Hype is out of style in London

LONDON FASHION Week kicks off this weekend and while, for the past few seasons, Britain's fashion capital has managed to live up to the hype of recent years, this season the future looks less rosy.

The Cool Britannia moniker is nothing short of derisory these days. Yesterday's decidedly uncool press call, the brainchild of the beleaguered British Fashion Council (BFC), featuring Wonderbra model Adriana Sklenarikova with "I love London" emblazoned across her bra and shorts, didn't help much. This, coupled with over-stated reports in the press of a mass exodus on the part of our designers to more lucrative and sunny climes (Milan and New York, to be precise) has only fuelled speculation that there are bad times ahead.

Antonio Berardi - it is true - has decamped to Milan; as an established designer. He is not unwise to have moved on to a more commercially motivated fashion capital. Vivienne Westwood showed her Red Label diffusion line in New York last week. She did so more to publicise the opening of her new shop there than because of any antipathy towards London, where she continues to live and work. Philip Treacy also showed in New York, although he will show in London next week also. He has done this once before. More serious, however, is the fact that Alexander McQueen, it was yesterday confirmed, will almost certainly be showing in New York next season.

"We need to build up our business there," said a McQueen spokeswoman. "We do well in New York and in Los Angeles but so far there's very little happening in between."

She stressed, though, that London-born McQueen would be returning to London the season after that.

This is not the first time our big-name designers have moved on, however. Most famous was the departure of John Galliano to Paris in the early Nineties. Katharine Hamnett, Rifat Ozbek and Westwood again all left London for Paris once they had outgrown the still relatively small business infrastructure that supports our designers.

What's more, their departure made way for younger designers, McQueen included, to make their mark.

More than any other fashion capital, London is famous for showcasing fledgling design talent, too raw to penetrate the still far more bourgeois fashion capitals of Milan, Paris and New York.

To this end, next week's series of shows includes an unofficial schedule that boasts names like Shelley Fox. She is the recent recipient of the first Jerwood Fashion Prize, the largest award of its kind to date and a business back-up for designers. There is also a debut collection by Markus Lupfer, who was formerly a design assistant at Clements Ribeiro and also a Jerwood finalist.

On the official schedule, meanwhile, Robert Cary-Williams, Tristan Webber, Seraph and Mulligan are all names to watch.

Despite rumours otherwise, Hussein Chalayan - expected to win British Designer of the Year - is showing in London for now. This, coupled with showings by more established names - Ghost, Paul Smith, Betty Jackson and Jasper Conran, to name just a few - makes London more than worth looking at.

Simon Wilson, chief executive at the BFC, said yesterday: "We are hoping that overseas attendance figures will be higher than ever this season - 2,000 press and buyers are expected to come through the doors."

Among them will be American Vogue's Anna Wintour, flying in for this season, as well as senior buyers from both America and Europe.

More good news comes from Vidal Sassoon, who announced last week that he will continue to sponsor London Fashion Week for the next five years, to the tune of pounds 2.2m.

By international standards, it may still be early days for London but it would be wise for people to allow it to build on the considerable impression it has made up until now.

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