New wave of designers go for sex and subversion

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The Independent Online

Fruit salad colours and neon yellow sunglasses. Indecently short hemlines. A rebellious spirit, urged on by the confidence of the music, art and design industries in the capital. It must be London Fashion Week, and the young designers that make this six-day event swing.

British fashion designers with a global business might be scarce, but it is the possibility of discovering the "next big thing" that draws talent spotters from around the world to find the young designer with the potential to grow up into an Alexander McQueen or John Galliano.

Yesterday saw back-to-back shows by the latest crop of new names, most of whom are British. Searingly bright colour and micro-mini dresses reappeared as trends but it was sex, and specifically the figure of the dominatrix, that emerged as the preoccupation for these young creators.

A particularly aggressive brand of sexuality that stalked the catwalk of Danielle Scutt, a 26-year-old designer who was the first of several to present a spring/summer 2008 collection in Bloomsbury. Scutt, from Kingston, graduated from Central Saint Martins of Art & Design just two years ago, showed stiff, flared miniskirts in shiny patent leather, tiny swimsuits decorated with metal studs and clingy, asymmetric dresses in lilac and black with patent harnesses and lion photoprints. They are intended "to bring out the warrior-woman within", she said backstage.

"The films Spartacus and Gladiator inspired me. I wanted to create an iconic woman who is going to fight to the death," said Scutt, who until recently made all of her clothes in her bedroom in Seven Sisters.

Even more predatory were the women in wasp-waisted, crystal encrusted dresses on Gareth Pugh's catwalk. Pugh, 26, who appears to take his sartorial cues from the performance artist Leigh Bowery, is the archetypal "unwearable" designer. But since his 18-month-old label was recently buoyed up by the American knitwear brand Rick Owens, Pugh is now selling commercial versions of his fetish-inspired looks to Parisian jolie-madames while Kylie and Marilyn Manson wear his clothes on stage.

The knitwear designer Louise Goldin, from north London, also presented her new collection. In her hands, sweaters are anything but frumpy. Short sporty dresses in orange, green and blue jacquard knits, with cutaway sections at the waist seemed pitched at fashion-conscious club kids, but her ideas are basically accessible. Backstage Goldin said that she was working with four different Italian factories to produce garments of an international standard.

Danish-born, British- trained designer Peter Jensen, with a successful business in the capital, brought subversiveness to his spring collection. A girl-woman with a bow on her head, a little white lace dress and patent brogues is, for instance, always suggestive. But there was also plenty to wear for the grown-ups. Modest dresses are his forte, and a pink slip dress with a protruding petticoat was a standout, as were his signature loose tailored jackets and tiny prom dresses in pale pink shantung silk.

The hottest new names

* Christopher Kane

The 25-year-old Glaswegian is already one of the most closely-watched designers. Known for his short, sexy and elaborately constructed dresses, Kane has vowed that his show, scheduled for today, must go on despite losing 23 of his new collection pieces to burglars.

* Luella Bartley

Best known for her schoolgirl-style blazers, well-cut shirts and handbags, the former Vogue fashion writer returns this season to London after a long absence in New York. Bartley has recently opened her first shop, on London's Brook Street.

* Giles Deacon

One of the more established names, the DAKS creative director is known for his grown-up glamour. Elaborate decorative techniques using expensive materials and dramatic silhouettes that pay homage to Paris couture are his hallmarks.