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Off fashion's beaten path

On London's runways, U.S. retail executives see a 'great opportunity' to find hidden gems from little-known designers.

September 26, 2003|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

LONDON — Now that rising British-based designer Roland Mouret has departed for the New York catwalks, fashion week here was dominated more than ever by unknown names. And that's not necessarily a problem, since store buyers look to the London runways for hidden gems to differentiate their stock.

"The U.S. is virtually untapped for the British market," Nordstrom fashion director Sue Patneaude said at the Pringle show, held in Holland Park on an autumn morning so crisp that hot toddies were served. "It's a great opportunity."

For spring, collections were alight in fairy-tale chiffon, as well as darker, more high-concept clothes, though there was nary a reference to the antiwar sentiment that heated up the runways in Europe last season. Alice Temperley, who recently opened a store in Manhattan's SoHo and also sells to L.A.'s Fred Segal, continues to turn out fine cocktail dresses, this season in fluttery, ice-cream-colored silk chiffon with flippy short skirts and delicate grosgrain ribbon belts. She also played with silk knits, creating some wonderful dresses in a complex diamond pattern.

But for Temperley, sequins and beading are really the thing. We're not talking Bob Mackie, just sweet little starbursts of embellishment here and there, always flattering and never overdone.

Stuart Stockdale of British knitwear label Pringle knows the best thing he can do to revive the 1815 brand is to continue to riff on the house's signature argyle. (Hello, Burberry.) This season, he used argyle-based beading designs on the bodice of a blush, low-belted chiffon flapper dress and pintuck diamond detailing on another mint chiffon sleeveless gown. For daytime, his ideas were less inspired; black knit knickers and a white puff sleeve Oxford shirt with Pringle's lion insignia conjured images of style-less school uniforms, and woven bubble skirts, with wide knit bands at the hems, were probably best left on the drawing board.

The enormously talented Sophia Kokosalaki took showgoers on an odyssey of a different sort to her homeland of Greece. Gorgeously draped, liquidy minidresses in black or mineral green satin, were twisted and pleated to toga-like perfection. Even her version of a white T-shirt was tucked and contoured into an appealing shape. It was as good as fashion gets -- anywhere.

Husband-and-wife team Eley and Wakako Kishimoto, known since 1992 for their textile designs sold at Barneys, introduced ladylike dresses and coats in brightly hued prints reminiscent of Henri Matisse's paper collages. Sleeve and skirt hems were beautifully rounded like tulip petals, staying true to the rounded forms on the fabric.

In a witty, inventive collection, Julie Verhoeven, a stylist who has worked as a consultant for Marc Jacobs, incorporated references that ranged from Pablo Picasso's cubist paintings to Las Vegas casinos. The snap-front panel on the front of a white Oxford shirt brought to mind the shape of a slide guitar, while a white cotton "Vegas suit" was covered in a diamond-and-spade print. A "lucky clover dress" was assembled from a collage of rounded pieces of green, black and white fabric, and a stretch jersey dress made use of an "evil eye" design over one breast.

Zowie Broach and Brian Kirkby, the team behind Boudicca, presented one of the most conceptual visions of the week, a collection that was "couture in feel," according to Nordstrom's Patneaude. The look was naughty nurse, nun and school teacher all rolled into one, with lots of tailored details. Laced to a model's shoulders, a stiff blazer resembled wings. Pencil skirts were fanned out into a peplum of stiff pleats in the front or bound in the back with a sling of fabric that hugged the rear.

Time to increase those donkey kicks at the gym.

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