London stays vibrant with young fashion talent

London designers and industry watchers have brushed aside fears the city is being squeezed out by rivals Milan, New York and Paris, as young designers unveil their latest avant garde collections.

“It is eclectic. The diversity you have in London you just don’t have anywhere else,” Kinder Aggugini, an Italian-born, Savile Row-trained designer, said on Saturday after his catwalk show of flowing dresses and laser-cut cashmere coats.

London’s place in the packed calendar of fashion’s top editors, buyers and trend-setters has been hotly debated since the city was forced to cut back its week of events early last year after a calendar clash with larger rivals.

But six days that will include some of the industry’s big names, including returning Burberry, alongside rookie designers, has attracted an increased number of buyers as well as growing interest from fashion’s new frontier – the blogging community.

John Rocha, who celebrated his 25th year in fashion with a show of contradicting textures and dramatic georgette ruffles, agreed. He showed briefly in Paris, before returning to London.

“There is a great energy in London from young people, established people – and it isn’t just fashion, it is music, movies, restaurants. To be part of this movement is great,” the designer said.

London’s embracing of the high street has ruffled feathers among some fashion veterans, not least with shows by – and sponsored by – high street retailer Topshop. The store showed its own forest-inspired “Unique” collection on February 20.

But designers, particularly the new generation, are keen to embrace the link with the high street – both through retailers and through bloggers, who take many new names to an instant, wider audience and connect them with consumers.

Mary Katrantzou, whose catwalk show was sponsored by Topshop, says she is attracted by London’s combination of store buyer interest and young names.

“A lot more international buyers are coming to London. There is this raw talent coming out, and they are aware of it,” she told Reuters after her show of structured dresses in dramatic baroque and military trompe l’oeil prints.

“(London) keeps you creative enough to not get too commercial. But because you know there is interest from the buyers, it pushes you to see this as a business as well.”

Katrantzou, like many other young designers emerging as customers are still keeping their purse strings tight, is well aware of the need to balance creativity with the ability to catch the eye of the consumer.

Her collections have been snapped up by trend-setting stores like Paris’ Colette thanks to a combination of eye-catching prints with a simple, tailored look.

But she, like many industry analysts and buyers, urged young designers to keep the balance and preserve the originality that will grab attention – and space in coveted department stores.

“I always tell them, go in with the idea that no one knows who you are – but you want them to say, ‘I want that’,” said Scott Schuman, a former showroom owner and now the name behind the Sartorialist street fashion blog.

“The pieces that grab you in a room are not the boring pieces. You have to earn the right to design a navy jacket.”

Plus, designers say, going for the customer’s purse doesn’t always succeed.

“Whenever I try to make something more sellable in terms of quality and price, it never works,” Aggugini said with a laugh.

“More is more. It is all about quality, cut and originality.”


Fashion world’s provocateur McQueen dead at 40

British fashion designer Alexander McQueen, whose provocative collections made him a global star, was found dead at his London home on Thursday in what media said appeared to be suicide. He was 40.

Nicknamed the “hooligan” of British fashion for his close-cropped hair, trademark Doc Marten boots and shocking catwalk collections, McQueen rose from teenage trainee tailor to runway darling before the age of 30. He had been expected to unveil his new collection at Paris Fashion Week in March.

“He was found dead this morning,” McQueen’s communications director Samantha Garrett told Reuters by telephone.

A statement released by his office – referring to the designer by his given first name, Lee – read: “On behalf of Lee McQueen’s family, Alexander McQueen today announces the tragic news that Lee McQueen, the founder and designer of the Alexander McQueen brand, has been found dead at his home.”

Police said they were not treating his death as suspicious. The BBC reported that McQueen had announced the death of his mother on his Twitter site earlier this month.

McQueen’s friend, the influential British fashion insider Isabella Blow who helped his career take flight, took her own life in 2007 at the age of 48.

“At this stage it is inappropriate to comment on this tragic news beyond saying that we are devastated and are sharing a sense of shock and grief with Lee’s family,” the statement from McQueen’s office said.


Born in a working class area of London, the youngest of six children, McQueen left school at the age of 16 and gained an apprenticeship at the traditional Savile Row tailors Anderson and Sheppard, moving on to neighboring Gieves and Hawkes.

The former British Designer of the Year winner eventually gained a masters degree in fashion design from London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design.

McQueen had an ability to shock and his autumn/winter 1995 collection “Highland Rape” which featured disheveled looking models in torn clothing was considered a classic example.

The following year, McQueen was named head designer at the staid Paris couture house Givenchy. His first collection for the French atelier was not widely considered to be a success.

But he went on to establish his own label and become part of the Gucci stable of brands owned by French retailer and luxury goods group PPR, drawing in fans, customers and fame and earning a place at the top table of fashion.

“Alexander McQueen was one of the greatest fashion designers of his generation,” PPR Chief Executive Francois-Henri Pinault said in a statement. “His sometimes provocative genius, admired and hailed by all, was constantly opening up new perspectives.”

Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman praised the designer for his “brilliant imagination”.

“At one level he was a master of the fantastic, creating astounding fashion shows that mixed design, technology and performance and on another he was a modern day genius whose gothic aesthetic was adopted by women the world over,” Shulman wrote on the fashion bible’s website.

Supermodel Kate Moss canceled a London appearance on Thursday evening and sent word in an emailed statement from her agency Storm that she was “shocked and devastated at the tragic loss of her dear friend Lee McQueen.”

Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld told French radio that McQueen had always flirted with death in his work and that success and fame were never enough to sustain happiness.

“In these types of professions (modeling, acting, fashion design) if you haven’t got a strong back and are not hard-headed you expose yourself to anguish,” Lagerfeld said.

“He also had a nervous depression which reached its culminating point with the death of his mother last week.”