London fashion fights for clout on 25th birthday

Thu Feb 19, 2009 12:48pm EST
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By Catherine Bosley and Kylie MacLellan

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Its designer graduates are some of the darlings of the industry, but does London Fashion Week still have a seat at fashion's top table?

London celebrates its 25th year from February 20 to 24 with a reduced schedule squeezed between New York and Milan fashion weeks, which along with Paris remain the biggest draws for designers and buyers.

The British capital and its design school Central Saint Martins are often lauded for being a hotbed of talent that has produced some of fashion's biggest names, including Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, and John Galliano.

But McCartney, McQueen and Galliano all show their major collections in Paris. London has also cut its schedule to four days after the U.S. fashion council pushed the New York shows back a week.

"Unfortunately, British fashion week is still the one week which is considered the least important of the four," said top British designer Paul Smith, who began designing men's clothes in a back-alley London shop in the 1970s.

The squeeze on London may force some overseas buyers to skip the event, which organizers say generates orders of about 100 million pounds ($143.3 million), since it overlaps by a day at either end with the shows in New York and Milan.

And designers say it's tough to survive in London because of a lack of investment and manufacturing facilities.

"London is by far the hardest place to survive," said designer Maria Grachvogel, who first showed at London fashion week in 1995. "We do not have a manufacturing base in the UK anymore which means there is no long term support/investment or sponsorship for shows that designers receive in other capitals."   Continued...

<p>British fashion designer Paul Smith and model Erin O'Connor pose for photographers during a photocall to promote the 25th anniversary of London Fashion Week, in London February 18, 2009. REUTERS/Stephen Hird</p>