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U.K. Designers Fired Up for Fashion Week

The first men’s showcase in June was such a boon for business — and for London’s international profile — that fashion houses are itching for round two to begin.

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Special Issue
Men'sWeek issue 12/13/2012

LONDON — Britain’s men’s wear designers are buzzing with anticipation in the run-up to the January edition of London Collections: Men, ready to ride the wave of swelling sales and publicity generated by the pilot showcase last June.

Fashion folk aren’t the only ones revving up for the three-day event that runs from Jan. 7 to 9. WWD has learned that Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, will host an evening reception to launch the week, at 10 Downing Street on opening day.

Fashion houses said the British Fashion Council’s first men’s showcase in June was such a boon for business — and for London’s international profile — that they’re itching for the second round to begin.

“It’s had a major impact on business and on our international press exposure,” said Clive Darby, the founder and creative director of the label Rake. “The shows mean there are a lot of eyes on London.”

While he didn’t pick up any new accounts for the spring season, Darby said the exposure he gained and relationships he forged in June will help to boost sales at least 15 to 20 percent for fall.

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Christopher Raeburn, whose show closed the June collections, said he saw a big shift in his relationship with the buyers. “By the time we went to Paris [to sell], they had seen the collection already, and were well-prepared. They weren’t buying blind. We never had that opportunity before,” he said.

Raeburn said he nearly doubled his list of wholesale clients — he picked up such stores as Isetan, United Arrows and Colette — and saw a 40 to 45 percent bump in sales for spring, which he said is traditionally a smaller season compared with fall. For fall, he’s expecting 20 percent growth year-on-year.

For spring, Lee Roach picked up such stores as Dover Street Market and the Comme des Garçons Trading Museum in Tokyo. Like other designers, he’s planning to build on the London momentum to expand his collection for fall. “We’ll be introducing knitwear, increasing our outerwear offer, and are working on a new footwear collaboration,” he said, but declined to give further details.

Patrick Grant, whose E. Tautz label will show on Jan. 9, said he saw about “10 times” the number of buyers in June than he was used to seeing at his shows back when London’s men’s shows were tacked on to the end of the women’s wear shows in February and September.

“Usually, we’d see British buyers and a smattering of Japanese ones, but in June there were ones from China, the Middle East, Europe, North America and South America.” He said his spring season was a bumper one, too, rising 30 percent year-on-year.

Grant said he believes the men’s showcase has come at just the right time.

“There’s a good crop of emerging men’s wear designers now — James Long, Christopher Shannon, J.W. Anderson, Lou Dalton and Shaun Samson — and a whole new wave of talent coming up like Agi & Sam, Matthew Miller and Lee Roach. Had London Collections been staged three years ago, it would have been a damp squib,” said Grant.

He added that London’s designers all have an independent streak — which sets the week apart from its competitors. “They’re not all formulaic. They design what they feel like designing, and they don’t feel so constrained to be commercial — so the week feels like fun,” Grant said. “We all have a different take, and we spur each other on.”

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Ed Burstell, managing director of Liberty, said the buzz about London men’s week has even spilled onto the shop floor. “People are aware of what is going on, and they want to see who’s doing windows,” he said, adding that the store’s men’s business overall has been “really strong,” with a 12 percent uptick in sales over the past two years.

“The slim silhouette is still popular, and men have really embraced color. They’ve also caught up with the ladies, dressing high-low,” said Burstell. About 15 percent of Liberty’s men’s offer comes from London designers, including Dalton, Orlebar Brown, John Smedley and the footwear label Mr. Hare, which is also on the BFC’s January schedule.

Jeremy Hackett said the publicity generated by his first catwalk show last season has helped to fuel the brand’s global expansion. “We had tremendous reaction to the show in the press and on the Internet. It’s a good way of reaching out to our customers and raising our profile,” he said.

The Hackett brand — owned by the Spanish investment company Torreal, which also owns Pepe Jeans and has a joint venture with Coach in Europe — has recently opened its first Chinese store, a 4,000-square-foot unit in Hong Kong. It is set to unveil a similar-sized store in Shanghai in March. Last month, Hackett opened its first stand-alone store in New Delhi.

Hackett isn’t the only brand that’s using fashion week to fly the company flag. The London-based artist and designer Aitor Throup plans to launch his first full-blown collection during the showcase next month.

During the June showcase, Throup staged a taster presentation of what he calls his “distilled, generic product,” which sells through stockists such as Dover Street Market in London and Tokyo; Atelier New York, and I.T in Hong Kong.

He said he’s excited about unveiling the full collection in London. “London feels right. It’s such a special time for the city, and it’s part of who I am,” he said.