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Former duckling grows into swan of global fashion

Forget Milan and New York, and don’t even think about Paris. For the world’s up-and-coming fashion designers, London is suddenly the fashionable place to be.

Once dominated by homegrown talent and widely derided for its lack of commercial success, London Fashion Week, is now attracting hopefuls from around the globe in the hope that they’ll be noticed.

International buyers and fashion journalists used to largely ignore it, but this year they will be taking notice of what has become a sparkling, multinational event. This week’s multicultural mix of designers seeking fame and fortune includes Manish Arora from India, Roksanda Ilincic from Serbia and Aganovitch and Yung, the Danish-Yugoslavian-Chinese duo based in Hong Kong.

It’s a far cry from the old days, when most exhibitors at London events were graduates of Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design or the Royal College of Art. Talented though they may have been, they gave the event a decidedly parochial air.

The London schedule is looking healthier than ever, largely thanks to the efforts of the British Fashion Council, which trawls the world for new talent.

Andrew Tucker, a talents scout for the council, said yesterday: “ London is the most successful launch pad for new designers. To make it as an international brand you really need to show at one of the four fashion capitals, but Milan and New York are too commercial, and you can forget the Paris schedule which is already overcrowded.” London, according to Mr. Tucker, is an excellent starting point.

But, rather than just bringing in a group of relatively unknown names, most of these designers already have clout in their own countries, said Michael Blow, who organises London’s off-schedule.

“Take Manish Arora, who currently dresses most of Bollywood’s stars and is the largest-selling designer in India. For maximum visibility, Arora chose to come to London rather than New York.”

While the Italian fashion industry is the country’s second-most productive trade, the British clothing industry is ninth in our economy, worth £4 billion a year. That result, say industry experts, is because Britain is not so economically reliant on the fashion industry as Italy; the British are less cautious and far more receptive to challenging new ideas.

There are also financial incentives to showing in London. For a designer making his debut here, the Fashion Council can help to find models for as little as £100 per girl per show.


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