London: The focus was more on who was in the audience when London’s premier fashion event began on Sunday because designers said US recession fears had made Russia and Asia the markets to target.
Top US buyers from Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus had jolted London Fashion Week by skipping it this year as the recession fears and a strong pound had made the quirky designers Britain is famous for too expensive for American tastes.
Graeme Black, who unveils his autumn-winter collection on Friday, caters for the Russian elite who think nothing of a shopping trip abroad and have made their country the world’s fastest growing emerging market for luxury goods.
“In Russia there is an amazing excitement, a euphoria for things that are new,” Black said in an interview with Reuters. “They don’t mind spending money but want something very special and unique -- there’s no price resistance.”
So with the London fashion industry still trying to play catch up with more prestigious and commercially successful Paris and Milan, the event’s organisers have shifted their focus from the West to the booming East.
“We have attendance from emerging markets and we still have very strong representation from Europe, so it’s not all about the United States anymore,” British Fashion Council chief executive Hilary Riva told reporters.
“The US, Europe, Russia, Middle East and Far East are all key markets for our designers,” said Riva.
There are more buyers from Asia and the Middle East this year than in the past and the international media list also underlines the shift.
Fashion editors and photographers from two dozen Russian publications, including Vogue Russia and L’Officiel Russia, are attending the Feb. 10-15 showcase for British fashion.
Also taking seats at the London event are 10 Chinese publications, including Vogue China, 21 from Japan, 11 from Korea, 10 from Taiwan and four from India.
Despite dampened retail sentiment, as the recession fears rattle the multi-billion dollar US market, many British designers remain upbeat about demand for their creations.
Jeweller Stephen Webster has boutiques in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Siberia that make his following in Russia greater than anywhere else.
“Anyone with half a brain understands that America, which always used to be the biggest consumer market, is suffering,” said his Russian-born wife and business partner Anastasia.
“So the new way is to look to Russia, China, all of the developing markets, because that is the new luxury consumer,” she said.
But some designers chose to display collections that matched leaner economic times.
At Sunday’s opening, Biba played it safe with a collection strong on blacks and dark hues, colours that last longer than a season and always sell better in tougher financial periods when women are looking for styles with staying power.
Ben di Lisi, a favourite designer of British actress Kate Winslet, showed off floor-skimming dresses with slits to the thigh but told Reuters Television his colours -- black, stone and granite -- were a nod to the world’s financial worries.