Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Mais Non, Monsieur Sarkosy

The fash-pack is returning to London after Milan fashion week. 

Some will be happy to say goodbye to the life of organised, dutiful absurdity that the fashion show regime imposes in the month-long parade of shows here in London as well as in Milan, New York and, finally, Paris. Others will still be eager to round it all off on the last lap in Paris. But the danger of being immersed so thoroughly in a 24/7 regime of frocks is that a fashionista's grasp on the realities of life (fragile at the best of times) can become worryingly loose. Blame it on luxury hotels, grand dinners, private limos and fawning PRs if you like, but it can be the only explanation of the Bermuda Triangle effect of too many fashion shows in too short a space of time. 

An intriguing example of either divine madness or Sophoclean clarity of thought brought on by the Bermuda effect is the suggestion made this week that Italian fashion is currently becoming just too vulgarly sexy because of the bedroom antics of that country's political leader. 

I can't help wondering how far this idea can be pushed before it collapses as suddenly as Pompeii when the light of logic – a rare beam indeed in fashion! – is turned on it and the theory is driven to its ultimate point of destruction. Does London's fashion reflect the private life of our own dear prime minister? Do the clothes on the runways of NewYork personify the new Obamaism? And, most worrying of all, what can we expect in Paris when the shows begin there on Friday? Will the Dior collection be an hommage to the international pugilism masquerading as statesmanship that has made M. Sarkosy such an entertaining member of the international political scene? And does it matter at all to anyone?

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

A Day of Meetings

A day of meetings – all about exciting possibilities.

The day began with a discussion with Selfridges about building on the very successful In Conversation with Christopher Bailey last Thursday. The next one is on October 13th, with the New York designer Alexander Wang, who ticks the essential boxes by being hot and cool at the same time! I am looking forward to it very much as it is some time since we had an American guest for one of my In Conversations.  

Left that meeting in a good mood and was soon put into an even better one at the next one. It was held in Home House, one of the last great eighteenth-century London townhouses still with its interior decoration intact, just as it was when it was in private ownership. It is now a private members' club, and despite modern additions – a bar by Zaha Hadid, for example – still gracious and calm, at least in mid-morning. I am not a member but one of the people I was meeting is. We were there to discuss a very exciting – and big – idea for a new fashion initiative in Asia which I might be asked to help. I hope so, as it would be both stimulating and challenging and open up for me a country I do not know in a part of the world which I find increasingly interesting. 

After that I went to see Matthew Williamson, whose headquarters in Shepherd Market is housed in another elegant, well-proportioned townhouse. I was there to interview him for a book we are working on for publication next year, which chronicles his career so far. It is a sort of half-term report, I guess, and it is going to look beautiful.

Monday, 28 September 2009

A Trip to Munich

Spent the day in Munich, looking at a fabulous collection of original fashion drawings by the greatest names of the twentieth century. Privately owned, it really is a total history of how fashion was illustrated from about 1910 to now. I am hoping to create an exhibition of this neglected area of fashion before all the artists' names are forgotten by people in the fashion world. The paradox is that, although fashion drawings very rarely appear in magazines today, collectors clamour for them. 

The owner of this unique treasure trove knew most of the artists she has in her collection, and she told me a nice story about one who, in the fifties, was driving his mother somewhere when they had a terrible accident in which she was killed. Although inconsolable at his loss, he took comfort from the fact that at least she was wearing Balenciaga when the crash happened. 

Fashion people!  What can you do?

Saturday, 26 September 2009

A Quiet Saturday

Having a relaxed weekend at my house on the coast of Kent. I do all my writing down here because it is very peaceful: there is nothing but sea and sky between me and the lights of Boulogne. I escaped here late on Thursday evening, after my conversation with Christopher Bailey of Burberry.    

Today, I've been working on the third issue of Distill, a magazine set up last year to collect all the very best pictures from fashion magazines from around the world and reproduce them in one place. The rationale is simple. Not even the keenest fashion-follower can keep up with all the magzines – and certainly can't afford to buy them – so we bring their best stories to our readers. Our criteria are also simple. We don't look at the clothes but at the work of the people who so often get forgotten: the stylists, art editors and, preferably, emerging photographers. In a sesnse, we look at the magazine page as a minor work of art and I must say we have seen some incredible photoshoots since we began, many from magazines I had never even heard of - and I am the editor-in-chief! How shaming is that? But I am getting better.

The new issue of Distill comes out in the last week of Ocober. But you won't find it in the newsagents because this time our contents will be available direct to an Iphone. I have to admit I was a little uncertain about how this would work but, to my delight, the stories absolutely glow. Readers will be able to see them as many times as they want, whenever they want, but also to share them with their friends at a tap of the screen.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Conversation with Christopher

Did you know that Christopher Bailey, creative director of Burberry and one of the world's most influential designers, once worked in a Co-op supermarket – and had a Saturday job in a bridal shop?

Neither did I until last night, when I  interviewed him in Selfridges as part of The Sunday Times Style In Conversation series before an audience of Selfridges customers and Sunday Times readers. He was in great form – talkative and funny – although he must have been tired after the Burberry Spring/Summer show just two nights earlier, followed by a party for 1,800 guests to officially mark the opening of the firm's new headquarters.

Christopher is not one to duck a question and he was very frank and honest about his career, affectionately recalling his time with Donna Karan in New York as a seminal experience and describing his interview for a job at Gucci with Tom Ford, which was conducted in a very large, rather dark bare room, with Tom sitting all alone in its centre. Did Christopher run? NO! He loved it – and fully got the essence of Tom's unique style. Tom said to him 'You can live wherever you like,' and Christopher soon knew why. His life was lived between London, New York, Milan and LA or wherever Tom happened to be at any one time. When he came to leave, Tom was as gracious as ever, even allowing him to keep his studio at Gucci for as long as he might need.

Christopher is a born communicator and he kept the audience enthralled as he explained the intricacies, problems and joys of his coplicated role. There was so much that fascinated the audience that I have been inundated with e-mails asking for a repeat performance!

As one smitten e-mailer commented, 'That man is just pure heaven!'

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Back to Normal

Back to normal after LFW, I went to the Distill office to help make the final selection of the best pictures from avant garde fashion magazines from around the world. Not for publication in magazine form this time but, in collaboration with Swatch, to be downloaded as an app by anyone who has an Iphone. The pictures (they cover menswear, womenswear, streetstyle etc) look absolutely vibrant on the screen and will be available at the end of October. Apps are a pretty competitive field right now, I know, but I'm confident that we've got the content to succeed.

Christopher Bailey conversation tonight at Selfridges. I am really looking forward to it. He speaks so well, says intelligent things and is a true natural when it comes to talk. Oh… and I almost forgot! He is also one of the world's top design talents who has made Burberry a major player in the high fashion stakes across the globe.

Three to Notice

So, the dust has begun to settle after LFW but there is a little more to add. I was sorry to miss several shows – such as Marios Schwab, Todd Lynn and Christopher Kane – because I was involved with Fashion Fringe@Covent Garden, which was on the same day; and some shows whose invitations didn't survive the postal strike. One was actually given to me today. Better luck next season. But I can't wind up without commenting on three really worthwhile designers.

Richard Nichol is a very interesting guy whose thought processes are subtle and even delicate – attributes that are quite rare in London. His show was gentle, softly coloured, layered and fringed, with the ease of a sarong or Hawaiian grass skirt, but above all it reflected the growing confidence of someone who is absolutely his own man. Another designer who was more interesting than most was Holly Fulton, who showed as part of Fashion East. An intelligent, witty and sharply focused graphic sense made for a very powerful and colourful statement using patent leather, perspex, crystal and metal for a space-age look based on the excitement of Manhattan's architecture. Fulton has a design vision that augers well for a future that might not follow the current young London designer approaches, which are usually so repetitive that I keep thinking that I am seeing the same show over and over again. One designer who would never do that is Peter Jensen, whose quirky humour and original approach to presentation has given us some memorable moments over the years. This season, his small but cleverly focused restatement of Fifties' fashion involved tiny dressed dolls, cut outs, models and a great deal of fun. He is an original in the way that Antoni and Alison are… and should be cherished for standing outside the sea of sameness.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Looking Back at Fashion Week

So, Burberry brought LFW to a resounding close with a huge show, followed by an even huger party in their new headquarters in Chelsea. The world and its wife was not in it. EVERYBODY had been invited and they all seemed to turn up. At the same moment. Tomorrow, I am holding a public conversation with Christopher Bailey, Burberry creative director. I hope he won't be too tired!

Emma Watson at the Burberry party; © Alan Davidson

What else is there to say about London shows and events celebrating the 25th anniversary? Full marks for the new venue, Somerset House. It seems to work properly and certainly gave stature to the exhibition housed in the many small rooms in the main building. For some time now in the old venue, the spaces have had about as much allure and glamour as a Moroccan bazaar. ON/OFF, Vauxhall Fashion Scout and Fashion Fringe @ Covent Garden are all within… I almost said easy walking distance, but nothing is for a girl in fashion heels. The only problem is New Gen designers, who are now showing in the wrong part of town which it takes too long to get to.

Could we hope that the BFC has finally summoned up enough courage to stop spending a fortune on free airline tickets and hotel rooms for  foreign buyers and journalists and learn to stand proud – as proud as its officers look sitting centre of the front row at shows… which always worries me. They are bureaucrats and are there to organise, not to watch, fashion shows, surely? Or, if they do feel it is part of their job, surely they should be at all the shows in the same force. It would be very wrong were they to give the impression that they have pecking orders and partiality – their position demands total impartiality. All or nothing is surely the rule in any political role – and especially when a body is responsible for deciding how considerable amounts of public money are to be distributed.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Last Day of Fashion Week

Last day of LFW and it started early. First show: 9 am. Peter Pilotto, a young designer who has made a name for himself with clothes which are very easy to understand, although I was surprised to hear a woman whose judgement – and sophistication – I really admire say, 'These clothes don't speak to women'.

But they do to girls. And this is the dichotomy in London fashion at the moment. Young designers – under thirty in some cases – are creating what they know, which is usually high street fashion. They do it well – but no better than many famous high street names. So the runways of London are awash with simple ( I won't say dumb) clothes which junior editors love. Simple tube minis; ditto dresses with rather too many frills and pleats… what's not to understand? But what I cannot understand is why American store buyers are here looking at clothes which are basically American, but without the flair and sass that gives them that extra punch.

It is always difficult for me to write about Fashion Fringe@ Covent Garden because if I praise, people think, 'well you would'; if I don't, it is 'so, you made a mistake'… forgetting entirely that I take no part in the judging process. But I am proud to say that Erdem followed up on his very strong show last season with a develoment of his delicate floral themes. The workmanship in his dresses – the only garments that seem to interest him at this point – is stunning. It was flowers, flowers almost all the way, but there was another English country archetype: lace, mainly white but some lavender blue. This collection was a controlled and yet complex play with surface textures and subtle colour, but it needed a development of the simple fifties' shapes of last season. I would like to see the palette broadened with some directional cuts and then watch to see where this talented man's romantic sensibility will lead to. As it is, he is totally on track and has created an Erdem sensibilty that has a huge and enthusiastic following from journalists, buyers and the public. I am proud of him.

The same is true of Basso and Brooke (also winners of Fashion Fringe @ Covent Garden) who also showed yesterday. They are print boys and have since thier very first collection produced stunning computer-generated patterns of great complexity. Maybe because Bruno Basso is Brazilian, the colours are fibrantly powerful. This makes them not right for the young customer, who would probably find them rather overwhelming, but stunning for the sophisticated woman over 30 or even 40. These are strong looks that need a strong character to carry them off. I love B&B because they are international in sensibility and, in very strong contrast to the virginal English look we see so often on the London runways, attract the assured because they are assured in themselves. All of that being said, they need to work on their shapes. No matter how fabulous the prints, they are not truly fashion if they are not supported by intelligent cutting, good shapes and a range of garment types. None of which is a criticism of designers who, were they in Milan, would have British designers and buyers fawning, I would guess.

Still on prints and colour, I was so impressed with Jonathon Saunders' show today. The only word that describes his simple little shapes, which were a canvas for softly beautiful prints in delicious colours, was ethereal. Although poetic (Keatsian, perhaps) would also do. Delicate yet solid, this was an exercise in transparency and silhouette, with quite strong lime, lemon and rasberry pinks shaded by floating layers of white gauze and silk for a magical effect like delicate frosting on fruits, berries or autumn flowers. It was simply lovely.

Talking of flowers, it is still the custom on some runways to offer the designer a large bunch of florists' flowers. The designer takes them with smiles of delighted surprise, although paying for them out of the company budget. But I have often thought the flowers go to the wrong person and it should be the audience that gets them… or the brandy… or the platinum card… as an acknowledgement for sitting through a god-awful show. There are plenty, and I sometimes think that I have sat through them all at various times and in various shows across the globe.

I felt a little that way with Roksanda as the feathers piled up on her clothes. At first, they were under control, only hanging from the heels of otherwise perfectly inoffensive shoes, then peeping somewhat incongruously from the tops of the shoes, then on the sholders, then ever bigger until I felt we needed a society for the protection of chickens and their feathers. Why, Roksanda, why? Seemed like fowl play to me.

Victoria Beckham at Fashion East; © Alan Davidson

Monday, 21 September 2009

LFW Monday - and Fashion Fringe @ Covent Garden!

I am thinking more and more that the current muse of London fashion is a hockey-playing geography teacher – and we all know how stylish she would be.

I felt this very strongly – and it was a good feeling – at Henry Holland's jokey fashion show, but his muse was a geography mistress on acid, all fired up in her lace and big knickers. Lots of bright colours and a sense of fun so lacking now that London fashion has become an adjunct to Oxford street.

Jaeger also had a touch of the hockey mistress… but much less fun. This woman was trying so hard to be a lady from the past, in ghostly colours and formal shapes that were somehow not quite then and not quite now, in its bid for an elegance fewer and fewer women identify with. Low points in a collection that just missed the highs were the semitransparent wide shorts (who? why? where?) and shoes which looked as if they had been designed by someone who had never seen a pair but had heard them described a very long time ago, paraded down a runway of white carpet (wool… Jaeger… geddit?).

I can't not mention Fasion Fringe @ Covent Garden, now in its sixth year. The final took place in the Flower Cellars at Covent Garden, which were fabulously transformed by Inca Productions, who also  
choreographed the shows of the four finalists. What I love about FF is the fact that it looks outward and, as befits an international multi-ethnic society, accepts any international contestants who fulfil the visa requiremnets for living and working here. This time our finalists were from Britain (2), Greece (1), Serbia (2) and Kazekstan (1). The panel of judges, chaired by Donatella Versace, included Natalie Massenet of Net-a-Porter; Anne Pitcher, director of buying at Selfridges; and the designer Antoni of Antoni and Alison.

Introducing Fashion Fringe © Alan Davidson 

Finding the designer to award the elegant trophy designed especially for us by Jessica McCormack not an easy task but the decision was finally made that Jenny and Dimitris, whose label is called Jena.Theo, were this year's winners. Congratulations to them – and to the other finalists who did such a good job too.

Jenny and Dimitris with last year's winner, Jeun Jeong (EJ) ©Alan Davidson

Colin, Donatella, Dimitris and Jenny with Jessica McCormack's Fashion Fringe @ Covent Garden trophy. Image © Nick Harvey.

LFW Sunday

There's always at least one totally manic day in a fashion week – and yesterday was it, with a packed schedule and a lot of criss-crossing the centre of town to various venues in addition to the beautifully calm and smoothly operating HQ at Somerset House. Add the fact that many roads were closed for a London family cycling day, plus the fact that parking is free in the centre of town on Sunday and that it was a perfect autumn day - and you can guess the pace of travel from one show to another.

A lot of the designers who have been instrumental in keeping London going as a fashion centre were on show, including Betty Jackson, Jasper Conran, Nicole Farhi and Vivienne Westwood… a roll of honour as far as British fashion history is concerned. What do they all have in  common? With the exception of Vivienne, they have never once felt it is the role of a fashion designer to do anything other than create clothes which women want to, and can, wear without feeling or looking silly. I have criticised some of them in the past for being pedestrian and avoiding the runway excitements that the press and the show audiences so love. But how right they have been for their businesses and their followers.

The Hair and the Hare: Nicole Farhi and husband David Hare. © Alan Davidson 

Trouble is, it's not enough for a fashion capital. As New York's example shows, wearable clothes are not the dynamite that keeps a capital at the top. For the real explosion that ignites a thousand smaller creative fires, fashion needs the revolutionaries, the assassins and the destroyers who move everything forward. All great change in the arts (let's pretend that fashion is an art) begins with three things: dissatisfaction, belief and trust. Dissatisfaction with what is currently accepted as the desirable norm, belief in the fact that the world will understand the new when it appears, and trust in oneself as the person who can provide it.

That is what London as a fashion capital has lost as a result of its high-streetisation over the last few years. So, instead of the new McQueen, Galliano or Chalayan, we have young designers hailed because the clothes on their runways look exactly right for the shops in Oxford Street. That is why I so loved the presentation by Antoni & Alison, true originals who have never been tempted to turn away from their unique vision for something as transitory as the approval of the mass-market. They gave us a great little film today as their tribute, through clothes, to the great Hollywood heroines in their greatest films. it was exactly what London fashion should be and currently is not: intelligent, wittty, unexpected and totally original.

It made me ask myself, how did we allow London designers to become so suburban instead of subversive?

Jasper Conran and Mary Quant, stalwarts of British fashion. © Alan Davidson

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Party Time

Although the fashion was disappointing, yesterday at LFW ended in a fireworks display of parties. You can't do them all and keep your sanity — let alone get any sleep – so it is very much a question of  'first come, first served' with most of us.

I ended up doing two. First to Brook Street, to the Savile club for a party thrown by the magazine Fantastic Man. In keeping with the cool confidence linked with the gift for the unexpected that has made it a cult read, FM decided to choose for its venue the most traditional of all English settings – a London gentleman's club – and then filled it with an eclectic range of predominantly young men who were anything but  gentlemen - and very happy with that. As a very sophisticated French friend said, with an ironic tilt of his eyebrows, 'I hope that Byron was a member here. I think he would have enjoyed this.' 

Certainly, as one of the few women guests pointed out as the young crowd began to get very drunk on vodka cocktails, 'I don't know when I last saw so many pretty young gays so drunk and determined to have a good time' - which translates into 'Looking for sex'. I am sure they were not disappointed.

I was more interested in the surroundings, which were perfect World of Interiors shabby grandeur, with panelling, slightly worn carpets and sofas and a warm feeling of log fires and cigar smoke in the past.

Then on to Harrods, as glossily different as the 21st-century commercial world can be from a sequestered 19th-century male enclave could be - although both are about the privilege of money. 

I was very late and everyone was already seated at a very long, beautifully set table in the relaunched International Design Room. The host was the owner of Harrods, Mr al Fayed, and the guests included Harold Tilman and several of the staff of the BFC, a few journalists and several of the designers whose clothes are in the new space. I talked to Roland Mouret, along with Christopher Bailey of Burberry, one of London's best loved design figures. Roland told me he had just bought a house in Suffolk with 2 acres where he intends to have donkeys and geese. Roland's father was a butcher and, perhaps a little incongruously, it is well known that that bloody trade goes hand-in-hand with a respect for and even love of animals, so Roland the Farmer all seems oddly right. 

Barbour should keep an eye on him for future approaches to waterproof clothing with a touch of Gallic chic.  An evening of good food and wine ended with Mr al Fayed slipping a couple of Viagra tablets to each male guest as we said goddbye 'to continue to enjoy the evening'. They were in fact heart-shaped digestive mints.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

A Mixed Day

My day started with the sound of seagulls, which gave me a bit of a shock as I hear them all the time when I am at my house on the seafront but not in London. it was a deja vu moment; unfortunately not the only one as the day wore on.

The sea gulls introduced us to the spring–summer collection of Margaret Howells, one of London's tried and trusted names who's worth is often overlooked in the desperate search for new names in this city that, uniquely, does nothing to honour the people who have kept London fashion going for so many of the years we are currently being asked to celebrate. I have in all honesty often felt that Margaret Howells was a little too understaed but this time I loved what she showed. Totally English, as decorous as Frinton on a Sunday afternoon and full of the quiet confidence that reminds me of the comment from the thirties that French women are chic, American women are glamorous, but only Englsh women are elegant. Carefully chosen, this collection could provide a woman of any age with a wardrobe for every possible way of life because it was both modern and nostalgic.

By contrast, Jenny Packham's runway was terrifying in the way it looked back. I waqs transported to the bad old days of the London ragtrade as the audience at her show was subjected to a parade of party dresses – not a jacket, skirt or pair of pants to be seen – which had everything in glorious profusion… and confusion. Spangles, frills, diamante and huge stones turned every frock (the only word to describe what we saw) into an Oxford Street fantasy of the Christmas tree fairy. I am sure it will sell, but do such clothes have a place on the official Fashion Week schedule? I don't see how.

Danielle Scutt was much more interesting in that, after all, she did have at least three coherent and different ideas, some of which were strong and directional, and others that were interesting fantasies which at times looked like fancy dress for a Vicars and Tarts party, minus the vicars. But even there, once you stripped off the trappings (ridiculous hair and marvellous sparkly lipstick) you were left with ideas: Lichtenstein 'Oh Brad' spots and colours, including a rich yellow with the spots in black, and a lot of candy pink made this collection a strong print statement for those in the audience who didn't quite understand everything (including me at times) to hang onto.

I didn't receive an invitation to see the show of Mark Fast but some people liked it a lot, despite the fact that it was the start of the day. Instead, I had a civilised breakfast with a friend at Princi, a little bit of authentic Italy in the middle of Soho, where I live when I am in London.

Tonight I am off to The Fantastic Man party (no, not named in my honour!) and dinner at Harrods for the relaunch of their international designer collection. How inspired is that in the week celebrating London fashion?

Weighty Matters

 Is it because the current chairman of the BFC, Sir Harold Tilman, is as slight as a whippet that all his colleagues have slimmed down this year? Or is it that they have been working so hard on the anniversary celebrations? Or is it the fact that, no matter how fashion goes on about anorexic models, even those who are charged with trying to change the situation actually secretly admire skinniness so much that they try to join the thin ones?

There is an illogicality at the heart of the campaign against thin models. An appreciation of the slender over the rounded is in our cultural DNA. As everyone knows, if you want to soften somebody up, all you have to say is 'You've lost weight', and the smiles come immediately. If you add, 'I preferred you when you were heavier', they disappear again just as quickly.

If we really wanted to change the situation, surely we should get the smiles when we say, in an encouraging way, 'My, you have put on weight!'

CAUTION! Do not try this in the presence of children or the delicate, as the reaction can be dangerously explosive! And certainly never with anybody who, even in the remote future, might be in a position to offer you employment. Because these things are not only remembered for life as great insults; I suspect they are taken to the grave and revisited on the Other Side!

To Downing Street!

To Downing Street last night for the party hosted by the Prime Minister's wife, Sarah Brown, as an unofficial/semi official/official (depending on who you ask) celebration of the opening of London Fashion Week, which – as is the paradoxical way with fashion – runs for five days rather than seven, with a menswear appendix dangling rather aimlessly from the main body on the on the sixth day.

First up, I have never been one of those Englishmen who loves the British Bobby but I must say that the officers in charge of security at No 10 were exemplars of how to do a very important, potentially explosive job. You know how tricky those Choos and Louboutins can make a girl when she is standing in a dress the size of a postage stamp and the wind is whipping up cruelly from the Thames and she suddenly knows she has been on her feet too long. Firm, businesslike and friendly, they even smiled. Admittedly, in some cases they smiled at us rather than with us, but then fashionistas en masse do present a quaint spectacle, as the open-mouthed tourist at the entrance to Somerset House yesterday made clear.

A message for the PM. Can you spare some of your policemen to visit our airports to train the security officials there in how to deal with the public as if they actually remembered that we are human and NOT the enemy until we have been proven to have broken the law?

Once inside No 10, all is calm dignity as you mount the steps, past rows of photos of forgotten politicians (political lives are even shorter than those of fashion journalists, poor things), and some rather good 20th century British paintings, into the reception rooms, all strawberry pink walls and gold mirrors. It was a bit like being in a production of Lady Windermere's Fan – or more appropriately a Beaton set for My Fair Lady. Beneath the designer finery there were quite a lot of Eliza Doolittles, recognisable by the distressing way their faces went rosey whilst their voices grew more strident as the drink took its toll. All the young designers were there, scrubbed up and conformist, although Burberry's Christopher Bailey was exactly as always (he has in-born style, so needs to play no games with his appearance), Matthew Williamson had tied his hair back in a Chinese topknot—a hint of what is to come in his show?—and Basso and Brooke had shed several pounds between them. London's 'terrible twins', Henry Holland and Gareth Pugh – dressed respectively as a 50s' used-car salesman and Juliette Greco after a rough night on the tiles on the Left Bank – both looked as if they felt the evening needed a bit of BoomBox to liven it up, but Erdem, at his geeky best wearing a bow-tie which he swore he had tied himself, looked entirely unphased by the occasion. 

As usual, the most beautiful designers in the room were Sasha and Fiona of Sinhastanic, who are both as effortlessly elegant as the clothes they design. They are not showing this season. They have great talent and need a long-term backer to help them reach what I believe is a huge, as yet, untapped potential. Antonio Berardi, no stranger to the ups and downs of sustaining a career whilst preserving your aesthetic, was looking Italian-cool and being idolised… and not just because he has decided to show here this season. As always at this sort of do, there was a lot of chat but no concentration. Everybody was too busy looking - and waiting to see if anyone more exciting than Lord Mandelson would come through the door.

I'm sure they did, but I could not wait. I managed to miss the speeches (hooray!) as I was being a very good bunny and left early to go to a show which the BFC had thoughtfully scheduled to clash with the reception. You do wonder quite how these decisions are made — and if the poor designers scheduled against No. 10 will get a big discount on the price other designers in more favoured slots pay. Regrettably, I arrived ten minutes late for the show (Aminaka Wimont, Fashion Fringe winners two years ago) along with a friend, a very senior American buyer who I have known for years. We were greeted with relief at the entrance and rushed to our seats. 'You are a real celeb,' she said as we sat down. I didn't have the heart to point out that everyone was totally fed up with waiting for us to arrive, but I could see the looks on the audience's faces, which told all. And I totally empathised. Few things are more annoying when you have arrived on time to have to sit and wait for 'celebs'. Which, incidentally, I most definitely am NOT, despite my friend's comment.

Just another toiler at the coalface, that's me.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Fashion Week Begins!

The countdown to London Fashion Week has begun with the proceedings kicked off this morning with a fun extravaganza called Headonism, presented by Erin O'Connor and Stephen Jones before an excited audience of assorted BFC officials, the usual rag, tag and bobtail crowd that any London fashion event draws like a magnet – and very few journalists.

Most of them, poor darlings, had flown back overnight from New York and were still beauty-sleeping. Necessary since with the current restrictions, and with newspapers and magazines running scared over losing readers and the lucrative advertising revenue they engender, even quite grand ladies of fashion have been demoted and now have to travel in the back of the plane. No more free champagne – can you imagine?

But they weren't missed because we had Joan Collins, rather surprisingly, dressed up to the nines and buffed up so superbly (like an old Bentley in perfect showroom condition) that she managed to make every other woman in the room look, if not quite dirty, then certainly rather scruffy. Like us, our Joanie was highly entertained by the Mayor of London, who deliverd a splendidly jingoistic speech that went down a treat. Witty and easily understood, it was a riff on the old 'The British are the best' refrain normally wheeled out when we are not quite as sure of ourselves as we would like to be. All great fun and an object lesson in how to win votes even though neither the audience nor the cause interests you in the slightest.

The new venue for LFW – a tent in the cortyard of Somerset House, a noble neoclassical building overlooking the Thames conceived by the 18th-century architect Sir William Chambers – seems as if it will work very well. Tonight we are at a house not quite as dignified and certainly not as noble for the official opening party for British Fashion Week: a reception at  No 10, Downing Street, hosted by the Prime Minister's wife, Sarah Brown. It is the hot ticket and you can guarantee that all those press ladies notable by their absence at the shows today will be out in force, regardless of thier political colouring. That's the fashion biz. So dedicated.

(Photograph © Alan Davidson)