London fires up catwalks, aims for spot as global 'fashion destination'

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By Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Li-mei Hoang LONDON (Reuters) - British designers kicked off the London leg of the fashion calendar's womenswear season on Friday with a call to celebrate London as a global "fashion destination" on a par with Paris, Milan and New York. Known for its edgy street style, London is often called fashion's loveable rogue for its eclectic mix of new designers and established brands such as Burberry, Paul Smith and Vivienne Westwood's Red Label. Many of the country's major fashion names, such as Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, Victoria Beckham and Vivienne Westwood's Gold Label, unveil their collections abroad, however. On a rainy London morning, British Fashion Council (BFC) chairman Natalie Massenet declared London Fashion Week open and said the council would promote "London street style (which) inspires trends around the world". "It is paramount that we secure London's reputation as a place where fashion stars are born," she told fashionistas just arrived from New York's fashion week at a breakfast. "We want to cement London's reputation as the destination for fashion." Massenet introduced a team of experts who will work to promote British fashion through five pillars - reputation, business, investment, digital innovation and education - including James McArthur, chief executive of handbag designer Anya Hindmarch, and Peter Fitzgerald, country sales director at Google UK. An industry worth 21 billion pounds ($33 billion), fashion is Britain's largest employer of all the creative industries, according to the BFC. "We want to support the CEOs, the pattern-cutters, the PR directors, marketing directors, sales directors and of course the designers of the future in order to inspire more people to join this industry," Massenet said. COLOURFUL COLLECTIONS Despite a still struggling global economy, British fashion brands are hoping to cash in on evidence of a rebound in the luxury sector as solid demand in Japan and the United States has combined with a recovery in Europe to offset a slowdown in China. London-based Turkish designer Bora Aksu was the first to showcase his spring/summer 2014 creations with a colorful collection he said was inspired by his homeland. In a palette of baby blue, shocking pink and canary yellow, models wore cropped jackets, pencil skirts and cotton dresses with silk panels and knitted details. "It was lots of hand-woven textiles from Turkey as well as geometric silk mesh, some chiffons plus knitted cottons," Aksu told Reuters backstage. Like other designers, he acknowledged a still tough market for luxury goods but said demand was there. "I don't think (demand) really will disappear because there is always the taste for it," he said. "But it probably will never be like before." British luxury brand DAKS, founded in 1894 and long known for its tailoring, presented what it called a "romantic, sophisticated and metropolitan" collection. To the sound of "La Vie en Rose", models strutted down in large trousers and full-length skirts as well as in billowing transparent capes. DAKS' check pattern was not forgotten on dresses, appearing in pleated dresses and folds. Using dusty pink, cognac and black and white, creative director Filippo Scuffi said he aimed for a collection that could be worn season after season. "My inspiration is from the chic woman, timeless woman, international woman," he told Reuters. "At this time customers want something made nicely, in nice colors, shapes, not burnt out in two months." British celebrity favorites Julien Macdonald and House of Holland will unveil their collections on Saturday. Later in the week, Matthew Williamson, Vivienne Westwood, Paul Smith, Mulberry and Burberry will showcase their designs. "London ... lives and breathes creativity, (it) is the crucible for fashion design talent," said Katherine Ormerod, senior fashion news and features editor at Grazia magazine. "I think that is what is in its character, it's where people ... come and make their mark on the industry even if French or Italian - if they want to launch a line they will come to London." (Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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