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.”