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The Independent Online

Fashion Editor

A drinks party at 10 Downing Street to celebrate Britain's pounds 14.5bn fashion industry, the country's fifth largest, will be held next Wednesday - a week too late.

London Fashion Week started yesterday with a show by the evening wear designer, Maria Grachvogel, but by the time John and Norma Major open their doors the fashion pack will be in Milan.

Every year British designers complain that they are being elbowed out of the international fashion calendar. Last October, London was sandwiched between Paris and New York and this year Milan overlaps with the capital by two days.

For the Dublin-based designer John Rocha, however, the fact that the London shows are before Milan and Paris decided him to return from Paris, where he has spent the past three seasons and views as overcrowded, to show in the tents at the Natural History Museum.

And while London does not have big-name designers such as Calvin Klein or Giorgio Armani, it brings together new talent and established names. Over the next three days, more than 30 designers, including Nicole Farhi, Bella Freud, Red or Dead, Katharine Hamnett, Betty Jackson and the internationally renowned hatter Philip Treacy, will be packed into a tight schedule. But it is the new, creative names who continue to attract the interest of international press and buyers.

The fashion industry's quest for the Next Big Thing is an insatiable one. Names such as Alexander McQueen, Hussein Chalayan and Clements Ribeiro are still establishing themselves with store buyers who will often eye a designer for a few seasons before committing to ordering from them.

Young designers rely on sponsorship for staging catwalk shows. Marks & Spencer, for example, is sponsoring Ribeiro, the duo Copperwheat Blundell and Antonio Berardi, while Rolls-Royce is backing Treacy and Fabio Piras is showing in the Saab showroom in Piccadilly.

However, it is sponsorship from manufacturers such as Sirelli, the Tottenham- based company that is backing Justin Oh and Copperwheat Blundell, which really makes a difference. Such support is continued into production and long after a company's name has disappeared from the catwalk.