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Experience not necessary -- but nice

Newbies draw buzz, but the old pros show they have what it takes at London Fashion Week.

February 19, 2007|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

LONDON — Although it was the young, up-and-coming designers who made the most noise here this season, plenty of old stalwarts took to the runways, too, including one carpetbagger, Marc Jacobs. He closed out the week Friday night showing his lower-priced Marc by Marc Jacobs line to a star-studded crowd and marking the opening of his first store here, in Mayfair.

It's a growing trend: designers decamping to other cities for promotional purposes. Alberta Ferretti traveled to New York to show her Philosophy collection this month. Giorgio Armani swooped into London last season to launch his Product Red line. And two seasons ago, Miu Miu moved to Paris in hopes of repositioning the brand as a higher-end entity apart from the Milan-based Prada.

Jacobs held his show at the chic Claridges Hotel, where Sofia Coppola, Zoe Cassavetes, Lisa Marie and Selma Blair added a celeb quotient rarely seen here. Rather than following the slim silhouette that is emerging this season, Jacobs kept going with volume, turning out roomy toggle coats and dresses in wintry checks. High-waist bloomer pants, majorette hats and deep-pocketed sweater scarves added a collegiate feel. And there were plenty of on-trend knit pieces too, such as a brown boiled-wool sweater dress with a rolled hem and a gray sweater coat with three-quarter sleeves.

Accessories were instantly covetable, including furry hoods, baby frame bags slung across the body and two-tone platform hiking boots that Jacobs referred to as "Marcia Brady" booties.

Nicole Farhi tapped into the knit-dressing trend, showing the kind of clothes you want to wear right off the runway. The foundation was a great pair of ribbed and cuffed wool leggings, on top of which Farhi layered checked wrap dresses and hammered silk tunics. Another standout was a black velvet dress with puffed Fair Isle sweater sleeves.

Paul Smith hit on the 1920s influences that were floating around New York with unremarkable, color-blocked flapper dresses. But his strong suit is suiting, and this season he showed cropped pinstriped trousers with knit sweater vests and oversized cardigans in neon brights. There was also one striking ethnic-print coat with a shawl collar that seemed to reference Art Deco-era designer Paul Poiret, the subject of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's next big Costume Institute show and a big inspiration this season.

In her second season trying to revive the iconic brand Biba, designer Bella Freud referenced 1920s debutantes and 1970s rock chicks with bow-front blouses, flared trousers, a crinkle patent trench, flippy lame-and-Lurex bell-sleeved dresses. But the collection looked cheap, and Biba's prices are not. If this line is going to survive, it has to stand out from the versions already sold for a sixth of the price at fast-fashion stores such as H&M.

Allegra Hicks designs for the bohemian-turned-posh mother and does it with great aplomb. This season, her fourth on the runway, the prints were nature-inspired, with a green burnout velvet dress in a fall-leaves print, a purple raindrop-print cashmere coat and a gold silk gown. She opens her first U.S. store on Madison Avenue in New York next month, but I bet she'd do well in Malibu too.

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