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Hype raises the bar for LFW

London Fashion Week has lured back top British designers and taken a more commercial slant, but will the buzz last beyond this season?

With a raft of high-profile brands returning to London Fashion Week this season, the event has been creating a buzz among buyers and press not seen since its mid-1990s heyday.

The September edition, which marks the event’s 25th anniversary and runs from September 18-22 at new venue  Somerset House, will host British fashion stalwarts such as Burberry Prorsum, Pringle and Matthew Williamson, all of which return to the capital after several seasons showing overseas.

LFW organiser the British Fashion Council (BFC) is promising a return to the glory days of LFW, which propelled designers such as Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney onto the fashion scene during the 1990s.

BFC chairman Harold Tillman is widely credited with putting the glitz back into LFW by persuading big-name designers to return. Buyers and press are signing up for this season in droves, with international retailers including Paris’s Galeries Lafayette, Le Bon Marché and Colette, Lane Crawford of Hong Kong and Beijing, and US department store chain Saks all confirmed to attend.

Tillman said: “International buyer and press attendance numbers for this season are looking very strong. In fact, accreditation in both areas is up by about 25%.”

UK stores will also be out in force. Selfridges director of womenswear Anita Barr says: “This September’s format will bring freshness, energy and direction to British fashion. I expect LFW to be even more credible as the mix of upcoming and established designers is unique.”

Maintain momentum

However, many are reserving judgement as to whether this marks a new era for LFW until they see whether Tillman and his team can maintain the momentum into next season and beyond.

Many fashion buyers are concerned that the BFC is still not doing enough to make LFW a sufficiently commercial proposition during a time when budgets have been slashed, visiting buying teams scaled down and price points are more important than ever.

Pamela Shiffer, owner of the eponymous two-store London indie, says: “Price points are affecting everyone now and if LFW had an area for innovative but price-conscious collections, attendance would be better.”

Yet the BFC is confident the changes for this season will not only cement LFW’s position as a must-attend event for buyers, designers and press but also prove it has reacted to demand for a more commercial line-up and a layout designed with busy buyers in mind.

Freelance buyer and fashion director Beverley Malik, who was hired as a consultant by the BFC to improve the buyer experience this season, says it was on the back of buyer feedback that she designed a more commercial and younger zone in the form of new venue 180 The Strand.

“We’re encouraging a lot of new but commercial brands to show at LFW, like you see in Berlin and Copenhagen,” she says. “Department stores are all reorganising their space now and budgets are up for this sort of label.”

Malik, a former buyer for stores including Browns and Harvey Nichols, is keen to make buying more straightforward at LFW, without losing the creativity that she feels sets LFW apart.

“There’s a myth that buyers go to back-to-back catwalks, but most are showroom buyers,” she says. “I’ve simplified the process by adjusting brand adjacencies. Brands will be adjacent to those with a similar price point and target market.”

The hot spots

The new venues have helped facilitate the layout change. Somerset House and, just up the road, 180 The Strand, mean all elements will be grouped more closely together, while the separate floors and rooms in both venues allow for more clearly defined zones than were possible at the Natural History Museum, LFW’s previous venue.

The historic Somerset House will house many of the English heritage brands, such as Jaeger London and Betty Jackson, while 180 The Strand will house directional labels.

Fashion East and On/Off, which spotlight up-and-coming designers, will also be located with the main shows for the first time.

With a bank of headline-grabbing designers backed up by a more commercial outlook, LFW is set for a solid season, which Tillman promises “will bring advertising clout and established audiences to London”, but the challenge is to maintain the excitement into February’s edition of LFW and beyond

Access all areas

To broaden the appeal of LFW and help it meet the needs of a wider range of fashion buyers and press, the BFC has added specialist areas for new categories and adjusted
the layout.

The registration process at www.londonfashionweek.co.uk will be streamlined, with the BFC promising that no genuine buyer or press member will be turned away provided they register in advance or bring a business card to the gate on the day. New initiatives include:

Menswear has its own dedicated day this year, after the LFW event, on September 23.

“There has always been a menswear element and last year there was a showcase on a small scale,” says show manager Katie Bain. “But this year is the first time there has been such a big emphasis on menswear.”

Most of the menswear exhibitors will take the top floor of 180 The Strand, where most of the casualwear brands will
also be located.

Lingerie Boudoir will be a zone for directional underwear and swimwear brands to exhibit.

Labels including Ayten Gasson and The Modern Courtesan will take catwalk and exhibition space.

Accessories has also expanded and has its own room in 180 The Strand.

“In the past we haven’t acknowledged these sorts of categories enough and these can be some of the most directional in fashion,” says BFC consultant Beverley Malik.

The Hat Collective will open the catwalks on September 18. Organised by milliner Stephen Jones, the initiative aims to help new millinery talent.

Presentation space, upstairs in Somerset House, will give NewGen designers – the BFC’s scheme supporting emerging talent – an “introductory” catwalk away from the main catwalk.

Other designers choosing to run their catwalks in this smaller, more intimate space include Temperley London and Jasmine Di Milo. The space gives the option to customise a show with films or presentations.

The hotlist

Who are the buyers coming to see this season?

Georgina Gainza buyer at indie Matches Spy

“The return of designers such as Burberry Prorsum and Matthew Williamson feels like a real homecoming. Charles Anastase and Erdem were the shows of
the week for me last year and I’m really excited to see what they will be presenting for spring 10.

I think Michael van der Ham, LF Markey, Hannah Marshall and Eudon Choi are the new labels to watch.”

Anita Barr director of womenswear, Selfridges

“I’m looking forward to Burberry Prorsum, Vivienne Westwood Red Label, Peter Pilotto and the Fashion East show. I’m looking to source labels that fit our customer and retail environment.”

Pamela Shiffer owner of two-store indie Pamela Shiffer

“I’d love to get tickets to some of the big shows – Matthew Williamson would top my list. But the real benefit of LFW for me is the new labels. However, consistency is equally important. There are one or two labels I saw last year that I will have another look at.”

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