Sep 17, 2009
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Designers return to kick-start London Fashion Week

Sep 17, 2009

LONDON, Sept 17, 2009 (AFP) - British designers who abandoned their homeland for the bright lights of New York, Milan and Paris are returning in droves this season in what promises to be the most exciting London Fashion Week for years.

First on the catwalk at London Fashion Week is Paul Costelloe. Photo: Autumn-winter 2009, www.londonfashionweek.co.uk

Matthew Williamson, Burberry Prorsum, Pringle of Scotland, Jonathan Saunders and Antonio Berardi are all showing at this year's event starting Friday 18 September, alongside the up-and-coming talent for which London is famous.

In the current economic climate, the return of the big names is a boost for the event. Because it has less economic clout than its rivals, London Fashion Week faced the risk of being bypassed by buyers and journalists intent on cutting costs.

Burberry was the first to announce its return home to honour Fashion Week's 25th birthday this year.

The iconic brand will show its main collection, Prorsum, to celebrate the house's Britishness -- something creative director Christopher Bailey said he was "incredibly proud of".

Matthew Williamson announced shortly after that he too would be abandoning New York after seven years.

"London is my favourite city to show in. Logistically it's easier for us as we're based here but, consistently, London is a hotbed of new talent and it's exciting to be part of that," he told the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Pringle, Jonathan Saunders and Antonio Berardi followed hot on their heels in a clear sign that London is the place to be.

The prodigal sons will show their wares alongside other classic British names such as Vivienne Westwood's Red Label, Betty Jackson and Paul Smith, and newer talent such as Richard Nicoll, Marios Schwab, Christopher Kane and Mark Fast.

The originality of the designers coming out of London is seen as the reason the British capital has managed to keep its slot in the fashion calendar, despite being a poorer cousin to the New York, Milan and Paris shows.

"The reason why an awful lot of focus is put on centres like Paris is based on economics," said fashion historian Robert O'Byrne, author of a newly released book, "Style City: How London Became a Fashion Capital".

"The alternative way to see these cities is not in terms of how much revenue they necessarily generate but how much creativity -- and in that instance you could put London at the top, rather than the bottom."

He said aspiring designers still want to study and live in London more than anywhere else, a testament to the creative energy of the city.

"Among young designers, London is the place they want to go to -- it is their grail," O'Byrne told AFP.

The British Fashion Council (BFC) and other sponsors have provided funding and financial advice over the past decade to many young designers, including Kane and Schwab, to help them turn ideas into viable business.

O'Byrne argued that London also benefits from a culture of entrepreneurship dating back to the 1980s and then prime minister Margaret Thatcher, which made it easier to set up your own business.

"They began a culture of young people having the nerve to leave college and set themselves up, to show their clothes and start their own business, which is unique to London," he said.

The BFC's efforts to promote new talent continue this season with the extension of the long-established NewGen scheme to menswear designers. The first recipients, Carolyn Massey and James Long, will show on Wednesday 23 September.

This season also brings a change in venue, with the event moving from a tent outside the Natural History Museum to the grandiose confines of the neo-classical Somerset House in central London.by Alice Ritchie

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