Bella, Donna, Ronit and Helmut - it's ab fab to see you, darlings!

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The Independent Online
THE eccentric, the high spirited, the creative and some of the most envied talents of the fashion world will be on show this week at London Fashion Week as the city kicks off the month- long round of international shows.

The London scene in terms of music, clubs and the arts is threatening to become trendier in world terms than it has been for 30 years, and fashion is a natural rider on this bandwagon.

The interest in young British designers such as Alexander McQueen has influenced the resurgence in London's fortunes as a fashion capital. The Americans are beginning to use London, rather than Milan or Paris, as a gateway to Europe. They are particularly drawn to the capital's prestigious Bond and Sloane Street addresses - as evidenced by the fact that London's four days of shows are serving as a launchpad for New York designer Donna Karan's worldwide flagship store opening on Bond Street.

Fellow New Yorker, Tommy Hilfiger, who recently launched his men's fragrance in the United Kingdom and is planning a store in London, also comes to town with a show on Saturday night.

Highlights of this year's catwalk events include the first show by Ronit Zilkha, who in just seven years of business has already become a favourite of such illustrious names as Cherie Booth, Princess Diana, Koo Stark, Maureen Lipman, Jane Asher, Lady Frost, Lady Halpern and Jilly Johnson. Zilkha also opens two shops this week, in Beauchamp Place and Marylebone High Street, to add to those in central London and Hampstead. Two other big British names making a welcome return to London are Ghost and Workers for Freedom.

Ghost, headed by Tanya Sarne, now shows at New York Fashion Week, but this week, the company launches a new line, called Seraph. This is an easy-to-wear utility collection designed by Sherry Landen, who has been with the Ghost team for three years and developed the line in the spirit of the mother label.

Workers For Freedom, the design partnership of Richard Nott and Graham Fraser return to the London catwalks after two years' absence.

In 1990, the designers were awarded Designer of the Year by the British Fashion Council and customers have included Paul and Linda McCartney, Diana Ross and Jamie Lee Curtis.

Fashion Week may be a British event, but British designers increasingly turn to international backers to support them. Last year, Workers for Freedom were approached by an American company which has backed a worldwide licensing and manufacturing deal. The collections will be manufactured in China and will reach a wider audience than ever before.

Prices have been reduced significantly with the new deal.

Similarly, Alexander McQueen, who last season showed his bumsters in both the Hawksmoor Christ Church in London's Spitalfields and a synagogue in New York's Lower East Side and has the reputation of an archetypal wayward young London designer, has managed to build up a solid business with backing from Onward Kashiyama, the Japanese company that also has deals with Helmut Lang, Jean Paul Gaultier and Paul Smith.

McQueen, the designer most responsible for getting London talked about in international fashion circles, now has his collection manufactured in Italy.

Sponsorship is essential to the shows' survival. The celebrity hairdresser Vidal Sassoon is in his sixth season of sponsoring the shows, and he will make a rare appearance in London. Without his help and that of companies including Lloyds Bank (Pearce Fionda), Absolut Vodka (Clements Ribeiro), Motorola (Bella Freud), Tanqueray Gin (Alexander McQueen), Debenhams (Ben de Lisi) and BHS (Paul Frith), designers would struggle to meet the many thousands of pounds it costs to hire a venue and put on a show.

And without the young designers who perpetuate London's image as the creative centre of the fashion industry, designers might not be so keen to open flagship stores here.

As well as Donna Karan's DKNY store, Christian Lacroix is opening his second store - both of them on Bond Street- Prada opened on Sloane Street, and there are also plans for a Ralph Lauren flagship, Calvin Klein stores, and a Tommy Hilfiger shop.

For the first time, the collections will be broadcast twice daily on the Internet. Vogue Fashion Daily will carry show previews from tomorrow and will broadcast images from the shows just 15 minutes after being received. The Web site is accessed by about 3,000 people around the world each day.