London catwalks make imaginative strides

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The Independent Online
BRITISH fashion designers have presented a host of imaginative ideas in the past few days, as London Fashion Week struck a healthy balance between the eminently wearable, the far from dull, and the truly iconoclastic and exciting.

British designers have proved that they can perform, but London Fashion Week is still considered a fringe event.

On the international fashion calendar it has been failing to register with some important buyers commanding million- dollar budgets.

The front rows at the shows have hardly been impressive, with no representatives from the New York big stores - the Barney's, Bloomingdale's and Bergdorf Goodman's. They were at home, waiting for the real collections in Milan.

Kal Ruttenstein, the influential buying director of Bloomingdale's, explained: 'To be perfectly honest with you, I hate leaving the store for more than two weeks at a time with business as it's been.'

With the highest-profile British names showing in Milan and Paris, it's easy to save time and skip London altogether. 'In the past we've gone to Milan for Rifat Ozbek and Paris for Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano. In the last few years London has dwindled right down.'

However, word has reached him that there is 'something good going down' and Mr Ruttenstein is preparing to return.

'Next week I'm going to send over some people,' he promised. 'What we are looking for in London is good design, young creativity and the kind of confident clothes that Rifat, Vivienne and John produce.'

Perhaps it would help if the London shows were a little better organised. The dates and venues were still undecided six weeks ago, leaving little time for rearrangement of packed diaries.

One buyer who did manage to fit London in is Suzanne Timmins, buying director for the leading Canadian chain Holt Renfrew. With a few million dollars at her disposal, her presence was good news for London - especially as she had been absent for three years. 'I wanted to check it out because I had heard that it was getting good again. I'm surprised at the lack of international buyers, I haven't seen anyone from the big stores. What has happened?

'Three or four years ago it was so together you could see all the designers in one place. Now you can easily miss them, especially if you've only got two or three days for appointments.'

What has she rediscovered in London? 'Creativity. Your designers are unaffected, they aren't afraid of their ideas. Maybe some of the seams aren't perfect but designs are imaginative, that's what's different from Milan and Paris.'

Is it enough to entice her back next season? 'Yes, definitely, there's something here. I've already placed orders with Abe Hamilton and some knitwear designers.'

(Photograph omitted)