Style: How London became `God's gift to fashion'

Click to follow
The grandfather of British fashion, Roland Klein, 59, has seen London fashion move full circle. He moved to the capital to learn English in the Sixties, from a job assisting Karl Lagerfeld in Paris. And now he is seeing London explode a second time.

In the days of Mary Quant's mini skirts, there were not shows as such. It was not until 1975 that Annette Worsley Taylor set up the London Designer Collections, a group of young designers who showed their clothes on rails in hotels around London. Then the shows were about selling clothes. "We didn't have all of the razzmatazz that we have today. It was purely a selling exhibition," Klein said. "Now its all turned into a circus. There's a lot of hype, not necessarily turning into cash."

Klein gave up showing his classic, grown-up collections on the catwalks last season. His selling figures did not suffer. Like many designers, he has been selling to store buyers for the past three weeks: the catwalk show is not the place where orders are made. The business of selling takes place in the designers' showroom in the run up to fashion week.

Ten years ago, London experienced a similar hype to that of today, with the spotlight on names such as Body Map, John Galliano, Helen Storey, and Katharine Hamnett. But the brouhaha was short-lived.

The Eighties did little for the commercial sense of designers who boasted that they were creative geniuses, not business men. The international press and buyers lost interest in London and Britain's biggest names looked to Paris for a platform for their work.

Katharine Hamnett, John Galliano, and Vivienne Westwood moved to show in Paris in the late Eighties when recession hit and buyers could afford to visit only one venue. In 1994, the British Fashion Council, headed by Clinton Silver promoted New Generation Designers, sponsored by Marks & Spencer. The new talent, spearheaded by Alexander McQueen, has focused attention back on London. Last season, overseas press doubled, and buyer numbers rose 30 per cent.

But Roland Klein worries for the future of the young names. "The British Fashion Council wants the hype and it certainly brings a lot of people to London ... But a lot of the names on the schedule should not be showing on the catwalks. They go from art college to their own collection and to the catwalk in the space of six months. A lot of them are sponsored and really they would be better off putting the money into their businesses. They're doing it all the wrong way round."

-Tamsin Blanchard