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LONDON (Reuters) - London Fashion Week shook off its traditional image as a mere playground for quirky emerging talent with a display of grown-up elegance for the autumn/winter 2012 season that had leaders of the global fashion pack singing the British capital's praises.
By the close of the shows, top British designers such as Paul Smith, Alexander McQueen's Sarah Burton and Burberry's Christopher Bailey had presented catwalk collections which more than suggested that the "edgy" London of yesteryear had matured into a sleek and sophisticated luxury powerhouse.
"We used to come here and think it's all going to be eccentric and street chic and actually it's incredibly grown up, polished and sexy, glamorous clothes so it's a global stage now -- it's wonderful," U.S. Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour told Reuters on the sidelines of the shows.
London has always been overshadowed by New York, Milan and Paris on the fashion map, and often derided by critics as the "capital of quirk," despite spawning industry stars such as Stella McCartney, McQueen and Vivienne Westwood as well as leading global luxury labels such as Burberry and Mulberry.
Military styles, bright prints, furs and quintessentially English looks dominated the catwalks, while bejeweled, sequined and embroidered creations also featured prominently this season.
Many of the collections included paneled creations. Belstaff delivered tailored leather jackets with armor type paneling. Burberry sent paneled trenchcoats down the runway and Peter Pilotto dressed his models in figure-hugging stretch dresses slashed with mesh panels.
Designers accentuated the female figure by nipping coats and jackets in at the waist to create an hourglass silhouette -- Burberry used colorful bows to achieve this look while McQ from Alexander McQueen chose leather military-style belts with gold buckles.
Sasha Wilkins, founder of the successful LibertyLondonGirl.com fashion blog, said the British capital now competed on equal footing with its rival fashion capitals.
"We seem to have got to the point where London can properly take its place on the world stage," said Wilkins, a former Wall Street Journal executive style editor.
And the city's place on the fashion map is likely to become more prominent this summer thanks to a "great halo effect" that the Olympic Games will bring, British Fashion Council chairman Harold Tillman told Reuters.
Traditional English fabrics like felts, velvets, tweed and tartan found favor with designers who sought to overturn London's reputation for young creativity, avant garde trends and edgy designs by opting for elegant tailored creations.
Burberry creative director Bailey combined country and town styles at a show packed with celebrities including Kate Bosworth, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and the British Prime Minister's wife Samantha Cameron.
His models sashayed down the runway in quilted jackets, peplum skirts and tiered fringe dresses teamed with brogue lace-up angle boots before a clap of thunder was heard and water emulating rain gushed down the sides of the transparent marquee in which the event was hosted.
Vivienne Westwood also championed the British cause with her Red Label collection which saw tattooed models don tweed suits, baggy jodphur-like trousers and tailored creations inspired by tribal prints.
"Britishness is just a way of putting things together and a certain don't care attitude about clothes. You don't care, you just do it and it looks great. What we do always looks British even if we're inspired by Africa or the North Pole or whatever," Westwood said.
At McQ, military chic ruled supreme -- creative director Sarah Burton, who designed the wedding dress Kate Middleton wore for her wedding to Britain's Prince William last year, sent models down a runway carpeted with autumnal leaves in khaki coats and suits featuring large pockets and big metal buttons with shiny leather lace-up stiletto boots.
Flared strapless tartan dresses with sheer sleeves, lacy tops, delicate embroidery and appliquéd velvet flowers showed a softer, more feminine side in a dramatic show which saw model Kristen McMenamy, clad in a bridal ivory gown, sign her soul away to the devil in a wooden hut in a forest.
Stella McCartney also staged an extravagant spectacle, wowing the audience with magic tricks, models dancing on tables, a jazz band and a vegetarian dinner as she showcased bright marbled patterns, floral prints and gathered puffy skirts.
"It's London, it's Britain. It's celebrating everything that is bold and irreverent about being a British brand," McCartney told Reuters about her inspiration for the opulent collection.
After presenting a Renaissance-inspired collection of fluffy fur hats, bright print dresses with oriental flower patterns and richly embroidered and beaded sheer evening gowns, British designer Alice Temperley said London had become a very exciting place to be as people realized a lot of businesses in the British capital were actually very scalable.
"It's not just about the new generation, there are people coming through that are obviously very creative and very inspiring and what London is renowned for, but it's also about people who have good businesses that can and do sell globally," she said.
Reporting by Michelle Martin; additional reporting by Li-mei Hoang and Ethan Bilby, editing by Paul Casciato