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Feb 24, 2009
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London catwalks show off demure but powerful woman

Feb 24, 2009

By Kylie MacLellan and Catherine Bosley

LONDON (Reuters) - Designers at London Fashion Week greeted the global economic downturn with collections that veered toward conservative necklines and tailored cuts accented with a few splashes of sparkle.

Vivienne Westwood's unruly schoolgirl-inspired Red Label collection was the notable rebel in a series of shows that have reined in the lavish excesses of the past few years.

"Nobody does what I do," Westwood told Reuters after the show, which featured bold tartans and her trademark cleavage-baring corseted dresses.

But many, including Betty Jackson, Maria Grachvogel and Christopher Kane, kept necklines high and stuck to more timeless, wearable pieces they felt would weather the financial storm, with an emphasis on the demure but powerful woman.

"There's definitely conservative necks but conservative everything...the bodies are very covered up," said Lisa Armstrong, fashion writer for the Times newspaper.

Along with high necklines there was also a strong focus on shoulders, which tended to be wide and square in the 1980s power dressing style that has also appeared on the New York catwalks this season.

Designer Julien Macdonald showed blazers with exaggerated shoulders that curved upwards while retail chain Jaeger incorporated the power shoulder into boxy, cropped jackets, coats and dresses.

"The big shoulder pads from last season are not going away," said Anne-Marie Curtis, fashion director for Elle magazine.

"It's protecting yourself. Not girly but strong," she added. "It's really about women being very powerful, a very powerful sexuality."

Several designers balanced the use of more masculine shapes with flowery prints.

British designer Paul Smith used an English rose print in muted colors, while Kinder Aggugini -- showing in London for the first time -- made heavy use of colorful floral patterns on jackets, skirts, and floaty dresses.

"I wanted to do something that was beautiful," a chirpy but exhausted-looking Aggugini told Reuters, adding that he had tried not to let the economic climate influence his designs.


A subtle touch of glitter and sparkle also gave the Autumn/Winter 2009 collections sophistication without being brash during a time of economic downturn.

Jaeger's designer Karen Boyd offset her collection of mostly beige and black clothes by dressing models in crystal cuffs and necklaces shaped like shards of glass.

Nicole Farhi used glitzy multicolored sequins on trousers, jackets and dresses, while Macdonald used rhinestones on gowns to look like bursts of stars.

The debut show of Twenty8Twelve -- the label of actress Sienna Miller and her older sister Savannah -- featured a backless green Swarovski crystal-encrusted dress.

In contrast, Luella Bartley and Paul Smith's collections took on a military theme.

Known for her frilly, playful dresses, Bartley said her designs for next season had taken on a harder silhouette, as models strutted their way down the catwalk with military caps perched on their heads.

"(It is) a very utility look. There's quite a lot of military detailing," said Bartley, who returned to London Fashion Week in 2007 after showing in New York.

Smith, whose models paraded beneath the exquisite chandeliers of the Claridges ballroom in London's expensive Mayfair neighborhood, showed a collection strong on khaki, with tasseled epaulettes and stiff military coats.

"I've always really enjoyed going to the army vintage shops and buying a parka or some cargo pants," Smith said after the show. "I think when they've been washed and used it is such an attractive color on the female form."

(Additional reporting by Cindy Martin and Lotte Williams; Editing by Paul Casciato)

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