Once the most marginal of fashion capitals, London has finally grown up to be a style force to be reckoned with.
So say the organizers of London Fashion Week, which opened Friday with a buzz of anticipation for a blockbuster season of shows — one of the event's biggest lineups yet.
For the first time, celebrity designer Tom Ford is staging a womenswear catwalk show in London, while singer Rihanna has created a stir with her debut fashion collection to be shown on Sunday.
Those are major coups for the British capital, which has devoted increasing attention to its fashion industry — a 21 billion-pound (US$33 billion) business that is getting growing global recognition.
"We've already cracked the hard part. We have the talent," said Natalie Massenet, the British Fashion Council's new chairman and the American founder of online retailer Net-A-Porter. Her job, she said, was to capitalize on that to make London "the most exciting fashion capital in the world."
While major players like Burberry, Mulberry and Vivienne Westwood still lead the British fashion scene, the most closely-watched design heroes of the moment — the ones gushed about from New York to Paris — are all under 40 years old: Christopher Kane, Mary Katrantzou, Erdem. And they are just the most recognizable names among more than a dozen ambitious, emerging talents that have put London on the international style map.
"The buyers who come to London don't go to just one or two shows — they go to nearly every show, every day. You miss the show, you miss the hot new trend," said Caroline Rush, the British Fashion Council's chief executive.
Plenty of that talent was on show on Friday. Bora Aksu, the Turkish designer based in London, showed off a collection that contrasted tough leather with romance and ethereal silhouettes.
Central St. Martins, the storied art college from which superstars like John Galliano and Alexander McQueen graduated, put on a graduate show that may not be exactly wearable, but it was one that was bursting with youthful creativity.
"It was really a breath of fresh air. At this stage you should experiment as much as you can," said Roksanda Illincic, who graduated from the college several years ago. She has gone on to dress women from Michelle Obama to actress Emma Stone.
Other notable designers showing at this season's 5-day event include L'Wren Scott, the American partner of Mick Jagger; Julien Macdonald, a celebrity favorite, who is returning after a two-season break; and Jonathan Saunders, who has wowed with his classy prints and patterns.
In all, almost 60 runway previews for autumn 2013 will run from Friday to Tuesday.
Severe-looking leather corsets, exaggerated shoulders, shades of muddy greens and gunmetal: Aksu's latest womenswear collection may feature lots of tough design elements, but his signature romantic style still shone through on the catwalk Friday.
The London-based designer opened his show with a series of ivory crocheted dresses worn with high, buttoned-up shirt collars, and followed with all-leather ensembles of capes, bomber and cropped jackets and pencil skirts.
Later, models wore sweet baby-doll dresses in clouds of light pleated chiffon, but the best pieces layered the contrasting textures in one outfit: a suede corset worn over an ethereal navy blouse, or a gunmetal leather dress under a billowing, sheer purple cape.
All the models wore delicate, metallic headpieces that framed the face, an accessory that managed to look modern and nodded at flapper style at the same time.
CENTRAL ST MARTINS GRADUATE SHOW
Jersey dresses with strange bulging shapes, head-to-toe blue outfits with stiff pleated wool, and baggy skirts and tulle capes for men are just some of the more outlandish creations showcased at Central St. Martins' fashion graduate show on Friday.
But viewers don't go to this showcase looking for wearable pieces — they go looking for tomorrow's star designer. The event was most famously the place where the late Alexander McQueen became recognized as a major talent, back in 1992 when he presented his graduate collection.
Standout pieces during Friday's show included black dresses adorned with rope knots and super shiny PVC ensembles by Eilish Macintosh, who won the L'Oreal Professionnel Creative Award of the year.