Global melting pot gives London the fashion edge

LONDON, Sept 22, 2009 (AFP) -London Fashion Week may be celebrating its 25th birthday this season with a display of Britishness, but the creativity of the city is largely down to the mix of foreign talent that gathers here.


A model walks down the catwalk wearing clothes by Eley Kishimoto for the Spring/Summer 2010 collection - Phooto: AFP/Ben Stansall

Half of the designers showing on this season's official schedule are from abroad, hailing from as far afield as India, Japan, Germany and Greece, brought together by one thing -- they all studied here.

London's fashion schools are among the best in the world, in particular Central St. Martins College of Art and Design, which counts Stella McCartney, Giles Deacon, John Galliano and Alexander McQueen among its alumni.

The colleges draw foreign talent to the capital to create an eclectic mix that ensures London remains the place to see the hottest new designers, from Christopher Kane and Mark Fast to Emilio de la Morena and Bora Aksu.

"If you look at the schedule, at least 50 percent of the designers, although they are considered to be London designers, they're actually born or they come from countries around the world," said Simon Ward, co-executive director of the British Fashion Council.

"And that's really part of what makes London. It starts with our fashion colleges, which act as a magnet for students from all around the world, because London is a very cosmopolitan city and it's an inspirational place creatively."

Among London's leading lights this season, Wakako Kishimoto, one half of Eley Kishimoto, is from Japan, Marios Schwab is from Germany, Mary Katrantzou is from Greece, Mark Fast is from Canada and Bora Aksu is from Turkey.

Likewise, Roksanda Ilincic is from Serbia, Ashish is from India, Eun Jeong is from Korea and Emilio de la Morena is from Spain.

All of these designers studied at Central St. Martins (CSM), along with other famous British names such as Matthew Williamson and Antonio Berardi, who both returned to London this season after spells in New York and Paris.

Berardi epitomises the mix of London fashion. He was born in England but his parents are Sicilian, and he takes inspiration from both.

"I think the Sicilian part is the very ultra-feminine part, and the British part is the part that is much more tailored and structured, and slightly more aggressive," he told AFP at his show on Sunday 20 September.

"But I think the two are the perfect combination for any woman."

Central St. Martins is celebrating its 20th birthday this year, but it has a long history, having been formed by a merger of the Central School of Arts and Crafts, which was founded in 1896, and St. Martin's School of Art (1854).

Its masters degree show was on the official schedule here in February, while Vogue described this summer's BA (Hons) graduate show as "the place to get ahead of the fashion game".

Both the Royal College of Art and the London College of Fashion can also boast impressive alumni, and the latter on Monday 21 September added a new name to its list following this year's Fashion Fringe award.

Briton Jenny Holmes and Greece's Dimitris Theocharidis, who met at the London College of Fashion in 2002, won the prestigious prize for their collection under the brand Jena Theo.

It brings with it vital publicity -- the award was announced by Donatella Versace in a star-studded ceremony in London -- and funding.

Their collection was a confident display of trousers, full length and short dresses made of soft, ballooning fabrics in pale blue, grey and peach, reminiscent of old faded Polaroid pictures.

The runners-up were equally cosmopolitan, comprising Cypriot Elliot Atkinson, Serbia's Lidija and Dejan, and Yelena Smirnova, the fourth candidate who was born in Kazakhstan to Russian parents.by Alice Ritchie

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