By  on February 21, 2002

LONDON -- "Absolutely Fabulous" fans are all too familiar with Edina's Lacroix jewels, Versace polkadots and DKNY Ts. But what has her buddy Patsy, the fashion editor, been wearing all this time?

Betty Jackson. Betty who?

The snowy-haired Jackson, who showed her collection on Tuesday morning at the West Lawn Tent, is a London fashion veteran, but she isn't exactly a household name in the U.S. She pulled out of the American market in the late Eighties. This year, however -- as she celebrates the 20th anniversary of her firm -- she's plotting a comeback.

"My business began with a fantastic surge of fabulousness, but I found that I eventually became too many things to too many people. The business was running me rather than the other way around," said Jackson, during an interview at her store on Brompton Road in South Kensington. So she made a decision to scale down and focus exclusively on the U.K. market. "I opened here in 1989 so I could concentrate on smaller, more special collections and cater to my private customers," she added. "It meant starting from scratch, but it was what I wanted. I was happier and actually became a nicer person." Since then, Jackson has built a reputation on her feminine shapes and texture mixes -- jersey dresses, knitwear, leather and sheepskin separates -- everything, she says, "other than the suit." Her clients range from Cherie Blair to Courtney Love. Her fall show, the designer said, was inspired by the Thirties and by Russian emigres: "women who've had to grab their stuff and run." There were short, shapely shearling jackets, coats in tattoo-detailed punched leather and smock dresses with ruffled edges. The stylish, salable collection also included light gray military jackets worn with sheepskin wraps around the shoulders, chiffon peasant blouses with black embroidery, hand-crocheted wool dresses with Empire waists and chiffon Greek goddess dresses. Among the fabrics she used are washed, double-silk crepes, satin-back crepes and embroidered wools. "I think that it's time to put more value on the beautiful things that surround us," she said.

Jackson, who was British Designer of the Year in 1985 and London Fashion's Contemporary Designer of the Year in 1999, works with small factories in Italy, England, Scotland and Turkey. "It's proper manufacturing and I'm confident about the quality and the deliveries," said the designer, who sells her collection in Europe, Scandinavia and South Africa. She has two boutiques in England -- on London's Brompton Road and in Leicester -- and also sells at Liberty of London and MiMi on the King's Road here.According to Mimi Lowe, owner of MiMi, the collection has a consistent 89 percent sell-through because of its loyal clientele. "The cut is simple but perfect, the details are feminine and there is always a sexy edge to a piece," Lowe said. "Her collections are modern -- but there is also a core of classic pieces."

Jackson noted that she's hoping to forge new partnerships with specialty retailers in the States. "I already have American clients who have to fly to London to buy the collection," she said. "The look ought to be right for the U.S. now, and the product range is nicer than it's ever been. The whole operation is under control."

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