Muir's successors serve up sugary confection

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The Independent Online

London Fashion Week ended on an uncharacteristically genteel note yesterday with a spring/summer 2005 collection from Jean Muir, the company founded in 1966 by a genuine icon of British fashion.

Muir, best known for her austere but fluid designs cut from matte jersey, died in 1995 of breast cancer. Her husband, Harry Leuckert, has ensured that the label has remained afloat and independent, while collections have been designed by four of Muir's most trusted assistants.

At yesterday's show, in the all-white flagship store in central London, there were plenty of Muir hallmarks, such as top stitched cuffs or draped jersey skirts, but ruffled pink chiffon blouses looked more fussy and sugary sweet than the founder might have liked. Muir herself wore only navy blue, or black. Neither did she have any truck with seasonal trends, once describing her craft as "evolutionary not revolutionary". The respectable ladies who now buy Jean Muir - many of whom were in attendance yesterday, sipping champagne and sitting on gilt chairs - will no doubt adore items such as a mushroom-coloured flared crepe skirt suit or an opulent coat in rose pink brocade.

With barely a full day of catwalk shows on the official schedule yesterday, London Fashion Week ended on a fizzle rather than a bang. The real finale to the week was Wednesday night's Fashion Fringe event, the climax of a nationwide search for new design talent. In the suitably downbeat surroundings of a multi-storey car park on Oxford Street, the competition's four finalists went head-to-head on the catwalk. The overall winners on the night, the duo Basso & Brooke, were awarded £100,000 towards the launch of their own label.

Fashion Fringe was intended to nurture London Fashion Week's reputation as a hotbed of new designers. With the exception of Paul Smith and Nicole Farhi, there are few established brands now showing in London. Julien Macdonald intends to move to New York next season, while Sophia Kokasalaki has shifted to Paris. London has prestigious fashion colleges which trained the likes of Alexander McQueen, Hussein Chalayan, Stella McCartney and John Galliano, but all those designers now present catwalk shows to international press and buyers at Paris Fashion Week, in October. Matthew Williamson, Luella Bartley and Roland Mouret began their careers in London, but are now part of the New York schedule.

There is no obvious successor to McQueen or Galliano waiting in the wings in London, and fewer international press sitting in the front rows. This season's five-day event began with Stuart Rose, the British Fashion Council chairman and Marks & Spencer CEO, suggesting that high-street fashion retailers could become closely involved with London Fashion Week, an event usually reserved for designer fashion. Every city from Moscow to Kingston now has its own fashion week. London's privileged position alongside New York, Milan and Paris appears precarious.

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