Fashion designers should make clothes for real people, Baroness Denton, the Under-Secretary of State for Consumer Affairs and Small Firms, said in an interview with the Independent on the eve of London Fashion Week. 'I find it difficult to think I am going to build up British industry with grunge.'
The minister, who has taken a special interest in the fashion industry, criticised designers who design for 'perfect' figures. 'It's no good
for them to concentrate on women who are size 8 and 10. They cut themselves off from their market if they think that making size 14 clothes is a concession.'
Lady Denton recalled meeting a fashion student recently. 'He made impeccable clothes but he also had impeccable models. I said, 'What happens to real people like me?' He told me you have to be perfect to wear his clothes. This, I think, is the sign of a duff designer. You should be meeting the requirements of the customer, and not vice versa.'
The minister was equally critical of the Seventies revival, describing it as 'a cop-out'. She said: 'It's not going to work. I suppose it makes for easy editorial, but you have to go forward.'
Lady Denton, 57, shows more interest in fashion than her predecessors, benefiting from the advice of her sister, who runs a dress agency in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. She makes no secret of her enthusiasm for Marks & Spencer, but her tastes also run to designer clothing, including Armani, bought from Laurel Herman, an upmarket second-hand clothing showroom in north London.
At a time of unease in the fashion industry, Lady Denton has been taking soundings from designers, manufacturers and retailers. The British Fashion Council has been encouraged by her interest and by the Department of Trade and Industry's agreement partly to underwrite the cost of this season's London Fashion Week. Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, is also hosting a reception at Lancaster House tomorrow to mark the week.
Lady Denton said London Fashion Week was an important platform for young designers, despite the departure of more established names to Paris and Milan. 'It is a chance for young stars who are not yet known to persuade people to come and have a look. They would never get that opportunity across the Channel.' She had no new funds available to help designers, but rejected criticism that the Government is not doing enough to help designers. 'Governments should support winners, not pick them. I'm not into subsidising.'
She chose to bang the drum for First Stop Shops, the initiative launched last autumn by the DTI to guide industry through the range of services on offer from government departments and other organisations supporting business.
She said there were plenty of opportunities for designers in the home market. Designers and retailers underestimated British women, who have tended to be conservative in their choice of fashion compared with the French or Italians, she said.
Lady Denton added: 'British women are happier shopping in department stores rather than the so-called madam shops. But things are changing, particularly women's increasing earning power and discretionary spend. There is disposable income about. I would say to designers, you can still sell dreams.'
She praised designers such as Paul Smith, Ally Capellino and Arabella Pollen, who are now working with British manufacturers. 'There are opportunities available now. In tough times, the chances of getting a run of a thousand pieces are infinitely better.'
But she admitted that there were no simple solutions to the problems of young designers. 'If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.'