So that was London fashion week. But after all the swagger, who will wear the clothes?
A small army of buyers are now deciphering the trends that will fill shops in autumn
Saturday 01 March 1997
Among them are those designed by Alexander McQueen, the maverick couturier for Givenchy, and John Rocha, the Dublin based, Hong Kong-born designer whose clothes are pictured. Every day you will have seen photographs like these in newspapers and on television: but are these clothes what we will really be wearing come September?
Many of the clothes - particularly the more extravagant items designed to catch the eyes of the photographers - do not make it on to shop rails. Between now and autumn an intricate series of events will determine what will be "the fashion", and what will not. Rita Britton, from designer emporium Pollyanna in Barnsley, was in London all week buying the clothes her working customers in Yorkshire will want. "What people who read fashion pages don't realise is that half the clothes shown don't even go into production."
A typical fashion show will have between 300 and 1,000 guests. Half of the guests will be press, and will either write about the clothes, or use them in fashion shoots. These people will determine The Trends. The other half of the audience will be fashion buyers from stores all over the world, who determine what we actually buy by shaping The Trends into real clothes.
Buyers are the designers' bread and butter. Without them, clothing like McQueen's and Rocha's, for example, would remain a fantasy. As well as these two designers, Lynette White, fashion buyer for Liberty, is responsible for buying Hussein Chalayan and Helmut Lang.
For her, the catwalk presentation is incidental, the real decisions will be made in the showroom. "The amount we buy from a particular designer depends on their performance last year, and we only take risks with new designers if they are exceptional," she said.
When a buyer selects clothing it must be wearable and sellable, but not necessarily commercial. You will not find an Alexander McQueen dress in the shops that consists of just a collar with tassles to cover the breasts. Nor will you find a fuscia pink faux snakeskin jacket by Antonio Berardi.
However, McQueen bumster trousers have sold at Liberty, as have intricate coats by Yohji Yamamoto. Lynette White said: "We don't aim to buy watered down fashion that people will easily understand, our aim is to educate the customer, to give them the ideas and opportunities to wear exciting clothes."
Rocha admitted that he was not a good salesman, but with his annual turnover now approaching pounds 5m and selling to 20 countries, he has hit on a formula. " My designs come from the heart, and fortunately the buying public understands what I'm trying to say." He knows that what he does essentially is to "put clothes on backs".
McQueen's clothes are aimed at a different customer, so Lynette White takes a different approach. You will not see McQueen g-string denim shorts or peak-shouldered breast-baring garments like the ones shown on Thursday in Liberty. She will be buying McQueen's belted cowhide coats, cut-out leather dresses, skin-tight jeans and sharply embroidered suits. "Things are going more and more `streety'," she said. "McQueen's show was a breath of fresh air, and proved that it's not important to have the essential black tailored suit anymore. That is not what people want from McQueen."
So, next time you see a model on the catwalk wearing a seemingly unwearable outfit, remember, there is an army of people out there whose sole aim is to translate what they see on the catwalk into something you can wear, and that is true purpose of London Fashion Week, despite all the hype.
Supermodel Naomi Campbell was in hospital with suspected appendicitis yesterday after falling ill during London Fashion Week. She has had tests after developing abdominal pains in the early hours, according to her Elite Premier modelling agency.
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