Farewell supermodels, now it's hello Dolly

While the big names strut their stuff on the New York catwalks, London turns to fresh talent

Susie Rushton
Sunday 08 February 2004 01:00

It once boasted glamorous supermodels parading clothes by leading British designers such as Alexander McQueen and John Galliano, but when London Fashion Week opens on Saturday there will be few big names.

Supermodels are likely to fly straight from New York's fashion week, which began on Friday, to Milan at the end of the month, and this might lead some to think London's once world-leading week is now in the doldrums.

But emerging British talents are unconcerned. The designer Jessica Ogden has, in the past, refused the service of leggy catwalk models and instead enlisted friends and family to show her designs. For her shownext week all she will reveal is that she has hired an actress named Dolly to get her message across to fashion editors.

Ms Ogden's initiation to the glamorous world of fashion was hardly typical. She joined Oxfam as a volunteer in 1992, where she turned charity-shop finds into new garments.

These days she boasts 35 stockists worldwide. Ms Ogden reveals that her next collection, her seventh which she is currently "eating, sleeping and breathing", is a study in contrasts: the style of tomboys and "girly-girls". "I've been accepted as being one of the shows that people will attend. But in the beginning I really had to fight," she says.

London has a reputation for nurturing young and often idiosyncratic talent. This is due in part to the reputation of the city's fashion colleges such as Central Saint Martin's which numbers Alexander McQueen, John Galliano and Hussein Chalayan among its alumni. But in recent years London's biannual catwalk shows have been cast as the also-ran event of the fashion calendar and can no longer attract names, such as McQueen, who will lure the assembled ranks of international press and buyers.

Lacklustre global economic conditions have forced some designers to abandon expensive catwalk presentations and the number of designers taking part in official catwalk shows has slipped this season from 50 to 43.

However, London Fashion Week generates publicity and sales for the hundreds of designers who take part, officially and at fringe events. Outside the official British Fashion Council-organised calendar, around 30 further designers will hold off-schedule catwalk shows, roughly in line with last year.

Ms Ogden, 33, says that because of depressed economic conditions she has had to be as inventive in business as in design. "I have a feeling that if I showed in Paris, for instance, I would be on a very different footing. I'd almost have to start again," she says from her studio in Kentish Town, north London. "It has been a struggle this season but we are persevering."

But it is London's acceptance of the less conventional varieties of fashion design that has kept her faith. Ms Ogden adds that the internet has played an important role in preserving the relevance of the live fashion show. Dedicated web sites such as vogue.com display photographs from catwalk shows almost immediately after the event, allowing unprecedented global access to a designer's work and assisting their public image and business.

Ms Ogden sees live events as a necessary expense. "It's not just about clothing that hangs on a rail, it's meant for people and bodies." But business is business. While department store buyers and fashion editors from around the world are expected to descend on London next weekend, many designers will supplement the photogenic impact of a British catwalk show with a trip to the commercial showrooms at Paris Fashion Week in the first week of March, to complete the majority of their sales.

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