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Veterans kick off London fashion with eye on buyers
by Clara Ferreira-Marques

London, squeezed in between New York and Milan on the fashion pack's crowded calendar, is best-known as a showcase for cutting edge talent and avant garde trends, mixing up-and-coming names like Erdem with iconic designers like Vivienne Westwood.

It hopes to keep to that reputation this season with an array of initiatives to help launch young designers and by becoming the first of the big four fashion cities to run a parallel digital schedule and to stream many of its shows live.

"We all have to recognize there is a much wider audience out there, " Harold Tillman, chairman of the British Fashion Council, told Reuters at the week's official opening.

The fashion pack has had to deal with the impact of the Internet revolution, as bloggers - from the street photographer Scott Schuman's Sartorialist to 13-year-old Tavi Gevinson - democratised fashion opinion and the Web brought instant catwalk shots to the masses.

But London, like New York before it, is also keeping a careful eye on conservative tastes among buyers - the trend-setters responsible for choosing collections for major stores - still unwilling to take too many risks as Britain and the rest of the world emerges from the worst economic crisis in decades.


"It is about staple investment pieces," said Marigay McKee, fashion and beauty director at London department store Harrods.

"If they are buying an investment piece that will have heritage quality, standout quality and longevity, they (customers) will still invest."

Paul Costelloe, who has been showing in London for the past 15 years, kept to earthy tones in Friday's first catwalk show, inspired by the Montana winter.

He offered plenty of sculptural coats for the commercial eye, but also gave his trademark use of tweed a twist with bustle skirts, paired with billowing sheer blouses, teetering platform heels and skin-tight leggings.

"To retain your position in fashion you have to keep moving forward," Costelloe told Reuters after his show, which he described as "celebrating tweed in a modern way."

Caroline Charles, who began her career with Mary Quant and dressed a string of 1960s celebrities, offered up some playful 1960s-inspired winter wear, with tweed skirt and shorts suits likely to keep her loyal customers happy.

Both offered a hint of the red carpet, lighting up their autumn/winter collections with gold and silver lame, sequins and brocade at Costelloe and intricately beaded evening wear, Audrey Hepburn lace cocktail dresses, elbow-length gloves and tulle fascinators at Charles.

London Fashion Week picks up pace this weekend with shows from Matthew Williamson, Julien Macdonald, followed by Marios Schwab, Erdem - favored by U.S. first lady Michelle Obama - and a string of others until next Wednesday - after which the crowd moves on to Milan.

Designer Alexander McQueen, who killed himself last week, was remembered with a minute's silence on Friday, and with a memorial wall outside the main catwalk space.

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