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Fashionable London? Yes, Quite

Designers who are showing here rather than defecting to hotter locales offer a promising future for the fashion island.


LONDON — Undaunted by a disturbing trend of designers abandoning fashion week, which ends here today, more than 50 showed eclectic fall clothes for women that mixed the poetic and the absurd.

Young designers charmed with their inventive and colorful collections, which were a refreshing change from last week's lackluster shows in New York. In contrast, most of the established designers offered disappointingly predictable looks.

Overall, military chic continued to be front and center, as did 1980s leather and lace, though with a softer, decidedly non-Madonna look. Corsets, bomber jackets, equestrian waistcoats and riding pants were also runway staples.

Expectations for fashion week were low, especially after last season's breakout talent, Hussein Chalayan, had to liquidate his business and cancel his fall show just weeks ago. Luella Bartley, another up-and-comer, announced she was moving her show to Milan. Even venerable Burberry, which shows today, is staging a presentation in Milan at the behest of its Italian head designer, Roberto Menichetti.

Those who rise to the top here (Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano and Stella McCartney, to name a few) seem to stick around just long enough to become famous before moving on to show elsewhere, effectively undercutting the prestige of the fashion week here. Fashion in Paris has the haute couture tradition, Milan has industry backing and New York is known worldwide for sportswear. London is mostly known as an incubator of talent that, if successful, moves on.

Even Alexander McQueen has had wanderlust, showing in New York under his own name, and in Paris for Givenchy. But he had a homecoming of sorts Wednesday. Always out to impress with the grandeur of his shows, he did not disappoint with a Broadway-worthy production that mocked the myth of childhood bliss.

Set to an eerie soundtrack of children's playground banter, fierce models with exaggerated, bow-shaped lips stomped around in stilettos, draping themselves over carousel horses and straddling maypoles. Other models had sinister clown makeup and horrifying hair cones atop their heads. One, dripping in torn lace, dragged a gold skeleton from her ankle like some lifelong ball-and-chain.

It was quite a show. But strip away all the antics and McQueen, who left his post with Givenchy last year to concentrate on his own collection, delivered some fabulous clothes. Caramel-colored patent leather breeches were tucked into high-heeled Wellies. Buttery black leather was crafted into sailor pants and paired with military-inspired coats that, McQueen later said, were meant to reference the regimented aspect of childhood.

The designer, whose clothes are sold in the United States, also offered jackets with oversized lapels that buttoned on the side instead of the front. His long leather skirts were cut to look like lace, and he offered a series of completely wearable, draped jersey dresses in black, brown and pale green. Mixing the creative with the commercial, he proved that the Gucci Group, which recently purchased a 51% stake in his company, made a wise investment.

Jasper Conran had the misfortune of showing the morning after McQueen, and it's difficult to believe that the two designers are living on the same fashion planet. Of course, Brits do have a reputation for conservative dressing, and Conran, son of design guru Sir Terence Conran, clearly aims to be the supplier. His basic leather separates (blazers and shirts nipped at the waist, straight-legged trousers and short skirts in black and brown) were finely tailored but boring, as were purple evening gowns and long skirts covered in black netting.

Nicole Farhi's bland collection was also dominated by black and chocolate-brown leather. A sleeveless dress with a turtleneck collar fastened with two buckles was beautifully executed, but all too familiar, as was an ankle-length leather skirt with corset lacing in the back.

British label Clements Ribeiro also was uninspired. Perhaps designers Suzanne Clements and Inacio Ribeiro have been distracted by their newest task, revamping French fashion house Cacharel. Their diamond-patterned patchwork fur coat and a black miniskirt with a chain belt were ho-hum, as was an eggplant-colored velvet shirtdress cinched with a studded belt. Fashion-wise, it was been there, done that.

Designer Tanya Same hosted a tea party with an "Alice in Wonderland" theme to show her fall collection for Ghost. Filmy, bias-cut fairy dresses, hand-knit berets and mohair bat-wing tops stayed true to Ghost's easygoing style, but as a whole, the collection lacked oomph, even with shirts printed with the words "Drink me" and "Shrunk." Quilted denim bomber jackets, leggings and skirts did little to inspire a happy ending.

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