Fashion: Countdown to London Fashion Week - Who said fashion was just about clothes?

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The Independent Online
It may be three weeks away, but the tantrums, the battles for models, and the hype contests have begun. Melanie Rickey checks in on the younger guns to see how they are faring before London Fashion Week kicks into action with the eyes of the world (seriously) upon it.

It's official. London fashion is it. Not only is London the place to be for fashion happenings, it's fashion is so popular that New York's premier department store, Saks Fifth Avenue, is dedicating a whole week to promoting it in early September. They are calling it the British Invasion Part II, in reference to the first one back in the Sixties when Carnaby Street was swinging.

Competition between the young designers for a place on the schedule is particularly tough this season. Tristan Webber was lucky this time. He has been given a slot by the British Fashion Council for an official catwalk show. However, Anthony Symonds, former Graduate of the Year and Krizia designer, and Andrew 'the Fly' Groves were not. Groves's nick-name is thanks to the finale of his debut show which featured the model Georgina Cooper removing a tailored jacket made of cotton wadding to unleash specially bred flies. Ms Cooper was sick as soon as she came off the runway. "I don't understand why I'm not on the schedule," he says, "I have two books full of press clippings from my first show." That is true, but Groves (formerly known as Jimmy Jumble) gained no stockists. Just one shop, Covent Garden's Koh Samui, offers his clothes on a made-to-order basis.

The trouble with Groves is that he is into hype beyond anything else, much like his old friend Alexander McQueen was at the beginning of his career in 1992. Groves must be doing something right, though. He has already signed up with a big Japanese backer, and sold the worldwide rights to his name; all this before his clothes and image are famous. He acts as though fame is as sure as his next breath, and for his show Groves is guaranteed to gather an audience, despite the fact he will be clashing with an "official" catwalk show. He has hired Judy Blame as his stylist, but more importantly he has Simon Costin, McQueen's former art director, designing and staging his show. He promises no flies, but goes on to say "it will be better than that". Expect sick-bags to be on the seats, and those with front- row tickets fighting to sit on the back row. Who said fashion shows were about clothes?

Maybe that is why Tristan Webber is faring better on the fashion stakes. Liberty bought red leather jackets, and orchid printed chiffons. It even part financed the production costs. Koh Samui has bought a selection of his finely sculpted leather pieces.

Webber believes in his clothes, and is uncomfortable with hype. The only concession to the hype machine he has made this season is to his sponsors Tanqueray Gin, for which he has posed cheesily, with the cocktail he designed, the 'Webber UV Ice'. "I wanted it to smell a certain way, and have an eerie white/lilac glow to it," he says. That is in keeping with the theme for his collection. The cocktail contains Tanqueray, lime juice, sugar, Blue Bols and cranberry, and joins the McQueen Sling, the (Sam) McKnight Fever, and the Bikini (for Agent Provocateur).

Webber, who is still fresh from six years at St Martin's, knows that being on the schedule is the endorsement he needs, but also feels the pressure of expectation. He wishes he had the facilities of a couture house to execute his designs, but is making do with a fourth-floor studio in an old East End brewery, and his right-hand woman and stylist Corrine Sifflet Seymour. He is also a thinker. Indeed, he says: "What I do is based on a state of mind. I need to communicate my essential vision and if people understand that, fine. If they don't, that's fine too." His show is sure to attract all the movers and shakers keeping an eye out for the next big thing, as will Groves's, but this season it will be the clothes under scrutiny. 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?

For anyone who has ever wanted to attend a London fashion show, we have three pairs of VIP tickets to give away for Tristan Webber's show, courtesy of Tanqueray Gin. It takes place on Wednesday 25 February at 3.45pm. Winners must make their own way to and from the show. To apply send a postcard, to arrive no later than Monday 9 February, to The Independent, Tanqueray/Webber offer, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14, stating name, address and daytime phone number. The first three out of the bag will win.

Photograph by Ben Elwes