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Birmingham shows how to attract the fashion buyers

BELEAGUERED British fashion designers may not find their salvation in London or Paris, but in Birmingham.

Premier Collections, the trade fair that opened yesterday at the National Exhibition Centre is encouraging high fashion designers to sell their collections alongside mainstream wholesalers, manufacturers and designers.

Hitherto, fashion designers have been reluctant to sell their collections at the same venue as mainstream exhibitors. But Pascale Smets, a designer, said: 'We have to be realistic and go where the buyers are.'

Among other designers exhibiting yesterday for the first time at the country's biggest clothing trade fair were Helen Storey, Red or Dead, Jean Muir, Arabella Pollen, Ben De Lisi, Ally Capellino and Georgina von Etzdorf. The designers were offered exhibition stands for free by the Blenheim Group, which organises the three- year-old event.

The 2,000 exhibitors at Premier Collections are expected to attract 25,000 store buyers over four days.

The exhibition, which is showing the collections for autumn 1993, now presents a formidable alternative to London Fashion Week, which opens at the Ritz hotel, central London, on 4 March.

London Fashion Week has suffered from the departure of many of its star names to Paris and Milan, and the event is struggling to break even.

Premier Collections, by contrast, is a commercial success. In recent years, the Blenheim Group has swallowed up a series of smaller exhibitions. Now Blenheim is strengthening its dominance of the fashion trade show market by attracting the designers who set the trends copied by the rest of the industry.

Premier Collections is a world away from the exclusive ambience of London Fashion Week. Designers rub shoulders with jeans companies, bra makers, babywear wholesalers and larger-size clothing specialists. This is Sloane Street alongside Oxford Street; the pounds 500 cashmere jacket alongside its polyester-wool cousin.

Stephen Jones, the milliner, said: 'There's no preciousness here, no fake elegance. I wouldn't say I prefer Birmingham to London or Paris, but at least it's honest. At the end of the day, it's about selling collections.'

But Ms Smets said: 'If you don't get the orders, the best press coverage in the world will do you no good.'