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Designers Eschew Protest for Prosperity in London Shows

March 18, 1987|BETTIJANE LEVINE | Times Fashion Editor

LONDON — Fall fashion shows began here Friday with glamour gowns by one of Princess Di's favorite designers, Bruce Oldfield, and ended Monday night with Margaret Thatcher's elegant fashion-industry reception at 10 Downing Street.

Thatcher, a stately, silver-haired figure in robin's egg blue, showed her mettle by greeting more than 200 guests individually with kind words for all.

Even London-based designer Michiko Koshino, who looked like a life raft in her black nylon inflatable dress (she carried patches and bicycle pump in case puncture should occur) won a Thatcher compliment for originality.

Effects of Yuppie Madness

But there were few of Koshino's counterculture ilk in this long weekend of designer shows. London has definitely cleaned up its fashion act, a result perhaps of the yuppie madness that has hit this city. Young professionals are plunking down wages toward ownership of city flats and country cottages, leading to an estimate by the Daily Telegraph that one in every 150 English families owns a second home.

There is a general feeling of prosperity in the city streets, with everyone dressing like the land barons they are or wish to be. And signs are everywhere that designers are trying to clasp the feeding hand rather than bite it.

There is still enough individuality left, however, to maintain London's think-tank fashion image.

Katharine Hamnett confessed that she had some major protest styles in mind but rejected them because they might ruin the balance. An exception was Vivienne Westwood, who showed see-through, hooped miniskirts beneath tight bodices. The crowd was largely unimpressed.

The general outlook here is that strong shoulders have disappeared and skirts, mostly short, get all the emphasis. The big colors, in addition to beige, brown, gray and black, are deep forest green and eggplant.

Of the three designers backed by Danish oil and real estate tycoon Peter Bertelsen, two were successes. John Galliano, once the darling of the protest set, has turned his fabric-bunching talent to more commercial styles. One of the prettiest coats of the season is Galliano's simple, collarless black or gray topper that features petal-like puffs of fabric near the hem on either side.

Also backed by Bertelsen is Hamnett, whose best looks were leather mini-suits with pleated edges, short, bias-cut skirts with shearling bomber jackets and bustier tops with thigh-high skirts. Bertelsen's less dynamic third entry, Alistair Blair, offered long coats over short skirts, gray flannel bubble skirts with navy blazers and short, tartan plaid, quilted taffeta jackets above torso-hugging dresses.

Plaid skirts that convert from long to short simply by attaching hemline button holes to buttons placed at mid-level were Wendy Dagworthy's contribution to the mini-cause.

These shows were among dozens that took place hourly on the Olympia Convention Center's stage through the weekend.

But the real fashion action occurred next door in 300 exhibit booths set up on two floors. About 7,000 retailers circulated there, scouting good style at affordable prices.

"The English are wonderful at special occasion clothes," said Howard Koch of the Parisian, a store in Birmingham. Koch was one U.S. buyer writing orders for short, strapless, bubble-skirted party dresses made by a variety of English firms. They will sell for $350 to $800 when they reach the States.

Knitwear, a big hit all over Europe this season, is an English specialty. And designer Devra King, 33, is one of Britain's new entrepreneurial types who specialize in the field. Private label merchandise is increasingly her interest, she said. She doesn't care about designer label fame. She is in it for the money. Her exhibit featured lush, classic styles, which she says sell for about $400 to $600 in such stores as Bloomingdales, Neiman-Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, and boutiques such as Alan Austin and Mr. Guy in Beverly Hills.

Some interesting offerings were shown far from Olympia. In Jasper Conran's showroom, he offered sensational, frosted-watercolor pastels in gauzy, short petal-shaped skirts that floated beneath narrow tops, often made of featherweight suede. His look was minimal, unadorned, graceful as a ballerina's costume.

Rifat Ozbek, showing in his third-floor walk-up, offered impeccable tailoring in tiers of murky color. A narrow, cropped jacket in mid-navy, for example, topped a longer body-hugging sweater in murky green over an eggplant-colored miniskirt.

As if this was not enough, Ozbek offered mustard-colored tights and red gloves on many models, all with brown suede ankle boots that had small heels. For evening, torso-hugging black minidresses ended in rows of iridescent organza ruffles.

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