All eyes on Kane as fashion week begins

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The Independent Online

What are the key pieces for the spring/summer 2008 season? At Topshop's Unique show, which kicked off London Fashion Week yesterday, they were large bowls of salad, fruit and plates of sandwiches.

As the fashion pack arrived in the capital for the first of the catwalk shows, The Independent was given an access-all-areas pass backstage at the first show of the six-day event, held in the basement of an office building in Bloomsbury.

Recommendations from the BFC's model health report said designers should provide "a healthy backstage environment" for their teenaged charges and that the dressing-room and make-up areas should be "demonstrably drug free [and] smoke-free" with "good quality food provided".

Chocolate brownies and cakes from Marks & Spencers were in vogue yesterday, although they appeared more popular among the hairdressers than the models present. Similarly, the modelling community's former tipple of choice, miniature champagne bottles drunk through straws (to prevent lipstick smudging), was well and truly passé. Only water and fruit juice were on offer here.

The universal smoking ban ensured clean air and the only mind-altering experience on offer was the tedium of waiting for hours in a windowless room. A 16-year-old girl might be forgiven for finding school more exciting after all.

For the hundreds of international press and buyers arriving in London this weekend, however, the focus is very much centred around the new collections on show at front of house and not the working conditions of the models wearing them. Flowing silk parkas and pyjama trousers in azure or sea green were the relaxed message from this collection by Unique, Topshop's more expensive and trend-led range designed by Nick Passmore and her team.

Evoking the kind of moneyed bohemian who thinks a weekend in Ibiza is roughing it, this collection's subtle sense of colour and a grown-up glamour put clear water between Unique and the more teen-friendly designs sold at Topshop under the Kate Moss label.

Highlights of the week to come will be shows from the Glaswegian Christopher Kane, 24, who counts Donatella Versace among his biggest fans, and those from Luella Bartley and Matthew Williamson. They make a return to the London catwalks following several seasons of self-imposed exile in New York. Other big draws will be Giles Deacon and Stella McCartney.

London is best-known as a seedbed for young designers and newcomers Deryck Walker, Danielle Scutt and Louise Goldin will all be closely watched.