995, and who can't afford to advertise his clothes.

"The clothes are a commodity, some items are irreplaceable, and the rest could take up to two months to replace," said Shah. Indeed the Swarovski crystal jacket shown here as Berardi accepted the congratulations at his last show is unique, it cost pounds 8,000 to make, and though it will never be available in a shop, is instantly recognisable as a Berardi 'showpiece'.

"The clothes are very hard to rip-off," said Shah, "and many of the items, particularly the leather pieces, are unique to Berardi. Even if the labels are removed, we will know them, and if anyone else sees them they must tell us."

This method of stealing clothes has been used numerous times in London where victims have includedTomasz Starzewski, Issey Miyake, and Ted Baker.