Fashion London's fashion scene has always been known more for its weird and wonderful creative spirit than its business acumen.
London Fashion Week gets back into the swing
Oh what a fickle world is fashion. Last September, London Fashion Week was fighting for its credibility, even its very existence, as a tyrannical New York threatened to crush London's six days of shows into four by expanding its fashion week to eight days. Summits were held, compromises bashed out and eventually an agreement was reached, but Gotham had cast a threatening shadow over that season's proceedings as London's underdog status reached new limits. After all, back then, if the British Fashion Council had threatened to overlap with New York, the response would probably have been: "Go ahead, punks, make our week."
How quickly we forget. This September, English brands in New York including Matthew Williamson and Burberry will be transferring their loyalties, at least temporarily, back to London Fashion Week. In less than a year, the recession has hurt fashion around the globe, not least in America, bursting that shiny but fragile bubble that the luxury world had been happily floating along in for so long. Last season's New York shows were hugely scaled back, with many big designers opting for showroom and video presentations instead of expensive catwalk shows. The casualties have been too many to count, from the massive job losses at department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Macy's to the closure of high-profile but shaky brands such as Bill Blass. Recent victims of the recession have included Veronique Branquinho, the Belgian designer who celebrated 10 years in the business last year, and, horror of horrors, Christian Lacroix, who recently sought the protection of the French courts from his creditors.
All of which means that this coming season's 25th anniversary celebrations of London Fashion Week couldn't have come at a more appropriate time. London's fashion scene has always been known more for its weird and wonderful creative spirit than its business acumen, throwing out opportunities for emerging designers with its New Gen scheme (which launched, among others, the careers of Alexander McQueen and Matthew Williamson). The city's designers are used to being a touch more financially straitened than those belonging to the fashion giants such as LVMH, Gucci Group and Richemont, so a bit of economic gloom simply feeds their creativity rather than frightening them into safety.
It's only mid-June and already a parade of British designers have started to return to the LFW fold from their usual spots abroad. The latest to announce a London Fashion Week show is Pringle of Scotland, headed by the creative director Clare Waight Keller. Normally showing in Milan, the knitwear brand also celebrates its 195th anniversary this year - not one of the classic anniversaries, admittedly, but that needn't get in the way of good fashion synergy.
Matthew Williamson will show in London for only the second time since 2002. He usually heads to New York for his presentations. The last time he hit London was in 2007, for his 10th anniversary collection, when he recruited Prince to sing on the catwalk. The audience will be expecting something equally fabulous this season - especially as he seems to be having a recession-busting year in terms of adoration and public presence.
The big scoop, though, for LFW has been Burberry's return to its home city, after eight years of showing in Milan. Burberry may be best known for its classic range of check-bedecked bags and scarves, beloved of WAGs and soap stars, but the Burberry Prorsum collection, designed by the quietly brilliant Christopher Bailey, has been one of the most influential brands of the decade, and will bring some serious credibility to London Fashion Week. (Although the company's recent announcement of job losses in its Yorkshire factories, following from its closure of a Welsh factory in 2007, prompting the Keep Burberry British campaign, may see a few murmurings of discontent in the vicinity.)
With such big names making a stand for British fashion, it's easy to overlook the current crop of agenda-setting designers that still show in London, from Christopher Kane to Nathan Jenden and Erdem. These are brands that have stealthily been making inroads into the Middle East, with shops like Boutique 1, Harvey Nichols and Villa Moda picking up emerging names in recent seasons. The fashion week will also undergo some cosmetic changes, moving from its traditional tent at the Natural History Museum to the splendid setting of Somerset House on the Strand, which should add some gravitas to the proceedings.
Things are looking good, then, for the British capital's fashion scene, and from the ashes of a recession-hit city could rise the neon-coloured phoenix it needs to keep competing.