Treacy's hats go into orbit

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The Independent Online
THE curious thing about London Fashion Week is that everyone thinks it is stock full of weird cutting-edge designers who inhabit a netherworld of obscure design references and loud music.

In reality, this is just not the case. Most shows at LFW do not create hype at all. Heard of Ronit Zilkha? No? She does a mean work-suit and Esther Rantzen, Cherie Blair, Maureen Lipman and Gaby Roslin are big fans. What about Tomasz Starzewski?

Essentially a couturier, he does evening and day wear for Ivana Trump and her ilk. They both showed yesterday with Betty Jackson, and their shows will not create headlines; instead, their clothes will be filling their customers' wardrobes come the autumn, instead of appearing in style magazines.

All three designers have their own successful shops. Of the three, Zilkha, an Israeli, is the newest addition to LFW, having just done her fourth show.

She is 30, looks about 25 and is running a business which consists of five shops, at exclusive London addresses, and extensive world-wide stockists.

When she held her first show in 1996, Zilkha already had three successful shops. This is unusual: generally designers at LFW have no stockists at all when they start out.

She is a also a curiosity because the women she famously dresses are all of a certain power-dressing type, leading most people to assume her stock-in-trade is wide-shouldered jackets with gilt buttons, just as they assume she is fortysomething. Neither is true.

Zilkha always shows several elements to her collection. "I like to design for every kind of woman; I don't want to miss anybody out," she says.

Just after the show foreign store buyers swarmed all over the clothes, exclaiming over the drape of a certain beaded dress, and the fluffy sheepskin cuffs of a brocade jacket.

Betty Jackson, like Zilkha, has legions of fans. Her clothes don't shout fashion, merely "wear me", but are always fashionable in the sense that those who wear them, like Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley, are always perfectly in style.

In complete contrast to what is known as "real clothes for real women day" the design duo Pearce Fionda, known for their wearable glamour, were clearly chasing potential Oscar clients with a sumptuous collection that was 90 per cent evening wear. The duo, who also design a diffusion line called Pearce II Fionda, have said they are happy to provide their more day-to-day clothing to Debenhams. In addition, Phillip Treacy, he of the magnificent hats, showed his once-yearly collection last night outside the Natural History Museum. The usual celebrity buzz of his show was heightened with clothes by Antony Price, the British couturier who is among those tipped for the head designer job at Versace Couture.

As they say, everyone was there. Well, not quite Madonna, who was expected, but Princess Michael of Kent turned up, so did Nathalie Imbruglia, Jade Jagger and Alexander McQueen, sucking a lollipop.

With clothes in the main by Price, who provided a series of sculpted corset dresses which redefined the term little black dress, and others by Jeremy Scott, Deborah Milner and McQueen, they proved the perfect backdrop to Treacy's fantastical headgear.

Hats that resemble satellite dishes, flying saucers and helter-skelters drew gasps of admiration. At least 100 hats, each more amazing than the last, stalked down the catwalk.

Inspiration came from insects, birds of prey and Venetian masked balls. One of Treacy's fedoras was even designed in homage to the new Guggenheim museum in Bilbao. It may be a cliche, but sometimes the term "absolutely fabulous" does serve its purpose.

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