September 19, 2008 / 7:04 PM / 10 years ago

Credit crunch no big deal at London Fashion Week

LONDON (Reuters) - Fashionistas were happily distracted from a week of turbulent financial markets by an array of colorful, experimental and luxury clothes at London Fashion Week, which ended on Friday.

Many buyers ignored a looming recession as designers paraded bright colors and luxury fabrics on the catwalk. But some established names, while not seeing a dent in sales yet, were wary of a potential pinch in the year ahead.

“Certainly the companies behind the designers are very aware of the financial worries of the world and the greed of the big banks who have caused these problems,” veteran designer Paul Smith said earlier in the week. “But luckily, fingers crossed, our business is about the same as last year.”

Other big-name British brands also played down the impact of the recent economic downturn in the United States and Europe.

“Our wholesale business is rocketing,” CEO of Aquascutum, Kim Wisner told Reuters on Wednesday.

Wisner said Aquascutum, a 155-year-old raincoat maker which positions itself alongside other British heritage brands such as Jaeger, intended to increase sales with retail and wholesale deals in the United States, Russia and the Middle East.


Julien Macdonald, Paul Smith, Vivienne Westwood and Aminaka Wilmont took inspiration from faraway places in their designs with loose, draped trousers, Arab-inspired headgear and sun-kissed colors.

The east also held the promise of buyers with deep pockets.

More buyers from markets such as the Middle East were at London Fashion Week, eyeing designs from a city which has a reputation for being the fashion capital of cutting-edge design.

“(The credit crunch) hasn’t really affected us ... Customers are all shopping just as much as they were,” Nicole Robertson, a buyer from Dubai-based Boutique 1 luxury fashion store, said.

“I think that in some respects the Middle East customer, they don’t think about it, it’s just not an issue for them,” Robertson said, adding that Boutique 1 had not changed the amount or quality of clothing they had bought.

Young designers took comfort in the appetite for high-end fashion from countries such as Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates in the face of falling demand in the United States.

“It’s affected me already. I’ve lost a lot of the boutiques (in New York) because the dollar is so low, my clothes were very expensive over there,” said young designer Afshin Feiz.

“But in a way it pushed me to the Middle East ... and now I’m doing really well over there ... Dubai (is) a massive market for me right now. I’ve got shops in Riyadh, Cairo and Kuwait.”

Paul Smith said his accessories division was seeing particularly healthy sales because they were a relatively inexpensive way for consumers to update their wardrobe.

“Somewhere you can make gains is accessories because people can add those to their existing wardrobe.” Smith said.

Fashion buyer Louise Benisty agreed: “Accessories are easier to sell right now, bags, shoes. They (customers) won’t have to change their outfits.”

Jo Hunt, one of the buyers for ASOS — an online fashion store which says it plans to become the fashion equivalent of — said her company was powering ahead despite news of consumers tightening their belts. She said the emphasis at the moment leaned towards statement jewellery.

Large statement earrings were in evidence throughout the week, particularly at Vivienne Westwood and Giles Deacon.

Both designers presented dramatic collections which did not shy from ostentation at a time when consumers may be expected to make more conservative buying decisions.

Reporting by Paul Casciato and Golnar Motevalli; Additional reporting by Cindy Marin; Editing by Elizabeth Piper

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