LONDON — London is clawing its way back onto the fashion map.
Despite continuing financial problems and doubts over whether there would even be shows in London, a core of up-and-coming young designers is giving the scene new life. They’re part of a revival here that extends from the streets to the runways.
Daphne’s, the hot restaurant, is packed every night and is replacing San Lorenzo as the choice of the younger royals and Britain’s pop musicians. The club scene is raging again from acid house to disco and soul at such venues as Atomic Model at Iceni, Bohemia and Blowup at Maximus.
The street scene is forever eclectic — from vintage Westwood to disco glamour queens — and though the pierced and the punctured have lost the limelight, there’s still plenty of holey bodies around. England’s fashion colleges continue to churn out creative graduates, many of whom are launching their own lines rather than apprenticing in the ateliers of Paris and Milan.
Owen Gaster, Sonja Nuttall, Clements Ribeiro and Lainey Keogh all turned up this season to maintain the momentum begun by last fall’s new crop — Abe Hamilton, Xavier Foley, Copperwheat Blundell, Sonnentag Mulligan and Bella Freud.
“There are more young designers starting here than anywhere else in the world,” said Freud, who presents her collection of Fifties Bond Street chic — twinsets and Harris Tweed-style cropped blazers — today.
Whether on the runways or at the Liberty and St. Christopher’s Place exhibitions where some designers presented their collections, looks have been virtually gimmick-free. Except for the occasional off-the-wall idea — a skirt made from layers of newspaper from The New Renaissance or Owen Gastor’s leather underwear-revealing miniskirts — designers are going the wearable route, though not quite as commercially safe as they were last fall.
Yards of men’s wear material hit the stage in great-looking pantsuits and jackets, and mohair is making a big comeback in little A-line skirts and tank tops. Layers are still floating about and so is the sporadic bias-cut slip dress in various lengths.
Abe Hamilton kicked off the week with a lilac-filled ethereal collection of long, wispy georgette dresses with his signature flower petal trim, sometimes doubled up or thinly layered with a sheer robe.
Sonnentag Mulligan sent out terrific man-tailored pantsuits, and a beautiful group of rose-printed long satin sheaths. All were paired with high-heeled gold or silver sandals, dark stockings and greasy, shimmering faces.
Copperwheat Blundell’s show was full of well-cut pantsuits in dark herringbone tweed, paired with pink satin camisoles, oversized sailor tops and simple long or short dresses mixing tight knit tops and satin skirts.
Xavier Foley went for exaggeration: enormous white button-down shirts, roomy trenchcoats, knee-length jackets with extra-long wide pants. If you could get past the baby powder blowing from the models’ hair and dusting the hemlines, Foley’s clothes looked fresh and modern.
Clements Ribeiro turned out beatnik-style mohair and Harris Tweed tunics, minis and overalls, and Helen Storey showed loads of tartan micro-kilts, Aubrey Beardsley-style velvet coats and ethereal burnt and bleached velvet dresses.
John Rocha, who last fall was voted Britain’s designer of the year, layered it on a bit too thick this season, mixing heavy knits, Donegal tweeds and chiffon dresses. His best was his simplest — cropped shearling jackets and chocolate short suede dresses.
Sonja Nuttall, who presents her first show today, promises a disciplined range of long black and cream wool dresses layered over muslin. “There is this enormous energy now,” says Nuttall. “There is a definite lifting up, but everyone this time is doing things within their limits and with a more businesslike attitude.”
But financing remains a problem and the London runway shows were organized at the last minute only after securing backing from Vidal Sassoon, Perrier and the British government.
The search for backing in some cases is almost desperate, turning a few runway shows into live infomercials: Storey’s models paraded down the runway holding the mobile phones of her sponsor Sony, while Hamilton inserted some red Wonderbra bustiers from his sponsor Playtex.
Despite the new buzz, designers are still haunted by London’s reputation for poor quality and bad deliveries, a rap that reached its peak in the mid-Eighties. U.S. stores continue to regard London as an items-only market, especially for knitwear, eveningwear and accessories.
Recognizing this, some designers continue to contemplate showing outside of London. The latest is Storey, who plans to show in New York next season in order to boost her sales in the U.S.