High hopes for British luxury ahead of London Fashion Week

By Li-mei Hoang and Marie-Louise Gumuchian

LONDON (Reuters) - British designers such as Vivienne Westwood, Paul Smith and Burberry's Christopher Bailey are among the top names who will show off their creations during London fashion week from Friday amid high hopes for growth in Britain's luxury sector.

Even as retailers start packing their stores with winter stock, September is one of the most important months in the fashion calendar as the four big catwalk fixtures - New York, London, Milan and Paris - gear up for spring/summer 2014.

Long seen as the smaller sibling to the other fashion capitals, London is best known as a showcase for cutting edge talent and avant-garde trends, mixing new names such as Simone Rocha with established designers like Westwood.

The spring/summer and autumn/winter fashion weeks in London each attract more than 100 million pounds in orders, according to the British Fashion Council (BFC) as well as buyers, journalists and bloggers from around the world.

"It's an exciting time for London with a host of established brands such as Tom Ford and Burberry firmly on the calendar alongside new talent and labels which are growing," said Helen David, head of womenswear at luxury department store Harrods.

"The city's reputation for innovative and eclectic designs continues to be cemented."

Despite a still struggling global economy, British fashion brands are hoping to cash in on evidence of a rebound in the luxury sector as solid demand in Japan and the United States combined with recovery in Europe offset China's slowdown.

Burberry, known for its camel, red and black check pattern, posted an 18 percent jump in first quarter sales, driven by robust demand for spring/summer fashion.

The British luxury sector is forecast to almost double in size over the next five years from 6.6 billion pounds in 2012 to 12.2 billion pounds in 2017, according to a Ledbury Research and Walpole Luxury Benchmark study published in July.

"The UK luxury industry is set for strong growth, despite a difficult environment in Europe," the study said. "British luxury brands remain optimistic ... with 83 percent of luxury brands expecting to see a rise in sales in 2013."

NEW NAMES

This week Finance Minister George Osborne said the British economy had turned a corner. Fashion contributes 21 billion pounds to Britain's $2.5 trillion economy, BFC figures show and, as the largest employer of all the creative industries, it also is estimated to support 816,000 jobs.

In a bid to boost its value, BFC chairman Natalie Massenet has called on Londoners be at their "most stylish" and give the city its "boldest and brightest fashion face" for fashion week.

Writing in the Evening Standard newspaper, she said: "All eyes will be on you as our international guests will be tweeting, instagramming and reporting ... across the world, all of which will help grow our brands, stimulate exports, create new jobs and generally make us a must-visit city."

Known for its verve and creativity, London continues to attract foreign names. Last season, U.S. designer Tom Ford made his catwalk debut here and this week celebrity-favourite shoe designer Manolo Blahnik will host a presentation.

Some 58 catwalk shows for spring/summer 2014 will be held from September 13-17, including other known brands such as Mulberry, Julien Macdonald, Temperley London and Matthew Williamson.

Fashionistas, also keeping an eye out for newer names such as Thomas Tait and Christopher Kane, say they expect last season's androgyny to continue to make its mark.

"I think this feminine/masculine unisex duality ... is going to continue," Navaz Batliwalla, founder of fashion blog Disneyrollergirl, said. "I think we've still got a bit more mileage on that part and I think there is a lot of brilliant technical innovations in terms of the fabrics."

(Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian, Editing by Paul Casciato and Alison Williams)

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