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London's Calling


LONDON — Bright, jewel-encrusted dresses for evening, masculine tailoring for day and exotic gypsy flounces for any time were among the major trends to emerge from London Fashion Week.

But the question on many a fashionista's lips was: Did anyone take notice?

The event, which wound down Monday, received little coverage in Britain and was the target of criticism that it was becoming irrelevant in the face of much bigger showings in New York and Paris.

On paper, it should have been London's largest contribution to the fashion circuit so far, with 44 official, and as many more unofficial, shows scheduled for venues across the capital. But organizers found themselves defending the five-day event against claims that audience levels were low and some shows were, at best, lackluster or, at worst, unoriginal.

London Opens the Circuit

The London shows opened the international fashion circuit instead of New York for the spring collections at the request of organizers of Manhattan shows, which begin today. It was a onetime schedule change in deference to Sept. 11 commemorations in New York City. Featured designers here included Paul Smith, Nicole Farhi, Jasper Conran, Ghost and Burberry.

But some of Britain's biggest names chose not to show in London at all--Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen have signed up for the Paris shows, and Matthew Williamson and Luella Bartley will unveil their designs in New York.

"London has suffered the loss of its most visionary designers, like Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen, who had very strong identities very early in their career," said Michael Roberts of the New Yorker magazine. "There are not enough opinionated designers in London now."

Julien MacDonald, one of the few truly big British names still loyal to the London shows and the most hotly anticipated exhibitor, defended his decision. "People who slate fashion week are missing the point. London is renowned for being the most creative city in the world," he was quoted as saying in the Sunday Times of London newspaper.

"We have the best fashion colleges. Go into any international design room around the world and you're guaranteed to find a London graduate working."

The 28-year-old took inspiration from sultry tropical nights and sent his models down the catwalk in swimwear adorned with rhinestones and in bright print chiffon evening gowns glittering with crystals. MacDonald's show also brought a much-needed injection of glamour by marking the return of supermodel Naomi Campbell to a London catwalk.

In her first appearance since winning a court battle with a tabloid newspaper that published pictures of her leaving a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, Campbell sashayed down the runway wearing a plunging white swimsuit and a $13-million diamond necklace.

Jodie Kidd was the only other high-profile model to grace the shows.

Other highlights of the week were Paul Smith's women's wear show Friday, during which the 55-year-old designer transplanted his own basic formula of great tailoring in menswear to his lingerie and women's city wear. Pieces included mannish pinstripe suits, sexily cut men's dress shirts complete with bow ties and skirts made from men's polka-dot ties.

Nicole Farhi also threw hints of masculine tailoring and boyish shapes along with flowery prints and the softest girly dresses at her Saturday show. White cotton shirts sat under neat blazers with trousers that ranged from low slung to tailored and cropped.

Fine Tailoring, Vintage Fabric

At the other end of the spectrum was Russell Sage, with his use of Japanese tailoring and vintage fabrics. Sage, 33, has been criticized for an uncommercial approach, but his fine tailoring and handmade buttons hark back to a time when department stores found it harder to copy catwalk clothes. His romantic finale was rainbow-colored poplin dresses, each with an antique embellishment.

Paul Costelloe showed fun prints, including a floral bikini with matching boots and bag.

Originality was less in evidence at other shows. Ronit Zilkha went with a hippy look and floral patterns on floaty skirts; Ashley Isham re-created toweling turbans and 1960s beachwear.

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