Quirky London Fashion Week kicks off in new home; bids for permanence, prominence

LONDON - Look out London, Anna Wintour is coming.

LONDON - Look out London, Anna Wintour is coming.

The only fashion editor so famous she's been portrayed in two separate movies (one fictionalized, one documentary) is giving London Fashion Week a boost as it opens Friday in its new home, the venerable Somerset House on the River Thames.

The presence of the intimidating, influential editor of Vogue is one more sign that British designers are gaining respect in the fashionista universe, even if London's fashion shows have traditionally gotten less attention than those in Paris, Milan and New York. Wintour is returning to London Fashion Week after a two-year hiatus.

The British Fashion Council has managed to lure a number of top designers back, creating real anticipation for the 25th anniversary edition of London Fashion Week.

The Sept. 18-23 extravaganza boasts some of fashion's biggest names, including Vivienne Westwood, always good for shock value; Stella McCartney, showing her aidas line; and Christopher Kane, a Wintour favourite who has a formidable rock chick following.

"This is a massive season for London Fashion Week," said Alice Olins, fashion writer for The Times of London." "Suddenly there is great excitement because this season we really do have the shows, putting us right up there with Paris and New York.""

She cited Burberry, Pringle of Scotland, Clements Ribeiro, Antonio Berardi, Jonathan Saunders, and Matthew Williamson as stalwarts returning to London catwalks.

"Those are really big names coming back after a long absence," she said. "Having them means that the buyers and models and journalists will follow."

Olins also has high expectations for Somerset House, a neoclassical treasure dating back to 1547 that replaces temporary quarters outside the Museum of Natural History as the venue for most of the shows. The building enjoys a prime position in central London between the Strand and the River Thames.

"This feels right, it feels permanent," she said. "It's iconic. There are amazing views of London, you're right on the Thames."

This year movie star Sienna Miller and her sister Savannah will show their designs for the second time under their Twenty8Twelve label.

London Fashion Week has traditionally provided a springboard for younger, lesser known designers inspired by London's wildly eclectic street fashion. It helped give McCartney major exposure at the start of her stellar career, and played the same role for John Galliano and Alexander McQueen when they were ascending the ultra-competitive fashion ladder.

The fashion world has been closely linked to London's extensive music scene, giving many of London's shows an edgy, subversive feel - especially the smaller shows that will be held away from Somerset House.

Australian designers Sass&Bide presented one of the first shows, at 'The Dairy,' a warehouse-like venue in London's Russell Square. Their show combined classical Greece and a 1980s colour palette to produce wearable diaphanous cutaway dress and disco pants, suspended free-flowing maxi-dresses with reflective breastplates. Buying agent Amy Little said many of the pieces could easily find their way into a day-to-day wardrobe. Even some of the more extreme elements - like the fishnet tights with a back seam of thick gold and silver sequins and beads running through it - were "easy to buy to and layer," she said.

Fashion Week plays a crucial role for London's restaurateurs and club owners, who rely on the influx of beautiful people to jump start the fall party season after months when Britain's elite take their credit cards abroad in pursuit of sand and sun.

The British Fashion Council estimates the event pumps 20 million pounds ($32.7 million) into the British economy.

"For us it's good because it comes right after the summer holiday period, which is comatose in London," said Brandon Kinsman, owner of Eight Moorgate and Eight Bank, private clubs where several exclusive fashion parties are planned.

"You've got the influx of the great and the good, and since private clubs are slightly more discreet, it's quite nice for (celebrities) to go somewhere where they are protected," he said.

The fashion crowd is noted for its fondness for expensive champagne - in contrast to the typical "lager louts" that patronize some British pubs.

"It raises London's profile," Kinsman said. "Without fashion week, you'd fall into the second tier of cities. This keeps us in with the most stylish and fun fashionable cities."

Fashionable enough to draw Wintour, the Vogue chief featured in the current documentary "The September Issue." Many a young designer will be looking this week for the elusive brass ring - a simple nod from the woman sometimes called "the pope" of the fashion world.





Models display creations by Spanish designer Emilio de la Morena during Fashion Week, in London, Friday, Sept. 18, 2009. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

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