LONDON
WEEKEND UPDATE: PLENTY TO LOOK AT--BUT NOT ENOUGH TO RAVE ABOUT.

LONDON--It's climbing in the fashion ranks, but London has a way to go before it's back in the ascendancy again. The three-day London Fashion Week, which closed here Sunday, lacked the expected pizzazz despite a strong American retail presence. The fashion message--like the hemlines--was all over the place as some designers abruptly--and not always successfully--changed directions.

Bella Freud: Bella was simply Bella-issima. Freud is London's most feminine designer, and, though things haven't always swung her way, the New Glamour in the air makes her dainty elegance finally right. This season, she went in for flirty looks and sharply tailored suits that suggested the heyday of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire; her floaty floral dresses, cropped jackets and tailcoats could have come straight from "Flying Down to Rio." Freud also infused a new sophistication and quality into her collection, which was a little too girlish in the past. The giant purses and chunky-heeled sandals only added to the tongue-in-cheek approach.

Abe Hamilton: If you're looking for light, airy clothes with an ethereal elegance, Abe Hamilton's your man. This season the designer cut his signature featherweight fabrics with a modern edge. In a nod to nudity, Hamilton sent out rhinestone-dusted, puff-sleeved blouses, wrap skirts and ballerina looks, all in barely there flesh tones. The entire collection was shimmery and feminine, even when it veered sharply into bright colors. There was also a new body-consciousness, with floral hipster pants, teeny tops and bikini bottoms, done in sleek nylon, a favorite fabric this season.

Alexander McQueen: McQueen took his audience on a road trip--literally--complete with a two-lane blacktop runway and tons of tire-mark prints. The collection itself was filled with raw sex--and should help resuscitate London's reputation for street fashion. There were see-through plastic dresses, indecently cut bumster pants and sheer tops, worn with tire-mark-print jackets, tailcoats and plaid blouses. Take away all the tricks, though, and you discover why everyone's talking about him--McQueen can cut with the best of them. That isn't surprising since his background includes stints at Savile Row's Andersen & Shepard and Romeo Gigli.

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