Edgy London attracts more fashion buyers from U.S., Asia

By Li-mei Hoang and Marie-Louise Gumuchian

LONDON (Reuters) - British designers are drawing increasing interest from buyers in the United States and Asia, experts say, as fashion followers turn to edgy London to keep their wardrobes fresh.

Having produced names like Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano, Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney, the British capital traditionally champions designers prepared to take risks.

Buyers from big department stores around the world travel to the four fashion hubs each season - New York, Paris, Milan and London - and, while smaller than its rivals, the latter still enjoys a reputation for breaking new ground.

The September 13-17 London Fashion Week for spring/summer 2014 has drawn a strong U.S. presence, including from luxury department stores Saks, Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, said Caroline Rush, British Fashion Council (BFC) chief executive.

"There is a very strong attendance from the U.S.," she said.

"(Young) designers are seeing growth in American markets, various different Asian territories; they're seeing growth in mainland Europe but (mainly) a lot of opportunity through America and Asia."

Well-known British luxury goods brands such as Burberry and Mulberry are staples in many stores around the world, but newer names such as Christopher Kane, Mary Katrantzou and Peter Pilotto are also proving popular across the pond.

"I am a huge fan of London Fashion Week because we have so many great designers that we sell at Neiman Marcus," said Ken Downing, fashion director at the U.S. store.

"The excitement over pattern and print has really happened here in London ... (Customers) love our designers from London."

Luxury spending in the United States collapsed after the 2008 financial crisis but returned to pre-crisis levels by 2012. Increased confidence among affluent spenders have boosted sales and encouraged luxury brands to step up investments there.

More foreign shoppers are also visiting stores as the U.S. government eases visa restrictions to attract more tourists.

DESIGNER-HUNGRY ASIA

Showing a collection of bright printed dresses and skirts in shades of tangerine, watermelon and pale blue, Scottish designer Holly Fulton said she was keen to expand her brand in America after receiving positive press reviews there.

"We're quite interested in doing more in the States at the moment ... We're keen to expand on that in the coming year," she told Reuters, adding that Asia was also an important market.

"Asia has been by far the strongest for us. Hong Kong is getting really strong growth for the label over there."

With economic uncertainty still hanging over Europe, the BFC is seeking to promote British fashion in Asia.

BFC chairman Natalie Massenet said Princess Beatrice, Queen Elizabeth's granddaughter, hosted a special event for Asian buyers and press, who were seen in large numbers at shows including DAKS, Mulberry and Paul Smith.

"Going forward for 2014, there is strong push in terms of the Great campaign (promoting Britain abroad) with Hong Kong and Shanghai. And so it is very likely that we are going to probably have an Asia-dominated showroom plan for next year," Rush said.

"Tokyo is of interest to us. We were talking to some of the Japanese and Toyko-based businesses ... about how we can build partnerships and what the opportunities might be there."

Designer Paul Smith, who showed off loose shirts tucked into wide-legged trousers and 1970s-inspired loose dresses, said he planned to open some 20 stores in China in the next five years.

"(Chinese buying) is not going down," said Amy Yu, editor of luxury Great Britain Magazine aimed at Chinese residents and tourists in London. "Lots of people are still buying."

And the Chinese are not just buying at home, having pushed out Americans as the top spenders at luxury London department store Harrods.

(Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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