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Style & Culture | SPRING 2005 COLLECTIONS

London lowdown

Local interest: down. Some labels: out. Some designers, though: up-and-comers.

September 24, 2004|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

London — Forget fashion -- Sadie Frost has a way with men. She persuaded both her ex-husbands, actor Jude Law and former Spandau Ballet bandmate Gary Kemp, to come see her Frost French runway show here last weekend. Law, who stood by the bar looking over Kate Moss' head to watch the production at the Titanic nightclub in the West End, even brought along his new flame and London's current style sensation, Sienna Miller.

It is Miller's boho vintage style that has captivated Brits. "She's the anti-Victoria Beckham," a local fashion editor said of the budding actress. London, like Los Angeles, is having a vintage moment. Outside the shows here this week, the fashionable crowds were not obsessed with the latest "it" bag or tweed shoe, but EBay finds -- ponchos, sheepskin coats and odd sweaters -- paired with flat boots, metallic woven belts and ballet slippers bought at the cheap chic TopShop.

This indifference to hot new designs is coupled with the absence on the runways of several high-profile designers, including native Greek Sophia Kokosalaki, who is showing in Paris because she needed more time to complete her collection after having costumed performers at both the opening and closing ceremonies of the Athens Olympics. Scottish knitwear house Pringle opted instead for a party to celebrate 70 years of the twin set. So it's no wonder that the purpose of the London shows is again being debated. Of course, the runways are merely window dressing for Britain's $20-billion clothing industry, dominated by fast fashion chains. And for American buyers here this week, the poor exchange rate means, as Barney's New York fashion director Julie Gilhart said, "The clothes have to be that much more special." With that, designers have had mixed success.

At Frost French, which is co-designed by Jemima French, the look was lingerie-inspired, with silky 1950s high-waist underwear and bras in shades of mint green, dusty rose and peach peeking out from sheer tea dresses in glitter-flecked chiffons. The towering shoes by Terry de Havilland were the best thing about this predictable collection. With peekaboo toes and layered metallic platforms, they evoked pin-up girls with a rock 'n' roll twist.

He may not have the tabloid intrigue of Sadie Frost, but Giles Deacon is the name on everyone's lips. The designer, formerly of Bottega Veneta, followed up last season's debut with another impressive show. Again, it was held at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, where the setup had to be delayed until the pensioners finished their meals in the main dining hall, amid paintings of royals and historic battles.

Linda Evangelista came out of retirement to join other big-name models on the runway, including Karen Elson, Erin O'Connor and Karolina Kurkova. The clothes were theatrical in the way of Alexander McQueen, with formal, at times severe construction -- blouses with puffed three-quarter sleeves, stiff box-pleat skirts and jackets with tall, peaked shoulders and peplums. There were nods to British heritage with references to heraldry, the hunt, old manor houses and imperial splendor, and enough witty touches to keep things from being weighed down. A blouse came in a grainy brown print modeled after marquetry (the art of decorating wood furniture with inlaid veneers), and a pencil skirt was covered in pheasant feathers. A rich-looking gold silk jacquard in a monkey pattern was crafted into a "galleon jacket," while the green swirl print on a shirt dress was bordered at the hem with dachshunds. A top made entirely of pearl ropes was inspired by the costumes worn by Salome in the Oscar Wilde play, and a flowing silk dress in a dark meteor print sparkled with Swarovski crystals.

One left wondering who would wear these clothes other than British fashion figure and walking designer billboard Isabella Blow, mentor to McQueen and mad hatter Philip Treacy. But that's beside the point. This was a fabulous collection designed to capture attention, which it most definitely did.

Jonathan Saunders is another one of Britain's most inventive, up-and-coming talents. Though he works in abstract prints, his look is nothing like Missoni's or Pucci's. This season, he drew from Bauhaus and the glasswork of the Art Deco period to create complex geometric patterns for his canvases: minidresses and long, red carpet-worthy tank gowns.

Grass runway and all, Paul Smith took his audience down the garden path, with simple shirtdresses, pencil skirts and cotton twin sets in lively multicolor florals that could have been lifted from a book on horticulture. On a silk shift, rainbow stripes faded into a rose print at the hem. A metallic dusting livened up cable-knit sweaters, while African print purses and hats and Japanese obi belts hinted at spring's trend toward globalism. It was a pretty show, though it had few surprises.

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