Catwalks ready: London Fashion Week set for gala start as big names, new faces gather

By Gregory Katz, AP
Thursday, September 16, 2010

London Fashion Week: Demure, curvy glamour ahead

LONDON — Don’t call Osman, not today. He’s busy, he’s tense, he’s tired.

The star designer is in the final, manic phase of preparations for his London Fashion Week catwalk show — the stage where marathon workdays are needed to make sure each dress, each outfit, is perfect.

London Fashion Week opens Friday morning with a Paul Costelloe show. Osman’s chance to shine — or fall flat if the collection doesn’t catch the fancy of the fickle trade press — comes on Saturday, Day 2 of the twice-a-year extravaganza that brings the world’s designers, models, buyers and stiletto-heeled wannabes to overbuzzed London.

“These last few days are really exhausting,” Osman sighed as he admired one of his signature black, beautifully draped dresses on display at the John Lewis store on Oxford Street.

“You work 15 hours a day, sometimes more than that, and then it goes too quick. It seems you work for six months and it lasts 10 or 15 seconds,” he said.

The shows actually last 10 or 15 minutes, but it may seem like a blur to the designers, who pack so much passion into such a short time. It takes a lot of effort to make the show look effortless, a lot of planning to get the designs and the makeup and the hair and the lighting and the accessories and the music and the presentation just right.

The big names are all coming: Christopher Bailey for Burberry Prorsum, Vivienne Westwood showing her Red Label collection, Paul Smith, Christopher Kane, and a host of others are on the list, even Ozwald Boateng showing his distinctive menswear collection on the final day.

The pressure to succeed seems to whip up a collective hysteria among the fashion crowd, who descend on London en route from New York and bound for Paris and Milan, where the next shows will be held.

Jace Tyrrell, a spokesman for the New West End Company, which represents retailers, expects many new collections to be slightly more demure than in years past, with fewer brash colors and an emphasis on curvy models.

Designers are celebrating the “curves are back” aesthetic, conceding that real women often have real curves that should be celebrated. The mood is summed up by a Times magazine article headlined, “The Bosom is Back.”

“Some of this is the influence of Mad Men,” said Jo Hooper, chief womenswear buyer for retailer John Lewis. “We’re going to see a much more grown-up, ladylike way of dressing.”

London Fashion Week gives the U.K. a Red Bull-sized boost every six months, setting new trends and bringing customers into the stores after a summer of fashion lassitude.

“We absolutely see a spike around the time of London Fashion Week,” said Tyrrell. “The showcasing of the new pieces does stream down to the consumer, and puts fashion on their mind.”

The result is a quicker-than-ever transition from catwalk to retailer, with high quality, moderately priced outfits based on those seen on the catwalks made available to consumers in record time.

The stature of London Fashion Week has grown in recent years because of the unusual mix of talents on display, said Alexandra Shulman, editor of the British edition of Vogue.

“We have the heritage names like Pringle and Burberry, which are big brands, and then we have established designers like Paul Smith and Nicole Farhi, and then the generation that people are so excited by, with Christopher Kane, but now you also have a younger level, people like Peter Piloto and Mark Fast,” she said. “There is a wonderful sense of really talented people coming up through London.”

She said fashion week expectations are also high because the financial crisis has eased.

“Last season and the season before, there was the shadow of recession hovering over it,” she said. “This season people seem more confident.”

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