This week the British fashion industry finally shed its image of cautious provincialism laced with endearing eccentricity and earned the applause of those members of the international fashion community in London for the show of the top ready-to-wear designers and the major fashion exhibitions at Olympia and the Kensington Exhibition Centre.
British design, always fertile and original, has been growing in importance for several seasons in spite of the muddled efforts of its promoters and salesmen. Over the last few years observers of the scene have shared moments of despair as we contemplated the chaos from clashing egos and conflicting interest groups as vanity, snobbery and parochialism won out over sense and imagination.
But sense and imagination fought back. This week they triumphed. The shows were well planned and well organised. The top designers had stands at Olympia rather than scattered through several stuffy West End hotels, making life easier for buyers and press alike – and for window-shopping fashion fans like the Princess of Wales.
But more than that, a design conscious Government lent both substance and glamour to Fashion Week. Norman Lamont, Minister of State for Industry, gave a good deal of time to attending shows and cocktail parties. The Prime Minister hosted a reception at 10 Downing Street which had the presidents of several American store groups cancelling appointments in other countries to fly to London to be gently lectured on the merits of British fashion under the portraits of George III and Lord Nelson.
Katharine Hamnett, probably this country’s most copied designer, launched Fashion Week with a specially written song called Acid Rain Rap and voluminous T-shirts demanding a World-wide Nuclear Ban Now. For the foreigners, coming straight from the establishment-cosy, luxurious Milan shows, it must have been both a shock and a revelation. With the T-shirts, Hamnett showed padded white silk decontamination suits, generously cut, beautifully detailed parkas and trench coats, cropped jackets in heavy cotton, skirts that were straight and short or long, narrow and flared from round about knee level, unisex baggy slept-in trouser suits in dark denim.